By Shanon Roberts, on 16 March 2021
In today’s marketplaces, global business and international marketing has never been easier. With so many options and tools online, brands can expand their operations into new nations and reach untapped markets.
Creating an international marketing strategy, however, isn’t easy. There are many fundamental and more nuanced issues that need to be considered when marketing to different cultures. And some big brands have made embarrassingly big blunders when trying to cross over into new markets.
So what is international marketing exactly? What are the fundamentals for creating an international marketing strategy? We’ll cover this and more below.
What is International Marketing?
International marketing can be defined as the tactics and methods used to market products and services in multiple countries. This could be in the form of export/import, franchising or licensing and very common today, international online sales.
Each country represents a unique challenge for marketers because of culture, language, laws, and other factors. These could be neighboring nations or across the world on different continents. These distinctions can also be broken down to regional and local levels which require even more targeted techniques.
The decisions to do business internationally and therefore launch an international marketing campaign are varied:
- Expanding brand awareness
- Economic growth in a country
- New commerce laws
- Untapped or underserved markets
- International partnerships/joint ventures
- And more
Expanding to a global operation can range from simple to extremely complicated. Consider a US business expanding into Canada versus expanding into Romania, for example. There are much wider cultural and linguistic differences, time and distance considerations, as well as wider differences in economic structures and regulations.
Fundamentals of International Marketing
As with any new project or campaign, thorough research is essential. When entering a new market which could be vastly different from your own, this is even more true. Overall you want to gain a deep understanding of your international target market. Here are a few fundamentals of international marketing to consider before moving forward.
Understand the Language and Culture
It may go without saying but in order to market to other nations you need to gain a better understanding of their culture and language. Perhaps you already have a connection with that culture and that’s why you’ve decided to enter the market. If not, it will serve you well to have a local partner/representative that can give you insight into what makes the market tick.
Europe is a great example of many different cultures and languages within a relatively small geographic area. People’s languages, lifestyles, daily routines and purchasing decisions can vary greatly between countries and even regions of the same nation. Humor isn’t universal either and marketing attempts at humor could fall flat or even offend. So, having as much insight into the specificities of each market as possible is a major advantage you’ll want to have.
Lay’s has mastered regional marketing by creating regional flavors, like red caviar in Russia. Source: Trip Savvy
One way to lower the barrier of entry to international expansion is by entering countries similar to your own. This could be nations with the same language (UK, Canada, Australia, Ireland, etc.), in close proximity or with similar demographics, like how much purchasing power people have. Still, there are plenty of cultural and regional linguistic differences between countries like the US and the UK. This is where market research pays off.
Do Thorough Market Research
Market research is vital to any marketing campaign, especially concerning international expansion. There are numerous factors that should be taken into consideration when assessing a foreign market:
- Cultural Differences - This is a serious first concern. It’s vital that you understand customs, traditions, religious beliefs and how they fit or clash with what your brand represents.
- Economics - Is there an ongoing recession or a surge in investment and growth? Economic timing is an important factor when deciding on international marketing projects.
- Legalities and Regulations - Laws vary from country to country. This is especially true when it comes to alcohol or other substances, vehicle modifications, etc. Certain food preservatives that are legal in the US are illegal in Europe, for example.
- Politics - Is your target region more conservative or more liberal? Is there political stability? These factors play a huge role in not only mentalities but also whether it’s worth your investment when stability is an issue.
- Costs - How expensive is it to do business in the country? Shipping, licenses and translation services can quickly add to your overhead. Some nations have prohibitive taxes and fees on businesses which might be surprising pitfalls, and simply not worth having to deal with.
- Demographics - Some countries have much older or younger populations than others. 26% of people in Japan, for example, are over the age of 65. Buying power is also an important consideration: Can enough people even afford your products or services?
Global SEO with Hreflangs and Canonical Links
While locally targeted social ads are a great way to market internationally, building up your global SEO is a better long term approach. If you’ve already established a foreign market for your products then investing in your SEO is highly recommended.
International marketing will likely require you to have separate language versions of your website, maximize your SEO and provide a smooth UX by using hreflang tags in your code. A good practice is using canonical links to let Google know that your versions of the same site are not duplicate content. Hreflang tags serve up the appropriate version of your site to your users based on location and therefore reduces bounce rates.
Location Specific Social Accounts
Like having multiple language versions of your site, you might also consider doing the same for social accounts. People want content in their native language and it helps you as a marketer to connect with them in any and every way possible. That being said, if you run a relatively small operation it might be overkill to maintain international social accounts.
If you’re receiving many requests and communications in a foreign language then you may want to set up a social account for that language or region.
Examples of International Marketing
So far we’ve covered some fundamentals of international marketing. Now let’s look at examples of how brands have successfully executed global marketing strategies.
1. Dunkin Donuts
Dunkin Donuts now has around 3,200 stores in more than 30 countries. How has a donut chain become so successful on a global scale? They adapt their donuts to appeal to local tastes. In China they serve up pork and seaweed donuts, in India it’s saffron and pistachio donuts. If your budget provides, customize your offerings to match unique regional likings.
Source: The Travel
Spotify has grown into one of the most successful brands in recent memory. That’s because they don’t simply offer genres of music for their listeners, they offer music suggestions based on activities like exercise and relaxation. This crosses borders and allows new artists to reach audiences they might not otherwise have connected with.
AirBnb harnessed the power of hashtags on social media to generate engagement and spread brand awareness. The hashtag #onelessstranger encouraged people in the AirBnB community to perform acts of hospitality and take photos or videos with the guests. The social campaign was an incredible success with around 3 million people participating around the world.
4. Red Bull
Red Bull is extremely good at making people think it's a local brand. They do this by hosting events all around the world like their Air race in the UK, Grand Prix in Indianapolis, and rally events in rotating locales. Red Bull also has their site and content in many languages with localized content.
Their strong global branding has also led to international marketing success. Their simple cartoon ads with the tagline “Red Bull gives you wings.”, are understandable across borders.
International marketing has become easier and easier. Social media ads, Google Ads, online shopping and a wealth of other tools means marketers can reach audiences in surprising new ways. That being said, it’s imperative to conduct thorough research into cultural differences and invest in regional marketing. Some brands have had success with global marketing standardization but more locally targeted marketing strategies are highly recommended. Take some inspiration from the examples above and see how you can speak to people in their own language—literally.