From a marketer’s perspective, a strong brand name is critical to long-term sales; as Alashban, Hayes, Zinkhan, & Balazs (2002) note, a brand name “differentiates the firm, signifies the main source of ownership, communicates consistent quality, helps consumers make rapid purchase decisions, and acts as a symbolic device for consumers’ self perceptions.” Therefore, most marketing research related to brand name standardization/adaptation has been done from the practitioner’s viewpoint, i.e. what does it mean to the marketer to standardize or adapt brand names across different markets in terms of increased sales or lowered costs?
However, Alashban et al. instead opted to research how consumers feel about brand names standardization/adaptation. Using Porter’s framework of environmental factors that affect firms, the researchers looked at the following factors:
Religion: Virtually every organized religion has established some items or behaviors as taboo. If a brand name references those taboos in any fashion, the brand name will be unacceptable; for example, Budweiser-branded products (even those that don’t contain alcohol) will be shunned in Islamic countries.
Language: A brand name that is relatively easy to pronounce in one country, e.g. Schweppes or Hyundai, can prove challenging in another country. The company can opt to adapt the name for local tongues or embark on pronunciation campaigns.
Education: In many countries, the literacy rate is low. If the advertising messages are text-based, the brand name and the related branding work could be irrelevant.
Economy: As Alashban et al. note, “the economic level of a country may limit the market segments that can afford a given brand.” A company may opt to develop lower-cost items to meet the consumer needs in these countries; however, they may not want to use their high-quality brand name on the lower-quality, lower-priced items for fear of diluting the brand name in other markets.
Technology: The availability of consistent communication channels, e.g. dish media, internet, streaming radio, means that consumers are more apt to hear same brand messages across different markets, which could make it more appropriate to use the same brand name worldwide.
Naturally, marketers have to consider a myriad of factors when making brand name adaptation decisions. However, the work of Alashban et al. reminds us that we must consider the consumer’s environmental factors as well.
Alashban, A., Hayes, L., Zinkhan, G., & Balazs, A. (2002). “International brand-name standardization/adaptation: antecedents and consequences.” Journal of International Marketing. 10 (3), pp. 22-48.