International business

Brand and international marketing – breaking global barriers

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There’s a clear appetite for international expansion and development among the global mid-market. Grant Thornton’s International Business Report (IBR) has shown that 52% of mid-market firms are focused on international markets as part of their forward-looking strategies.
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Among this set of internationally minded companies, brand has been identified as a key driver of mid-market success when looking to grow and develop international business.

We’ll explain how the global mid-market is aiming to use an investment in brand to drive international business and look at what specific sectors are doing to stand out in a highly competitive international business landscape.

To find out what other areas the global mid-market is looking to invest in over the coming 12 months, access our ‘Mid-market momentum’ report, which takes a closer look at the international intentions of the mid-market and where it sees the greatest opportunities as it looks abroad for growth. 

International business ambitions: Mid-market growth and expansion
International business
International business ambitions: Mid-market growth and expansion
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Developing your brand to support international business 

The global mid-market has placed a very clear focus on brand. According to IBR data, 66% of companies that express a strategic focus on international markets have outlined brand as a key area of investment.

Brand has the ability to complement and influence the creation of value that organisations hope to achieve through investing in international business. Promoting quality has been identified as the most desired strategic result for mid-market firms (37%) from international growth, and brand is one potential avenue for driving this. Mid-market firms are choosing to invest in brand in the pursuit of quality through building stronger supplier and customer relationships in all their territories.

The global mid-market’s supply chain planning has become more considered in recent years as a result of the inflationary environment driving up costs, as well as market disruptions caused by a number of ongoing geopolitical matters. Reflecting a wide range of competitive pressures, the global mid-market is looking to increase its use of non-domestic suppliers when expanding internationally (71%) to deliver better quality. The mid-market is investing in a strong brand presence to capture the opportunity that changing global market forces present.

As Dave Munton, Global head, International capabilities and support, Grant Thornton International, explains: 

“In the same way that over the years in their domestic market, businesses have invested to build networks and to build awareness, it’s critical to do exactly the same when you develop a presence overseas.”

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You can’t just show up and expect people to know you. There is effort needed to build networks, a social media presence, your website, and your marketing. All of that feeds into overall brand awareness.
Ramón Galcerán President

Competitively, the mid-market is also looking to brand to aid other international business goals through establishing this strong presence in local markets. 35% of globally focused companies are looking to international business to generate more access to customers, but over half (55%) of firms who plan to increase their strategic focus on international business see competition as a major constraint. Investing in brand helps differentiate mid-market firms from local competition, generating more access to customers in international markets, whilst at the same time enhancing the attractiveness to new talent.

If companies are entering new markets, they know they’re going to have to try and create a footprint for themselves there. Understanding your customer and the overall market, and adapting brand and marketing strategy accordingly, is critical for a successful and sustainable market presence.
Dave Munton Global head, International capabilities and support, Grant Thornton International

Banking and technology: Investing in brand

Two sectors that are putting a large focus on investing in brand are banking and technology. From our IBR data, 70% of banking firms and 68% of technology firms are looking to invest in brand over the next 12 months – significantly above the global average of 54%.

The banking and technology sectors are also both looking to prioritise increasing their brand reputation and visibility through international business. 17% of banking firms consider this as one of the most important factors they’re monitoring as a result of carrying out international business, ranking only behind quality and access to technology. In the technology sector we see an even larger focus on brand reputation and visibility. 21% of companies see it as one of their top two international business goals – only ranking behind access to technology.

Globally, both sectors also see market competition as a key constraint at figures of 62% and 54% respectively. Again, these figures are above the global average of 48%. Companies from these sectors are investing in brand to act as a differentiator in what they view as a highly competitive market. Gaining a foothold with customers and stakeholders through increased brand reputation and visibility is a strong competitive advantage in international business, particularly when attempting to expand into new markets.

International business done differently: Energy’s focus on cost

It’s clear that there’s a focus on investing in brand among the global mid-market looking to conduct business internationally. However, not every sector has the same focus.

While over half of firms in the energy industry are looking to invest in brand, this comes in below the global average of 54%. This indicates that while there’s certainly an appetite for increased brand reputation, this sector’s focus is pointed elsewhere. Similar to the banking and technology sectors, the energy sector also sees competition as a strong constraint on international business (54% versus the global average of 48%). Despite these similarities, the energy industry appears to be looking at alternative ways to stand out amongst competitors.

If we look at the energy sector’s intentions to increase selling prices, there’s been quite a large drop. Only 33% of energy firms are expecting to increase selling prices compared to 52% in H2 2023, and 62% in H1 2023 - clearly, in large part reflecting the stabilisation of global energy prices. 

If we take a closer look at the energy sector’s international business intentions, we can see that access to technology and diversification into new markets are their two highest ranking priorities at 24% and 20% respectively. While developing a strong brand footprint is undoubtedly important when expanding into new markets, the energy sector sees global growth, innovation and efficiency as offering the best competitive advantage.[i]

Using brand to strategically develop international business

Investing in brand and using it as the cornerstone of a cohesive international marketing plan is emerging as a key focus for mid-market companies looking to strategically develop international business. Firms are using brand as a differentiator when entering competitive markets and have prioritised increasing brand reputation and visibility through their global business initiatives. 

There’s real energy and drive behind the mid-market’s international intentions, and a need for companies to stand out in their markets. Sector-by-sector we’re seeing how companies are approaching this. Brand has emerged as one avenue, but it’s not the only way to stand out. As the mid-market continues to have a global focus fuelled by global ambitions, multiple ways to gain a competitive advantage will emerge, with brand being one of the more preferred options in the current climate.

For more information on how the mid-market is looking to invest, Grant Thornton’s ‘Mid-market momentum’ article takes a closer look at how business leaders are accelerating investment as they look abroad for growth. Access it now and discover what our latest IBR research has revealed about the latest opportunities for the global mid-market.

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i. imf.org - Cost of living crisis