International marketing: What you need when entering foreign markets

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Interested in entering a foreign market?

In a day-and-age dominated by digital commerce and worldwide shipping, borders shouldn’t hold back your growth.

Heck, the global ecommerce space is projected to grow to a staggering $4.5 trillion by next year. Couple that with the fact that nearly 2 billion people made an online purchase in 2019.

However, tapping into a foreign market isn’t as easy as flipping a switch. This is especially true given the financial risks and legwork involved.

That’s why we put together this quick guide.

3 must-dos before a global marketing push

So much of international marketing involves doing your homework. And it’s important to do this homework!

Below are three top priorities for any brand seriously interested in entering international markets.

1. Brainstorm territories with a low barrier to entry

The idea of expanding your business is equal parts exciting and daunting.

To help you hone in on where to expand, start by exploring territories that would require you to jump through fewer hoops.

Think of territories that tick the following boxes:

  • Little-to-no language barrier. For example, it’s much easier for a US-based company to use near-identical messages and marketing materials for English-speaking audiences in the UK or Australia (see Topshop below).
  • Close proximity. If you’re dealing with physical shipping, there’s obviously a geographic advantage of entering foreign markets that aren’t half the world away.
  • Similar demographics. Ideally, your target audience both at home and abroad should be similar. This rings true when it comes to factors like gender, age and spending power.
Screenshop of Topshop's international marketing country preference and asks which country's website you'd like to visit: UK or US?

There is no cheat code for figuring out where you should expand. That said, the factors above can help you narrow your search.

2. Consider the cost and resources involved with expansion

Conventional wisdom says that entering foreign markets isn’t cheap.

Without even getting into the nitty-gritty, here are some costs to consider:

  • Shipping costs
  • Legal expenses (think: registering your business in a new location, licensing, contracts, etc.)
  • Foreign taxes
  • Translation services (for international social media accounts, multilingual SEO, and so on)
  • New employees (either digital or in-person, including consultants and contractors)
  • Travel expenses

Perhaps this is why global expansion seems reserved for corporate giants and household names. The bigger your budget, the easier it is to expand.

But again, it really depends on your industry. It’s possible for a smaller retail business to offer international shipping or market to specific territories without specifically creating microsites for those regions. Compare that to ecommerce giants like H&M that have a presence just about everywhere.

Screenshot of H&M international marketing to multiple territories

On the flip side, some companies have an easier time entering international markets than others. Specifically, those who don’t have to worry about physical products.

Look at SaaS marketing as a prime example. Sprout Social’s Spanish site boasts similar creatives and messaging to our standard homepage.

Homepage of Sprout Social international marketing Spanish website

Meanwhile, on-site translation services like Google Translate can go a long way to empower companies selling digital products to go global.

3. Make your market research count

The importance of market research can’t be overstated with regard to entering foreign markets.

For example, it’s well-documented that many Western companies have totally failed to expand into China despite seemingly endless opportunities to do so on paper.

Again, in-depth research counts. This includes the following for any given territory:

  • Economy: Are they on the brink of recession? Or have they been experiencing a recent boom?
  • Demographics: Do their consumers mirror your own?
  • Culture: Is the country progressive, conservative, or somewhere in-between? Are there any cultural, societal or religious conflicts between your brand and the average consumer?
  • Regulations: Are there any legal barriers to consider for doing business?
  • Costs: Will it be cheaper or more expensive to do business abroad? Would the costs be similar to doing business at home?

As a side note, don’t forget about conducting competitive analysis prior to potential expansion.

Remember: just because your direct competitors aren’t involved in a particular market doesn’t mean opportunity for you. In fact, there might be a reason why they haven’t expanded. This includes local competitors and other economic factors.

“What about entering foreign markets on social media?”

With a global audience approaching 4.1 billion people, the wide reach of social media goes hand in hand with international marketing.

Let’s take a look at some key considerations for social media in regard to expansion.

Determine if you need multiple brand accounts

It’s no secret that growing your social media presence can be an uphill battle.

And so while it might be tempting to create new accounts for each foreign market your in, doing so is typically reserved for bigger businesses.

Screenshot of Levi's multiple Twitters accounts, which can assist in their international marketing efforts by country

We recommend sticking with a single, global account and expanding as soon as demand warrants it.

For example, if you find that your main account is being bombarded with service requests or questions from abroad, it might be time to create a supplementary social presence.

Discover opportunities to cross-post and diversify your content strategy

Entering foreign markets means new creative opportunities when it comes to your social content strategy.

For example, you might define separate marketing messages and materials depending on your audience’s location.

Brands like Netflix have dedicated Twitter accounts based on geography, some of which look starkly different from their main account.

View of Netflix Philippines's Twitter account that targets their local audience's interests. View of Netflix US's Twitter account that targets their local audience's interests.

That said, there might be instances where you’d rather cross-post and double-dip your social media content regardless of geography. Using Sprout Social’s scheduling tools, you can manage all of your social assets and schedule posts appropriately to ensure that you don’t spread yourself thin content-wise.

Using a social scheduling calendar, such as this one, is important for international marketing to ensure you get the most out of your content.

Craft campaigns that speak your audience’s language (like, literally)

This might be a no-brainer, but you should mind both your tone and language when speaking to customers abroad.

For example, brands like Vegemite are uniquely Australian and make a point to spark conversations specifically targeting local customers.

The same rings true for Missguided and their UK-specific memes and captions.

This likewise speaks to whether you want to rely on the likes of Google Translate to take care of localizing your captions or have someone else do it for you.

Understand your audience’s culture and customs

Companies today can’t afford to be culturally insensitive.

From holidays and religious customers to cultural norms and beyond, familiarizing yourself with your target audience’s culture is crucial.

Failure to do so could not only make your brand seem tone-deaf but also miss out on opportunities to connect with your customers.

Double-check regulations and costs that could halt your campaigns

What “works” marketing-wise at home may not work as well abroad.

Look no further than GDPR as a shining example of how marketers have to adapt based on where they’re doing business. Similarly, factors such as cost-per-click and how much Facebook ads cost vary greatly from the United States to, say, Indonesia or India.

When in doubt, consult with others who’ve actually run international campaigns or consider running a test campaign for yourself.

Mind the timing of your posts

Oh, and don’t forget about time zones!

As evidenced by our research on the best times to post on social media, engagement rates are highly dependent on timing.

Heat map showing the best times to post on Instagram based on global engagement

And yet again, this is where a tool like Sprout comes in handy.

Not only does Sprout allow you to queue up your posts in advance so you always hit those optimal publishing times, but you can also automatically detect when your audience is most engaged and publish during those times. Either way, there’s no pressure for you to post content in real-time.

Sprout Social's scheduling tool provides options on optimal send times based on your audience's engagement history.

“Which international market entry strategies should I consider?”

Keep in mind that entering a foreign market looks totally different from business to business. You can actually expand to new territory without even stepping foot in it.

To wrap things up, we’ll highlight some market entry strategies to consider:

Exporting

No surprises here. Exporting your product directly to customers abroad allows you to enter a new market without totally transforming the way you do business. If you can handle the marketing and shipping costs, you’re golden.

Franchising

Much like franchises in fast food or retail, the concept here is simple: someone else pays for the opportunity to sell your product locally on your behalf. You ultimately determine the rules and regulations involved in the franchising process to ensure the quality of your product or service.

Licensing

Similar to franchising, licensing allows a business partner to sell your intellectual property or brand in exchange for a fee.

Piggybacking

Through piggybacking, you essentially allow a larger, non-competing business to sell your product as part of their inventory. Think of this almost as a form of channel sales, but it requires a lot of trust in how your products will be marketed abroad.

Joint ventures

A joint venture represents a business partnership where two companies come together to create a unique product or service. Although this requires the most risk of the options above, it also has great potential for returns (both of which are shared by the parties involved).

Does entering a foreign market make sense for your business?

Businesses rightfully want to grow their audiences ASAP.

Sometimes entering a foreign market is the perfect way to do so.

Of course, you can’t just expand your business on a whim. By conducting thorough research, you can better set yourself up for success and decide whether or not a foreign market actually makes sense.

If you’re still on the fence, make sure to review our recent guide on entering emerging markets via social media.

This post International marketing: What you need when entering foreign markets originally appeared on Sprout Social.

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