No man is an island, and the same can be said of businesses too. Those that seek success will readily recognize that to get ahead of the competition, it isn’t enough to corner a local market. International marketing strategies also need to be developed and deployed.

While businesses can certainly find success within a single region, or even a single nation, such restriction places a hard ceiling on potential growth. It’s only when companies look to expand internationally that they truly find their wings, and transition from a successful company into a thriving company.

The additional resources provide further impetus for growth and provide a larger pool to draw from during hard times, improving survivability.

However, jumping headfirst into the international markets without proper preparation and research is about as wise as jumping headfirst into a lake without proper preparation and training. Before any such advance into the international market, you need to make sure your company will swim rather than sink.


Do you know yourself as well as you know your markets?

Before any steps can be taken to expand to markets overseas, the most crucial preparatory step of all must be made. You need to make sure that you properly understand your business and the products or services that it sells.

  1. Simply put, is your company ready to sell overseas?
  2. Does it have the resources, the manpower, the contacts, the organization, and the penetration?
  3. Is your product something that can find universal appeal in foreign markets?
  4. If you sell more than one product or service, which ones do you focus on?

National reputation may also play a factor. Certain countries will carry a certain prestige regarding their products, such as Japan with its reputation for high-quality products and attention to detail or Canada with its reputation for clean industry and trustworthiness.

Get a good idea of how your nation is perceived abroad and work out how this may impact any strategy you develop.

Do your research

Make sure you investigate the markets you’ll be expanding into, and get an understanding of how your products will fit in.

One crucial area is in matters of law and regulation. Various markets will be governed by policies that may regulate or prohibit the sale of certain goods.

A particularly well-known case is that of the EU, which places a ban on the US importing chlorine-washed chicken citing it as both a hygiene and animal welfare concern. Likewise, many nations will prohibit the import of goods that may be perfectly legal in other countries, most usually firearms or narcotics.

Any tariffs on goods should also be researched as these will affect profit margins. Likewise, you’ll need to understand any tax obligations you may need to pay when operating in that market.

Make sure you look up and understand these regulations, and that your product adequately complies with them. It may be possible you’ll need to adopt several different variants of the same model in order to them acceptable to different markets.


Avoiding international pitfalls

Remember that markets are as diverse as their consumers, and that there is no such thing as a one-size fits all product. You’ll need to tailor your products and your strategy to the global market.

For example, food companies will often have to adapt their products to better adapt to local tastes. McDonald’s has a rather different menu in its Indian restaurants compared to its American restaurants, which is further different to sites that open in Japan. These can be a result of cultural differences—Islamic countries will likely restrict products that are considered haram (forbidden)—or the availability (or lack thereof) of certain ingredients.

It’s also important to make sure your products or marketing don’t fall afoul of any cultural misunderstandings when being sold abroad. You don’t want your product name to turn out to be a profanity when translated into a local language! Make sure you have a localization expert who can review these and point out any potential faux pas before they hit the market.

One common mix up among Anglophone companies is the various dialects of English.

An Australian clothing company seeking to expand into the UK market was rather surprised when their line of sandals wasn’t selling online as well as expected. Upon consultation with a British localization expert, it was quickly found that the reason behind this was simply a matter of separation by a common language—in Australia, sandals are called thongs, which in Britain referred to a specific type of underwear.

Nobody using their online store could find their sandals because they wouldn’t think to check under “thongs”.  After this was corrected, sales quickly began to pick up.


Understand the market

The most challenging part of your international strategy will undoubtedly be in convincing a foreign market why they should buy your product over the competition, especially if there’s a local provider. Your product must stand out in some way from the rest of your peers, whether through some innovation in its application or some convenience to the consumer—such as affordability.

Companies may seek the services of a local company to distribute their goods in a foreign market, which will already understand its dynamics. It also provides the recognition of a familiar brand.

When Studio Ghibli, an anime studio now famous among Western audiences, first tried to gain access to American markets they frequently did so through American production companies, most notably the Disney Company. The latter would handle translation, localization, and distribution, usually under strict agreements with Studio Ghibli in order to preserve the creative integrity of the product. This exposed American audiences to high-quality Japanese animation and provided Studio Ghibli access to a very rich and valuable market.


Developing your marketing strategy

Before you launch, consider other questions too.

  • Will you tailor your brand to individual companies, each with its own sub-brand? Or will your company maintain one global style of branding?
  • How will you determine KPIs? What metric of success will you use?
  • What are your short-term, medium-term, and long-term strategies?
  • How is your international strategy going to be structured? Will your original company be a parent company overseeing various client companies, or will you maintain a homogenous company with international branches?

As stressed above, this international business strategy will need to be adapted to its local markets and niche. As such any plan will need to be adaptable, modular, and capable of innovating on the fly as needed.

Rigidity will simply cause the strategy to crack and crumble—flexibility is the key to success.

Grow your international strategic skills, creative executional ability, and cutting-edge knowledge to launch a global marketing career in a constantly shifting digital environment with an undergraduate, mba or masters degree from Hult.