Making the decision to jump onto the international stage with your products is a big decision. You must consider everything from your mode of entry (see the image below for optional modes of entry), to legal issues involved in international marketing, to cultural or technological adaption. Marketing your business to those outside your home country also often means hiring local businesses to ease the process, such as designing marketing campaigns that resonate in a different culture or logistics companies to handle transportation and customs. In this post, we discuss some of the major considerations as you jump into international marketing hoping for a high degree of success.
Why might you consider marketing your products internationally or even to a global market? Easy. Because these markets offer incredible potential to increase sales and revenue. For instance, Netflix predicts international consumers will ultimately represent 90% of their market up from 56% today and Nike reported much of its market growth in 2018 came from international sales.
Current thinking surrounding international marketing is summed up in a single statement:
Think global, act local
Image courtesy of Blue Steps
Translating this into action isn’t so easy; relying heavily on a detailed understanding of the external environment in host countries you’re considering to identify the best opportunity for success. Here are some examples of how major brands adapted to a new market[source]:
- McDonalds is the master of local adaption and while every outlet follows strict branding and franchise policies, the company is quick to adapt to local taste preferences. Examples of this from around the world include:
- McRice Burger (South East Asia)
- Black & White Burgers (China)
- McLaks Burger (Norway)
- The global energy drink brand Red Bull adapted their product packaging when entering the Chinese market for the first time. The company chose gold and red as their packaging colors as Red is a symbol of good luck and Gold a symbol of wealth and happiness.
Implementing a successful international marketing program relies on knowing what aspects of business you must adapt since adaptation increases costs and uncertainty. Thus, limiting adaptions to those required by legal or technological environments or those demanded by customers optimizes success. And, adaptation requires you to make changes for each culture, not just each country or region.
So, let’s delve into some critical aspects of international marketing.
Marketing your international business
1. Will my product travel well
The first thing you need to do is work out whether there is actually a market for your product in the first place. It’s amazing how often people try to make their business succeed in other places before even doing a thorough investigation of the needs, competition, and other aspects of international marketing to a specific country or region.
It is well worth spending some time and money to find out if your product really travels well before you do anything else, as it could end up saving you a great deal of time and a bunch of money in the long run. Sometimes it’s a language problem that’s fairly easily fixed such as the Chevy Nova, which translates into Spanish as “no go” — certainly not a desirable characteristic for an automobile. In other cases, a small product tweak, such as adapting to different electric current or plug configurations, does the trick. Worst case, you need an entirely new product to meet the demands of a different marketplace.
Your marketing campaigns likely need a total spruce-up before taking them outside your home country. For instance, I once learned of a campaign that flopped for something as simple as the car in the ad bearing a license plate from another country.
Hiring a local advertising agency may prove worthwhile since they likely know the local customs and idiosyncrasies of the local market.
In a digital world, where all e-commerce is, by its very nature, international marketing, you may develop a different site for different countries with each website tailored to a particular country or region. IBM does this by using a home page requesting your country before taking you to a tailored website likely to meet your preferences better.
2. Pay careful attention to local laws and regulations
Laws and regulations vary greatly from one country to the next, creating huge complexity for businesses moving into another country, although alliances such as the EU and trade agreements such as the North American trade agreement, USMCA, which replaced NAFTA in 2020. Here are just a few legal and regulatory things to consider:
- Advertising regulations, including comparative advertising (not allowed in many countries), the use of nudity, limitations on advertising certain products such as pharmaceuticals, and other major regulations
- Customs, including tariffs (taxes) and quotas (limitations) imposed by governments on products coming from outside countries included in their trade agreements
- Antitrust, which primarily exists in the US
- Financial issues such as taxes and limitations on taking money out of the country
- Expropriation risk should the government decide to absorb private businesses
- Employment laws
- Investment regulations limiting your ability to increase your investment by building facilities in the country
- Intellectual property rights
3. Make the most of new opportunities
The great thing about going international is that there are many more opportunities for you to grow your business if you do it right. Look for opportunities to grow your business by dipping your toe into international marketing by exporting your existing product, if possible, as this limits risk. For instance, I once interviewed a 3rd generation business owner in Spain about his international marketing. He was interested in exporting because visitors to his Spanish stores sent requests for his product once they returned home. This was a strong indication of international interest in his product. He faced many challenges, as his product was perishable, but we built a strategy to meet his goal of taking his product to other countries.