It’s one thing to expand beyond your borders. But to drive sales, you’ll need to consider your marketing strategy.
Expanding your business overseas can be a great way to grow sales.
That is, if you get the formula right. And a big part of acing that formula is your international marketing plan.
Promoting and marketing your brand internationally can be complex; even the world’s biggest brands have encountered hurdles. When Coca-Cola first launched into China in the 1920s, the phonetic translation of Coca-Cola turned out to mean ‘bite the wax tadpole’. And Pepsi didn’t fare much better; its slogan “Come alive with the Pepsi Generation” was translated for one Taiwanese billboard as “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the dead”. Presumably not the marketing message the brand was hoping for.
There’s little point in “copying and pasting” the same marketing strategy that worked in your home territory for use overseas, says Cynthia Dearin, an international business strategist and author. Dearin has also watched brands “take a ‘spray and pray’ approach by trying a little bit of everything”. Neither marketing approach is ideal, she adds.
Here’s how to create a global marketing strategy that works.
The first step to developing a global marketing strategy is understanding your new audience and target market. “Market research is incredibly important,” says Dearin. “Most people don't do nearly enough of it."
“Most people don't do nearly enough market research”
Customer’s expectations, values, challenges and aspirations vary dramatically across foreign countries, she adds. “You can’t just assume that people are going to be the same everywhere, and [that] they will need and receive your product in the same way.”
That’s why it’s important to create a laser-focused picture of your target customer and what matters to them. This can be achieved with surveys, consumer research, questionnaires or even social media polls.
“Don't base your marketing strategy on assumptions.”
“If you take a general approach and base your marketing strategy on assumptions, it’s likely that neither your offering nor your marketing are going to connect with your new international client.”
Marketing is about connecting with customers, which is why communicating in your audience’s own language - and localising your assets - is so important.
In fact, one US market research firm found that customers are 72 per cent more likely to buy from a website that is in their own language. Additionally, 56 per cent of consumers said that obtaining product information in their own language was a more important consideration than price.
Another aspect of your branding and website to localise? Currency. Allowing international customers to pay in their own currency will help reduce cart abandonment rates.
“It can be very challenging to translate concepts across cultures and languages."
When tackling the task of translation, Dearin is clear: “Hire a pro, don’t Google translate.” She explains, “It can be very challenging to translate concepts across cultures and languages in a way that actually works, so if you just run your web page through a translation app, it's going to give you a really poor-quality translation that will likely not make sense.”
A dedicated translator or sub-editor will also ensure that you pick up any cultural and linguistic nuances. This will make your marketing feel authentic.
For example, in Australia the word for rubber sandals is "thongs"; in New Zealand they are called "jandals"; and in the US and UK, the same shoes are called "flip-flops" (whereas "thong" refers to women's lingerie).
Taking these intricacies into account will ensure that your website and social media marketing copy not only makes sense to readers, but feels authentic and resonates, too.
Localising assets doesn’t simply relate to copy; it might mean updating marketing imagery.
Research has consistently found that shoppers are more inclined to purchase products if they are shown on models who reflect their age, size, and ethnicity. Do your images feature models who look like your target customer? If not, it might be time to diversify.
And remember that different images or colours can mean different things in different cultures. For example, in many western countries, orange is a peaceful, happy colour; in Northern Ireland it tends to be associated with the sectarian conflict in the region.
Just because a brand has had success with Facebook or Instagram in their home territory doesn’t mean that those are the best channels in overseas markets.
Many countries have their own, local social media platforms, like Indian social media platform ShareChat, which has over 250 million monthly active users, or KakaoStory, a social media app in South Korea. Meanwhile, Meta-owned Facebook and Instagram are banned in China, for example, so it is important to do due diligence in every new market.
As your international customers grow, you may need to consider creating local versions of social media pages, such as Facebook and Instagram. Otherwise, you may find yourself out of sync with customers when it comes to seasons or events such as Mother’s Day (which occurs at different times of the year in different countries) or Thanksgiving (which is only celebrated in the US.)
For these reasons, some businesses create global “parent” pages, and then use paid advertising to target regional messages to specific countries.
Remember: the social media landscape is also constantly changing (for example, in May 2022, Russia blocked access to Facebook), so it’s critical to continuously monitor the situation.
As trusted third-parties with local knowledge, influencers are ideally positioned to connect brands launching in new markets with audiences.
“The best results come from partnerships where people are excited to represent your brand.”
Sarah Leaf, founder of communications agency LEAF, says that a good place to start is by checking your brand’s own social media following: are there any influencers based in the market you are moving into who are already following you? “The best results always come from partnerships where people are authentically excited to represent your brand.”
Leaf, who manages the marketing of international fashion brands such as Ganni, Veja, Mejuri and All Birds, warns that paid influencer campaigns can be expensive, and advises that smaller brands might prefer to enter their new market using contra or gifting programs.
Her number-one tip? Take a hint. “If an influencer isn’t eager to receive a piece from your brand, or won’t reply to your emails - leave it and move on,” says Leaf.
When entering a new international market, emphasising credibility and social proof can be even more important. That’s why it can be useful to work with globally recognised certifications and third parties. For example, customers may be more likely to buy from a brand with Trustpilot reviews embedded into its site.
Partnering with local brands is another way to reinforce credibility and expand your audience. Leaf recommends that business owners “research brands within this market that have a similar positioning and a strong social media presence to get a feel for who the key local influencers are, and the kinds of content they create."
“Research similar brands within this market that have a strong social media presence."
This is also a good way to identify potential brand partners, as a collaboration or event partnership can be an effective way to leverage another brand’s audience, reach new customers and gain legitimacy. It’s not about partnering with brands that are the same as yours – and it is unlikely a brand will be open to working with a direct competitor – but ones that may share a similar customer base. For example, if you sell vegan leather shoes, you could approach a clothing brand with a focus on sustainability and ethical labour practices.
Different kinds of brand collaborations:
Team up with a brand that aligns with your brand’s value and audience to create a social media giveaway or promotion.
Work with another brand, and each “take over" posting on each other’s digital channels for a set period of time or specific event.
Collaborate with another brand on a shared project or product.
Tip: Look for brands that may be looking to expand into your home market for a mutually beneficial partnership where you are each able to tap into one another's local followings.
There is a lot to consider when trying to sell your products overseas – and it can quickly become overwhelming. Not only do you have to manage the logistics and mechanics of entering a new market, but you also have to get up to speed with a new culture, potential language barriers, new business relationships, and an unfamiliar media landscape.
"I think people assume that expanding your business globally takes a lot fewer resources than it does," admits Dearin, adding that "a lot of people just get fatigued". Dearin has seen businesses where overly ambitious global marketing strategies, paired with a lack of planning, have led to financial loss and even reputational damage.
"People assume expanding takes fewer resources than it does.”
That's why both Dearin and Leaf suggest engaging local experts to lighten the workload. This can range from using local translators who can communicate concepts across cultures and languages in a sophisticated way to engaging an international business strategist, local public relations consultant or marketing agency.
“Having a local team on the ground in a new market is crucial,” notes Leaf, explaining that one of the core services her agency offers international brands is ‘strategic counsel’ – essentially operating as a client’s eyes and ears on the ground. “We assist with everything from advising on language and seasonality, providing insight into out-of-home advertising locations, collecting like-minded collaborative partners and scouting retail spaces.”
“Having a local team on the ground is crucial."
Leaf adds that having someone on the ground to go to bat for you with stockists, local media and even customers ensures that your marketing strategy isn’t simply reliant on data but “on-the-pulse insights”. “Think of it like this,” she elaborates, “you could Google ‘the best restaurant in Sydney’ or you could take a recommendation from a cool friend in the know. The latter is always going to be the better option in my opinion!”
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