Jun 27, 2018
For business owners, expanding your footprint into the global marketplace is an attractive endeavor. You can prolong the saleable window for existing products, grow your customer base, uncover new opportunities to service (and profit from) these new customers, and win majority market share of a new locality. However, globalization is also an enormous undertaking for any business, large or small.
Developing a business internationally requires exceptional leadership, sound strategy, extensive resources, and a lot of patience. The companies that have globalized most successfully are the companies that made sure to keep the needs of their customers at the core of their strategy. However, in this day and age, customers are living their lives online and through their mobile devices; so it is imperative for any business endeavoring to expand globally to make sure its globalization strategy extends into the digital space.
The platforms and tools available in the digital landscape have made the world a lot smaller and thereby made business expansion a lot less challenging than before. Below are six considerations for anyone endeavoring to grow their business worldwide:
Before you embark on an expansion of any sort, it’s important to review the performance of your business. What are your best-selling products? Where are those sales coming from? Which markets? Which digital channels are driving the most sales? What services are currently underutilized by your consumers? What are the top customer service inquiries?
Answering these kinds of questions will help you understand what is currently working well – and what isn’t. It will give you a clearer picture of which aspects of your business are resonating, or failing to resonate, with your consumer; and will help identify the aspects of your business that are worth optimizing and scaling to other markets
As with any marketing strategy, research is paramount. Take the insights from your business performance review – your top markets, for example – and use them as a baseline for a deep-dive into each market’s consumer needs and competitive business analysis. Things like climate, political environment, education access, and religious beliefs are cultural elements that not only vary depending on location, but strongly impact the lifestyle and needs of the consumers in a given location.
It’s also imperative to understand the competitive landscape of each market you wish to launch in. What other brands exist in the hearts and minds of consumers in that location, and how did they build that affinity? What do consumers like or dislike about those brands’ products, and is it possible for you to improve upon their shortcomings? What is the digital and social media footprint of your competitors?
Global expansion is essentially like launching a new business, so it’s important to thoroughly research the new market to ensure there is a need and demand for your products or services before setting up shop.
Successful global businesses, if they are to remain recognizable and respected within the public consciousness, require a consistent communication of the brand’s aesthetic and values. Codifying the look and feel of your brand with a brand style guide, and clarifying what your brand stands for through well-defined messaging guidelines, are necessary steps to ensuring consistency across all the platforms and markets where consumers engage with your business.
Using the same color palette, logos, fonts, and tone of voice across all brand assets helps make your brand distinct and memorable, while subliminally fostering a sense of trustworthiness and reliability due to the consistency of your approach and look. Having these guidelines in place beforehand will also make operationalizing local market teams much more turnkey.
“Successful global businesses, if they are to remain recognizable and respected within the public consciousness, require a consistent communication of the brand’s aesthetic and values”
When launching your business in new markets around the world, it might be tempting to just reuse all your current marketing material and simply translate it into the local language – but that is actually the worst thing you can do.
Marketing is deemed successful when it’s relatable and relevant to its target audience, thereby inspiring that audience to action. If you just translate marketing assets from your home market, you’re showing your consumers that you’re essentially lazy and tone-deaf to the cultural nuances that exist in different markets. If you’re ignorant of your consumers’ needs, then your brand or business holds no marketplace value and no emotional value. The more you can implement colloquialisms and references to a consumer’s day-to-day life, the more in-tune your brand is perceived to be, and consumers will become more receptive to your message.
This use of relevant vernacular applies to all marketing tactics, including, but not limited to: search marketing keywords; social media posts; website/editorial content; and display ads. To aid in this, create consumer personas and be sure to understand the platforms on which your target audience is spending its time online, during what times, and on what devices, so that you can deliver the right message, to the right person, at the right time.
Geo-targeting your marketing messages with the right language/vernacular, whilst being cognizant of the right time zones and currencies, are seemingly small tactics – but they make a big impact on how consumers perceive your brand, products, and services. These are the tactics that help foster global brand affinity.
When you launch in new markets you have to make sure that your owned digital properties are technologically prepared, on the back-end, to deal with an influx of new traffic. Beyond traffic, does your website’s user experience (UX) adjust for the alphabets, special characters, and sentence structure of other languages? Is the sitemap and navigation optimized for potentially different browsing behavior and search patterns? Is your site’s imagery diverse and culturally sensitive? Is the design optimized for all types of mobile devices with varying network speeds? These are all elements worth preparing for and thoroughly testing prior to launching in new markets.
Ideally, your localized marketing campaigns would drive to a digital domain that reflects the same level of cultural sensitivity and localized experience. If not, it creates a lack of continuity and can cause confusion. Taking it a step further, think about using a country-specific domain like ‘.co.uk’ for the United Kingdom, for example. Facebook’s business Pages have a global functionality that can automatically drive users to the brand’s most relevant local market Page, based on the user’s current IP address. Global brands like American Express, Coca-Cola, and Starbucks do a great job of leveraging localized websites and social media pages for bespoke marketing that is hyper-relevant to that market’s consumer.
As mentioned previously, expanding your business globally also requires extensive resources. To sustain your global business strategies and operations, you must enlist resources on the ground. Hire local employees, consultants, influencers, and/or agencies in these new markets to provide cultural checks and balances, service customers in their own language, synthesize performance data into actionable insights, and optimize tactics in real-time. Local teams will have the best insight into the potential challenges in the local market, and will be able to hold the business leadership team accountable to affect change.
So yes, globalization is a daunting task – there’s no way around that. But, if you commit to doing the research, creating guidelines, developing a localization strategy, vetting/optimizing your UX, and employing local resources, you will be better positioned for international success. Remember to exercise patience during the process, as no global business achieved success overnight.