When you set out on your international expansion journey, it can feel like there are a million and one things to think about (& there are!). For many companies they are entirely focused on the building blocks of how to find distributors, navigate the logistics, sign contracts etc, however having an international brand is equally as important. After all, you can’t sell your goods or services to a country if nobody knows you exist and (I’ll give you a hint from further down the interview) you can’t assume that what works at home will be 1:1 applicable abroad. So knowing how to build your brand in international markets is a key skill to learn.
This post is built on an interview that I did with Kathrin Bussmann for the Business Beyond Borders Event at the end of 2020.
Introducing Kathrin Bussmann
Kathrin Bussmann is an international marketing consultant, whose mission is to help Cleantech companies go global in a smart, strategic way. She strongly believes that the global climate crisis requires globally scalable solutions, and that green technologies need to be implemented urgently and successfully across languages, borders, and cultures.
Through her consultancy, Verbaccino Inc., Kathrin works at the intersection of global business, international marketing, and localisation. Her focus in on developing digital content strategies that drive her clients’ international expansion, and on making sure those strategies are implemented by specialised practitioners.
Kathrin is also the producer & host of The Worldly Marketer Podcast, a show that explores what it takes to build a global brand in today’s digital, social, multilingual marketplace. (I was a guest on episode 218 & also reviewed the podcast here).
She is ranked as a Top-40 Localisation Industry Influencer on Nimdzi Insights’ Localization Influencers Watchlist.
It was an honour to interview Kathrin & discuss with her the steps brands should think about when they are first going global.
Why do you need marketing?
It sounds really obvious, but you need to raise awareness for the sales campaign you are running, for the ideas you have & for those new products that you are looking to launch. Marketing is the way to do that. This isn’t just true for the private business sector but is equally relevant for NGOs & also government departments.
How many times have you seen advertising or content marketing for charities who are looking to fundraise – starving children, abused animals etc? What about country advertising? The “Incredible India” campaigns or “Malaysia, truly Asia” are ones that spring to mind, but there are also other ones reminding you not to litter or to do your tax returns on time.
These days, there are so many products and services out there, so it’s essential that your marketing stands out (in the right way!). That means that you need to have content marketing to educate and entertain potential clients in your target market. These days, that’s mostly delivered in a digital format & is a cornerstone of how you can become valuable for consumers with your product and services.
Assuming is one of the most frequent mistakes in international expansion
In some ways expanding your business into new markets has never been easier. The internet means that you can market products to customers on the opposite side of the world & deliver directly to them in ways that were unthinkable just over a decade ago.
However, as with many things in life, just because you CAN doesn’t necessarily make it the best thing to actually do. Who is to say that there is really a market there & that your product or service meets “their” requirements? If you’re going to expand, it needs to be to the “right markets”.
Selecting markets is a key foundation for success – you can download my free ebook on the topic below.
Don’t assume that what works well domestically will automatically work so well abroad (it probably won’t).
Do you know how consumers think in your target market? Are they even the same kinds of target customers that you have in your home region?
Don’t assume that you know what they need, what their values are or their priorities.
Accept that you don’t know what you don’t know, and start to educate yourself!
Repeat after me: International Marketing does NOT just equal translation
When you are looking to build your brand in international markets, it’s clear in most cases that you need some kind of localisation & often the first (or only!) thing people think of is translations. Of course, these are important but they are not the be all & end all of starting out in a foreign market.
Furthermore, you can’t just translate everything for your domestic market word for word & expect it to work in the same way in the international arena, there are so many other factors that you need to take into account.
Normally, this means that you need to get specialist external help in order to gather all the necessary data to build your business case and take the decisions you need to establish a strategy:
- how does the consumer culture in your target market affect their preferences for products/services but also for consuming marketing content?
- what technical & legal standards do you need to meet that may be different from at home?
- What market trends do you need to take account of?
- who are your competitors and how are they achieving success in the market?
- how do you want to position your products or services, & how does that fit with what the market demands?
As you can see, there are a lot of things to consider, however failing to factor all of them into your strategy doesn’t only drastically increase your chance of failing, but also can become extremely expensive. Consequently, pay to get the help you need, rather than paying to make your own mistakes.
It shouldn’t be a gut decision
You need to build your business case and strategy for entering new markets on the basis of data, & luckily in the age of the internet there is a plethora of information available. Yes, you may have to pay for some things, but there are other sources which you can easily access for free.
For example: do you already get international visitors to your website? This information is readily available from Google Analytics and can give you clues about where there is existing interest for what you are offering. You need to do your homework about where is the next logical step.
You’ll need to prioritise at this stage in order to focus your energy & resources on the market where your analysis shows that your have the most potential.
Preparing a marketing strategy
The key question to clarify here is how to position your company or brand in the new market, & the easiest way to do that is to work with people who really understand the market in question. Every market is different, so you can’t just assume. eg Outsiders often assume that Austria & Germany are basically one market, but that’s far from the truth. If you look at TV as an example there are completely different adverts & Austrians are often even subtitled on German programmes as otherwise the viewers wouldn’t understand 😂
What are the marketing channels that are most relevant in the market you’re targeting? And what consumer trends should you be considering? eg. a food product which is marketed as being organic & from a green brand might use safety as their prime marketing message in a country like China, where food security has been an issue.
You can audit the content assets that you already have to see if any can be repurposed to help build your brand in international markets. This can be as simple as taking the information and delivering it in a different way. Eg written content might need to be delivered as audio or video material in order to be attractive to consumers in your new market.
You need to provide the right content via the right networks. For instance in B2B sales, there are markets where a white paper is the most suitable way to demonstrate authority whereas in other countries a video would be a more effective method of communication.
It’s critical to remember that every market is different & therefore time and money spent on so-called “transcreation” (creative translation for a specific market and target group) is truly an investment. Just because an ad appeals to a French audience, doesn’t mean that it will deliver the same positive results in Quebec – quite the opposite in most cases.
In this digital age, websites are almost certainly one of the first assets to be localised in most cases. They also show graphically how it’s not enough to simply translate the words.
Starting with the easy things, the dates and currency formats will probably be different. Ask a US American and a Brit when 1.4.22 is & you’ll get different answers… Then of course there’s the vocabulary: when I learnt French in school, we learnt that a peanut is la cacahouète, but a French Canadian would be more likely to use l’arachide so if you’re selling food stuffs you need to also translated your product names/ingredients differently for the website and packaging.
Probably the most difficult thing to translate is humour or the kind of “double meanings” & wordplays which are often used in advertising copy.
Yes, it’s different to domestic SEO (search engine optimisation) & the keywords differ across different markets. That means that your content needs to be not only adjusted linguistically for translation purposes, but also needs to be keyword optimised for the market in question.
The architecture of your website has to be optimised so that you can be found effectively by typical search behaviour in the market. Think about the user experience to make your site both accessible and engaging (& accept that the measure of engaging will vary from market to market).
For any tech companies starting out, Kathrin’s advice is to inform yourself about the international best practices for code right from the start. Even if you don’t intend to go international right away, you should code your products from the beginning so that later localisation is possible without huge investments. If you fail to do this initial groundwork, it can work out really expensive to make the necessary changes retrospectively. (That goes for many other things in international business too – inform yourself before starting out & you’ll save yourself a lot of headaches & costs in the long run).
Launching is just the start
In the same way that a wedding is only the start of a marriage, launching into a new market is only the start of your brand building journey there. That means that when the excitement of launching is over, you also need to have a clear plan in place for managing your customer service.
There are many customer service solutions out there and these are increasingly automated. For example, high quality chat bots are becoming more affordable.
Coordinator for the team
It’s also essential to have a person on your team who will be the coordinator between your brand and the external vendors who are supporting you. This person has to “own” the process and should be responsible for maintaining brand integrity and ensuring that the core values don’t get diluted during the localisation process.
I’ve mentioned this in blog posts before. The study addresses the question whether consumers would purchase more online if the content is available in their native language. The conclusion is a definite yes, so let this be a call to truly localise your content for your target markets.
Full video of the interview
You can find the full video of the interview below where these topics are discussed in more detail, even though we obviously only “scratch the surface” of this topic as a whole. If you enjoy this content, don’t forget to subscribe to my YouTube channel.
Final Top Tips to Build Your Brand in International Markets
These include some of the most frequent mistakes in international expansion, not only in brand building.
- don’t assume! This is a really risky approach that can turn out super expensive for you.
- when entering new markets localise, don’t just take a “copy/paste” approach of your domestic strategy & marketing
- forget the idea that you “just need to translate the website” as it will get you into hot water.
- work with experts to ensure that you reflect the cultural differences properly. US English vs British English, or Spanish Spanish vs Costa Rican Spanish are completely different beasts!
It’s essential that both you and your team get comfortable with being uncomfortable if you are looking to build your brand in international markets. Always remember that there will be an extremely steep learning curve. You need to embrace all the new ideas & experiences that come your way by keeping an open mind. This ability to “keep being surprised” will help you to broaden your mind and increase your chances of success when entering new markets.
You can find some of the other interviews from the Business Beyond Borders Event also here on the blog:
- Maria Iacob: International Money Transfers
- Kate Isichei: Internal Communication Strategies Across Borders
- Lorenzo Fornaroli: Managing International Logistics & Supply Chain Management when starting out in Export
- Joanne Chan: Localisation and Translation Management. Be multi market ready
- Wael Masri: Building International Business Relationships to Drive Growth
- Alexander Assouad: Managing Global Teams and Building Culture when Working across Borders
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