6 Considerations For an International Corporate Visual Identity


Just to make this clear from the outset, ‘Corporate Identity’ is about a lot more than a logo.  A logo can be a unifier that ties everything together, but CI is about everything that your customers (or staff) are likely to come into contact with.  It includes the name of your company, slogans, symbols, colours, the clothes that employees wear to client meetings and in the office, business cards, presentations, the way you answer the phone, the tone and speed of email responses and even your customers.

It’s usually the more authentic, organic aspects of a business that shape the visual elements of a business’s corporate identity rather than the other way around.  For example, if you’re an expensive, discreet, trustworthy legal firm you’re probably not going to want an electric pink colour theme with comic sans as your primary font.

Within a domestic context, it’s possible to get a pretty good handle on all this and project a consistent image.  However, when an international aspect is added to a business there are suddenly diverse cultural and linguistic considerations that mean that you may have to rethink your entire visual system.  So here are a few things to think about when you start on developing the visual aspects of your international corporate identity.

  1. Challenge your Assumptions

Something that has meaning in one culture may mean something completely different in another.  You may think a colour, font or mascot communicates one thing but in another culture it may have a completely different significance.  Visuals including animals, traditional symbols and gestures are particularly susceptible to this.

  1. Local scripts

In the Americas, Africa or Western Europe, it’s not usually necessary to change the script in which the name of your company is written.  However, in some countries, a version of the name written in local script is required by law.  In others, locals may not even be able to read Latin script – especially for words containing non phonetic spelling.  Also don’t assume that because countries share a similar script that the same will apply in each country.  For example, in Japan it is very unusual for an international company to use Chinese characters to write the company name but in China, this is the norm.

  1. Changing your name

Ideally, an international company wants to leverage its international brand when entering a new market so that brand building doesn’t have to start from zero.  However, sometimes it makes sense to go for a different name or a variation on the name.  The illustration above is a good example – McDonalds decided that the ‘s’ was superfluous for Japan so the localised name (written in Katakana script) is just ‘McDonald’ (or more precisely ‘makkudonarudo’).  The case of McDonalds Japan highlights another issue with an international brand – local trademarks.  McDonald’s were beaten by a day to registration of their own trademark in Japan resulting in a legal battle lasting 16 years.   Another example of a company that tweaked its brand in Japan was ice cream shop Baskin Robbins.  In Japan it is commonly known as ’31’ from its original slogan of ’31 flavours’.  Presumably the thinking was that ’31’ would be easier for Japanese speakers to pronounce and remember.

  1. A one size fits all approach or an adaptable visual system

The approach of international marketers over the last twenty years or so has been to build consistent ‘global’ brands.  Often there is a strong push of strategy and creative from head office to international offices.  German multinational DHL maintains a strict consistency by keeping all logos and tag lines in English irrespective of the location.  The other approach is to allow for flexibility in the corporate identity.  This could include prescribing standard ways in which the logo can be adapted – for example a localised version of the name could be included above, below or to the right of the global logo.  This could also include specifying equivalent fonts in local character sets (as McDonalds has done in the image above) or an alternative colour palette.

  1. Go the whole hog

Corporate Identity is often the reflection of many years of accumulated culture.  When developing an international corporate identity it can be easy to forget the aspects that are separate from typical elements such as logos, web sites, business cards and stationery.  This is sometimes seen in tech startups who open offices overseas.  Whereas the head office is a fun, creative, relaxed environment the office in Tokyo is just like that of every other company.  Adjusting a corporate identity for an international market doesn’t mean you need to make your working environment the same as every other company in the market.  This is where disconnects can occur – corporate identity becomes a facade rather than a genuine expression of the company

  1. Go with your gut

When going into any new market, there are always a plethora of agencies and consultants ready to give you an opinion on your brand and your CI.  They typically get paid for the amount of work they do so of course they’re going to come up with a long list of ‘problems’ that need to be solved – whether they are genuine risks or not.  The key is having someone on your side with intimate local knowledge who can balance the unique aspects of your corporate identity with the needs of the market and to a certain extent just trusting your intuition.