I am a UK-based brand strategist who has worked in the UK and Europe for over 20 years. My consultancy Acacia is a boutique high-end branding consultancy. We offer the same expertise as a large branding agency but without the overheads.
Acacia specialises in Brand Strategy, Brand Identity and Brand Communications. We have worked with well-known brands such as Boots, Barclays or Deloitte and high-growth SMEs. Our mission is to energise brands and businesses to make them more successful.
What makes us different are our two core beliefs and how they inform everything we do in helping our clients succeed.
Our first core belief is that in today's fast-changing world, success comes outsmarting competitors, rather than trying to outspend them. We live in an age of unprecedented technological acceleration and globalisation. Many businesses struggle to adapt and find it harder and harder to cut through the digital noise and be heard. Since the pressure to keep up with technology is so intense, many believe that to stay ahead they need to outspend their competitors with technology. They'll spend more and more each year on new apps and hardware, SEO, social media or this new hot platform with a cool name everyone is talking about right now.
At Acacia, we think differently. We believe that technology, far from being the solution to all problems, is mainly a tool, albeit a mighty one when used correctly. Many businesses try to build a presence on several digital platforms at once and regularly post new content. However, somehow they don't get enough engagement and can't convert enough 'likes' into actual sales.This is because they are blinded by the power of technology and forget the importance of having a clear and consistent brand message. Without a compelling brand message that wins hearts and minds, they won't meaningfully connect with their audience. They end up getting lost in digital noise, regardless of the technology they use.To cut through the clutter, you need good ideas, well executed, not another app or plugin. Smarter thinking always wins.
Our second core belief is that today we’re all global brands. I strongly believe that we live in the best time in human history for ambitious SMEs to reach and conquer international markets they couldn't even dream of only ten years ago. The term 'Global small business' is no longer an oxymoron. In the last 15 years, it has become increasingly easier for small businesses to make their brand go global and build a worldwide client base. Instead of being worried by the massive changes brought by technology and globalisation, we should embrace them enthusiastically. We live in a time of unprecedented opportunities to connect and exchange with like-minded people across borders, languages and cultures. All you need is a great product or service and a compelling brand message that attract customers and turn them into loyal fans who keep coming back. I always advise all our clients, regardless of their current size, to build more than just a business, but a scalable brand with global ambitions.
When did Acacia UK begin trading, and how soon after did you think about global opportunities?
I launched Acacia in 2010, after having spend many years working in France, Germany, Switzerland and the UK with global brands such as Johnson&Johnson, Mercedes-Benz and Smart.Acacia had international ambitions from the start and this is reflected in our name. The word 'Acacia' is identical in many different languages across the world. I didn't want a name that would only make sense in a couple of countries.
In 2009, I had been fortunate enough to win a global brand communication design competition for a leading Japanese lifestyle brand; Felissimo; and that convinced me that you don't need to be a big business to work internationally.My main focus is the UK and Western Europe. From the first year of trading, I took part in several trade missions in Belgium, France and Netherlands to start building strategic partnerships, some of which are still enduring today. We also attend seminars and trade shows abroad every year as part of our ongoing innovation strategy. Our clients trust us to help them to build future-proof brands, so we owe it to them to say up to date with the latest trends and innovations.
Last year's highlight was Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven, where you can get a glimpse of the future of design and VideoFirst in Brussels, which features the latest video marketing best practice.
When did you deliver your first international project, and what support did you need to realise your ambitions?
We were lucky enough to win our first international project in 2011 in our second year of trading. It was a bilingual website to provide French, Belgian and British SMEs with guidance on how to do business across the channel.
The goal was to show that, for SMEs, trading cross-border isn't as difficult as they might think. To make the content more engaging and relatable, I convinced the client to have a series of online video interviews in Belgium France and the UK. Each video featured SMEs successfully trading internationally sharing tips and advice.
Video marketing is now commonplace today in 2019, but it was a big step for the client to take at the time. Logistics was key to successful project delivery. We liaised with local partners to support the delivery of the project, such as facilitating the logistics for filming in location.
What (if any) issues did you face during your first international project, and how did these leanings help shape the way you delivered future international projects?
I had previously worked on several similar international brand communications projects while working with large branding agencies. That put Acacia on a sound footing when having to deliver our first international project. Having experience in working with international teams in various countries helped a lot. Also being bilingual was useful since not all projects stakeholders spoke the same languages.
When working across languages and cultures, a slight misunderstanding between two parties might not be noticed at first but can have huge repercussions several months down the line. It's a bit like sending a spaceship toward another galaxy, at 10000th of a degree of miscalculation in trajectory isn't noticeable at first, but has massive consequences later on, and it's often too late by the time you notice it.
Clear and regular communication is critical. In my view, the successful delivery of any significant project relies on a clear project roadmap and in-depth planning and preparation, but also constant dialogue with all project stakeholders. Of course, this is even more important when they are based in different countries.
How many international projects have you delivered; and do you have one that particularly resonates?
Although a lot of our projects are for the UK market, we approach all projects as international projects. Even if the client is only targeting a local national market at the time they appoint us. This is because today a business online presence and brand footprint are visible globally, not only in their local market.
I believe that branding projects need to be conceived with an international audience in mind to be truly future-proof. A few years from now, you might discover that there are better opportunities for your business abroad that in your home market. But what will happen if your brand message is misunderstood abroad, or even worse, offends local cultural sensibilities in the country you are targetting?
We aim for all branding projects we deliver for our clients to be future-proof and scalable internationally, whether or not they are planning to trade abroad short-term. The rebranding of the International Association of Bookkeepers (IAB), a professional body active in 60 countries with other 10.000 members worldwide is a good example of the kind of international branding project we undertake.
Rebranding is one of the most important things an organisation can do to reposition itself in the marketplace.
The bookkeeping profession has undertaken massive changes in the last decade. As the leading industry professional body, the IAB had to reposition itself to stay ahead of an evolving profession. When you rebrand, you make a strong statement of your intent of staying relevant in an evolving marketplace. It shows the world you mean business. In a large rebranding project, like this, there are several project stakeholders across different countries. From the start, I introduced Agile working methodologies so we could all work efficiently as a team regardless of our location or time zone.
It was vital that the new brand identity worked across many different cultures. The IAB works in places as varied as Latin America, Oman or Malaysia. The account for local cultural differences, we tested different logo shapes and brand colours in various countries as part of the design process. Once the critical brand elements were finalised, we created a brand guidelines book to enable the smooth and consistent implementation of the new brand identity worldwide.
What advice would you give to companies who are considering doing business internationally for the first time?
We are a boutique consultancy and work many in France and the UK at present, so we certainly wouldn’t call ourselves experts in international trade. However, I would recommend to all businesses, regardless of their current size, to seriously consider working internationally. It has become much easier over the years, notably thanks to technology. Doing business across borders, languages and cultures offers tremendous growth opportunities, but requires careful planning and execution. Although we live in a globalised world, cultural differences are still very present. It’s vital to take cultural differences into account in all communications and interactions with clients and third parties.
Lastly, even in today's fast-moving digital world, building successful relationships and partnerships requires time and patience. Trading internationally should be part of a long-term strategy for sustainable growth.
How is the uncertainty around Brexit affecting your business?
Nobody likes uncertainty, so it's essential to prepare for a range of possible scenarios. In the last two years, we have reviewed what we could do to best prepare for Brexit, whatever the outcome. I’ve made several trips to France and other EU countries to strengthen existing relationships and make new contacts. It was reassuring to see the eagerness of many SMEs in Europe; notably in France; to keep doing more business with the UK post-Brexit.
Europe will always remain an important trading partner to the UK and offers tremendous opportunities for British Businesses. It's also next door and a strictly regulated market, making it ideal for taking your first steps in international business.
François Reynier, Creative Director
Tel: 01634 572 371