How to Adjust Your Personal Brand for an International Audience

Your personal brand isn’t universal. That’s because your target market is part of the equation in determining your personal brand. When you work globally, your target market changes. You need to take the concepts of personal branding and overlay them with the cultural nuances of each country, taking into consideration the specifics of each target market.

After you discover your unique promise of value, your personal brand is challenged with these questions:

  • Are these characteristics seen as positive in the country or culture I am living in?

  • How do I communicate my brand with the cultural specifics of my market?

  • How much will I need to modify the American version of my brand so that it works internationally?

  • What are some of the ways I could offend people with my brand?

  • What factors must I consider when making my brand visible in this country?

  • Will my brand be accepted in this country?

Relocating abroad: Do initial research

Maybe you’re being offered what feels like the opportunity of a lifetime to work abroad, and you’re excited about the adventure. Don’t let yourself be caught in the fantasy of a new life in a different country without doing your homework! Before you take an assignment overseas, visit the country and the work situation first. Assess whether you’re making the right decision before you pack your belongings and relocate.

Some companies offer assistance to help you understand the culture and the way of life before you go. If your company doesn’t provide that service, ask your human resources department for help to locate an expatriate who can assist you in your new city.

Also, be sure to search online for information about the business and social culture in the city and country you’re moving to. You’ll likely find at least anecdotal information that can help you better understand what to expect.

Assimilate your style across cultures

After doing some homework to learn about the culture you’d be moving into, closely examine your personal brand to determine what would need to change in order to adjust. Consider the characteristics of a successful person in your new country to understand which of your characteristics translate and which ones may need to be de-emphasized.

Consider just a few ideas that vary from country to country:

  • Age awareness: Knowing a culture’s perspective on age and tempering your appearance and attitude to respect that perspective can help you succeed.

  • Perceptions of gender: Spend some time reading about the culture; find out what is appropriate for men and women to do, say, and wear; and respect the boundaries whether you agree with them or not.

  • Personal assertiveness: Your outward personality is a major piece of your personal brand. Be aware of how you’re perceived by others and notice the general tone of the business people in the country where you’re working. Monitor the emotions you display and the nonverbal messages you send.

  • Time and organization: You must adapt your expectations and your habits to the time perception of the country you are in.

  • Tradition versus change: Although most people don’t like change, Americans give the appearance of being more adaptable than people from some other cultures. That’s largely because the American culture doesn’t have centuries of tradition. Also, because the United States is a cultural melting pot, Americans are exposed to various ways of doing things.

    Many countries revere tradition over change. If part of your personal brand involves promoting your success as a change agent, give some serious thought to how that attribute may be perceived in a culture outside the United States.

Give the appearance of being global

If a man be gracious and courteous to strangers, it shows he is a citizen of the world.

—Sir Francis Bacon

Today’s business climate is such that companies are asking their employees to be citizens of the world. Many companies conduct business globally and have a diverse population. You don’t need to have traveled the world to be a global citizen. However, you need to walk through your life with a certain awareness of what is happening in other parts of the world.

If you aren’t terribly well traveled, what can you do to look like a citizen of the world?

  • Decorate your office with mementos from your travels. Let your office display your travel interests, especially international ones.

  • Discover the etiquette of using a person’s name by culture. Ask questions or read online to discover whether people use the familiar form of a name in a given culture or whether it’s more proper to use titles to show respect.

  • Find out how business cards are presented in different cultures. In Japan, the exchange of business cards involves a degree of reverence; tossing a card to a Japanese peer would be rude.

  • Try different foods. Be conversant in foods from different countries and the traditions around dining. Figure out what is considered inappropriate to eat in any culture you’re visiting and what the proper etiquette is for the foods you’re eating.

  • Watch CNN or the BBC, or read the international section of a large newspaper. Knowing what is happening in the world gives you the appearance of being worldly.

When you do have the chance to travel, being courteous, friendly, and humble to others will buy you some grace even as you make mistakes. Most of the time, a friendly stranger will help you if you are polite and nice. A smile and genuine warmth of character are appreciated across cultures.

When you’re traveling, be sure to let your e-mail recipients know where you are.

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