Atlantic Crossing

What you need to consider if you are looking to export across the Atlantic.

‘Moby Dick’ is one of the finest novels in the English language. Written by Herman Melville in 1851 it tells the tale of a man’s obsession with hunting down the giant white whale that disfigured him. It’s also one of the most ‘on brand’ books you could ever imagine – whales and whaling imagery reverberate throughout every page.

Melville was an American, but he spent much of his life travelling the world as a seaman and enjoyed some time in England on his travels. He was certainly familiar with English literature and history, as well as other characteristics and customs from around the globe.

He recognised the benefits of cross-cultural exchange and of the importance of global trade to the economic development of communities – it’s another of the key themes within ‘Moby Dick’.

As we all move on from the impact of the pandemic, opportunities to build brands through exporting to new markets are coming more sharply into focus again – along with the challenges that this brings.

Having worked with businesses that seek to cross the Atlantic for over a decade we’ve become well aware that for many it is the practical issue of how to secure distribution and to deal with operational logistics that is their immediate focus. It’s an entirely reasonable start-point – how can anyone successfully trade without access to the infrastructure that actually brings goods into the marketplace?

However, alongside the practical there is also a need to think about the more emotive aspects of entering a new national market. The UK and USA may appear to be highly similar – we speak the same language (more or less), enjoy much of the same music and entertainment, and have had a long, close, intertwined history. But there are differences too in the way that we think, behave and act that can have a significant impact on whether a brand will succeed or fail.

Take a look at the different ways in which US and UK brands design their packaging – Americans tend to gravitate more towards direct communication of product benefits, whilst the British often prefer a more tangential, subtle approach using inference and imagery instead of more functional content. See how the directness of pack designs for American dairy-free milk brands like Silk and Almond Breeze compare to the far more esoteric approach used by Oatly in the UK.

White, plain backgrounds to packaging in the UK have generally been a signal of basic, ‘value’ offerings, whereas in the US white can deliver more quality, premium cues. Publix, the South-Western US supermarket retailer has long used predominantly white packaging for its store-brand ranges, but to convey a sense of pureness and quality rather than ‘no frills’ price offerings.

And typography on either side of the Atlantic also delivers different impressions too – traditional serif faces that appear dated to a British eye still convey authority and relevance to an American audience.

Of course, these attitudes and reference points can shift as we become ever more familiar with the brands that cross the ocean and embed themselves within our daily lives. So, there is also a need to understand the way in which consumers are interacting with these products, how they feel about them, and what are the most compelling reasons why they choose to buy them.

Inevitably, this means that a tailored research study that offers a window on consumer attitudes and behaviour will be a really beneficial exercise. The joys of modern technology and a consumer community that is increasing comfort in using it means that online or video-based methodologies offer a cost-effective and flexible means to engage with respondents – and a much simpler way to (remotely) cross the Atlantic to enter consumer homes.

We’ve undertaken research projects to identify the opportunities for both American brands in the UK and for British brands in the USA, exploring potential positioning territories, evaluating products and sorting out key messaging. We’ve looked at how brand names and identities work in a new country, and suggested fresh brand iterations when it has become evident that they are required.

With all of these projects, we’ve made clear the cultural challenges that need to be considered, and outlined how best they can be overcome. And in several instances, we’ve also been able to introduce and work with appropriate commercial partners to help sort out the channels to market and operational logistics, to turn the export dream into a deliverable reality.

So, when we talk about our expertise in growing brands, that includes the ability to help them to grow by expanding their horizons into new countries – crossing boundaries and opening up new potential.

By the way, Herman Melville spent the last 20 years of his working life as a customs inspector in New York City, so his acquaintance with international trade was not just a fictional one, and who knows just how many new brand entrants into the USA he oversaw.

Words by Chris Blythe