International marketing: The complete guide to going global
In a time when the majority of the global population uses the internet, geographic borders shouldn’t hold back your growth.
Total global e-commerce retail sales will reach $6.1 trillion in 2023. So if you’re looking at ways to expand your revenue, you might want to consider international marketing.
However, tapping into a foreign market isn’t as easy as flipping a switch.
In this guide, we’ll explain everything you need to know about international marketing and share some global marketing strategies.
What is international marketing
International marketing is the process of marketing your products or services to an audience beyond your own country’s borders. Also known as global marketing, international marketing requires a lot more research and planning than domestic marketing.
What are the benefits of international marketing
The main benefit of international marketing is that it helps you reach potential customers around the world. You can use international marketing to raise global awareness of your brand or target customers in specific countries.
When you have customers in multiple countries, your revenue stream isn’t dependent solely on economic and buying trends in your home country.
International marketing strategies to consider
Here are a few international marketing strategies to consider. Keep in mind that entering a foreign market looks totally different from business to business.
Exporting your product directly to customers abroad allows you to enter a new market without totally transforming the way you do business. Exporting may be a good approach if you can handle the marketing and shipping costs.
Similar to fast food or retail franchise, this concept is simple: Someone else pays for the opportunity to sell your product locally or on your behalf. You determine the franchising rules, but international franchising also requires you to create agreements that conform to laws in the foreign location.
Similar to franchising, licensing allows a business partner to sell your intellectual property or brand in exchange for a fee.
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.
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).
Tips for making a global marketing push
International marketing success requires doing your homework.
Below are three tips for any brand seriously considering an international marketing campaign.
1. Target 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 meet the following characteristics:
- Little-to-no language barrier. 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.
2. Consider the cost and resources involved with expansion
Conventional wisdom says that entering foreign markets isn’t cheap.
Here are some costs to consider:
- Legal (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)
This is why global expansion seems reserved for corporate giants and household names. The bigger your budget, the easier it is to expand.
But it really depends on your industry. It’s possible for a smaller retail business to offer international shipping or market to specific territories without creating microsites for those regions. Compare that to ecommerce giants like H&M that have a presence just about everywhere.
Some companies have an easier time entering international markets than others. Specifically, those that 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.
3. Make your market research count
The importance of market research can’t be overstated when entering foreign markets.
For example, one study found that many western companies failed to expand into China due to a lack of strategic determination and patience.
In-depth research counts. Your brand should think of these five things when researching a new territory to enter:
- 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 differences that conflict with your brand’s values?
- 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 to conduct a competitive analysis before potential expansion.
Remember: Just because your direct competitors aren’t involved in a particular market doesn’t mean that market is a poor fit for your organization.
How to use social media for international marketing
Social media is a good starting point for an international marketing strategy considering the nearly 4 billion social media users around the globe.
Let’s take a look at some key considerations for social media for international marketing.
Determine if you need multiple brand accounts
While it might be tempting to create new accounts for each foreign market you want to target, managing all of those accounts takes a lot of time. That’s why it’s typically reserved for bigger brands like Levi’s.
We recommend sticking with a single, global account and expanding when demand warrants it.
For example, if you find that your primary 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.
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.
Craft campaigns that speak your audience’s language
Mind both your tone and language when speaking to customers abroad. Using the wrong terminology or “Americanized” spelling could be offputting for a foreign audience. For example, what people in the US call a “koozie,” Australians call a “stubby holder.” It’s the same product (and has the same insulating effects on your canned beverage), but the terminology is totally different.
Understand your audience’s culture and customs
Companies today should be culturally sensitive. Failure to do so could make your brand seem out of touch, and you could miss out on opportunities to connect with your customers.
Familiarizing yourself with your target market’s culture is crucial. Arsenal Football Club demonstrates cultural awareness by acknowledging an international holiday.
Wishing a blessed, peaceful and healthy holy month to everyone celebrating 😀#RamadanKareem pic.twitter.com/FCgVEER9lZ
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) April 23, 2020
Failure to understand cultures and customs may cause you to miss out on opportunities to connect with your customers.
Marketing that works in your country may not work as well abroad due to varying laws and regulations.
The EU’s GDPR is a shining example of how marketers have to adapt based on where they’re doing business. GDPR has prompted international marketers to rethink how they collect and use EU customer data.
Running afoul of these data privacy regulations can be costly, so review them if you’re planning to market to anyone in the EU.
Understand your costs
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 about these costs, consult others who’ve actually run international campaigns, or consider running a test campaign 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.
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.
Does international marketing 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 international marketing actually makes sense.
If you’re still on the fence, check out our complete guide on social media marketing for even more tips to help you get started.
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