By Shanon Roberts, on 4 April 2023
In today’s marketplaces, global business and international marketing have 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 issues that need to be considered when marketing to different cultures. Some big brands have made embarrassing blunders when trying to cross over into new markets.
So, what exactly is international marketing? What are the fundamentals of creating an international marketing strategy? Let's dive in!
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 import/export, franchising, licensing, and online sales.
Each country represents a unique challenge for marketers because of culture, language, laws, and other factors. These challenges can also be present on regional and local levels which require even more targeted techniques.
Below are examples (not an exhaustive list) of why a brand might decide to do business internationally and launch an international marketing campaign:
- Expand brand awareness
- Economic growth in a country
- New commerce laws
- Untapped or underserved markets
- International partnerships/joint ventures
Launching a global operation can be simple or extremely complicated. Consider a US business expanding into Canada versus expanding into the EU, 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 to Take Your Business Across Borders
As with any new project or campaign, thorough research is essential. And when entering a new market that is vastly different from your own, this is even more true. Overall, you want to gain a deep understanding of your international target market. Below are some 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 or representative that can give you insight into what makes the market tick.
Europe is a great example of a continent that has 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 people. Therefore, having as much insight into the specificities of each market as possible is a major advantage.
Lay’s has mastered regional marketing by creating regional flavors, like Magic Masala in India.
One way to lower the barrier of entry to international expansion is by entering countries similar to your own. These could be nations with the same language (UK, Canada, Australia, Ireland, etc.), ones that are close to you, or ones that have similar demographics. Still, there are plenty of cultural and regional linguistic differences between countries like the U.S. and the U.K. This is where market research pays off.
Do Thorough Market Research
Market research is vital to any marketing campaign, especially when it comes to international expansion. There are numerous factors that should be taken into consideration when assessing a foreign market such as:
- Cultural differences: 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 whether it’s worth your investment, especially if 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 pitfalls.
- 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?
- Competitors: Are any of your competitors already in the market you are considering entering? If so, what will set you apart from them and cause people to choose your brand?
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, 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 for consumers by using hreflang tags in your code. A good practice is using canonical links to let Google know that the different versions of your site are not duplicate content. Hreflang tags serve up the appropriate version of your site to your users based on their location and therefore, reduce bounce rates.
Location Specific Social Accounts
Like having multiple language versions of your site, you might want consider doing the same for your social media 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, you may want to set up a social media account for that language or region.
5 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 thousands of 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 allows for it, customize your offerings to match unique regional tastes.
Spotify has grown into one of the most successful brands in the world. 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 a great 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 different locales. Red Bull also has their site and content in many languages with customized local content.
McDonald's is another brand that has adapted its products to local markets (and food regulations). They do this by creating different menus in different countries or regions based on the flavors and dishes that are popular in each place.
For instance, their breakfast offering in Turkey, which is pictured below, isn't something you'll find on the McDonald's menu in the U.S. A lot of McDonald's international success is due to their understanding of their different markets and of what kinds of products will sell in each.
International marketing has become easier and easier. Social media ads, google ads, online shopping, and a wealth of other tools mean that marketers can reach audiences in new ways. That being said, it’s important to conduct thorough research on 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—quite literally.