The How-to Guide to Effective International Marketing

Best practices in the international marketing space vary significantly from advertising in the U.S. In addition to the legal and regulatory differences you’ll encounter, selling overseas also requires you to navigate unfamiliar cultures and values. But don’t let that discourage you: Marketing globally isn’t just for Fortune 500 companies and startups with investment capital to burn. With smart international marketing, even niche businesses can broaden their appeal and expand beyond the domestic space.

The majority of digital media consumption worldwide now takes place on mobile devices, pointing to new opportunities to reach prospects through both phone and digital channels. And there are plenty of success stories that testify to this approach, like how Airbnb earned more than 3 million impressions and catapulted to worldwide attention with their mobile-focused and international-minded #OneLessStranger campaign.

By learning how to effectively advertise in the international arena, your business can access untapped markets, reach new customers and reap big returns.

Focus your efforts, do your homework

The first step to effective international marketing is to identify a specific country or region to target, and then stick to it. This means that your approach will need to be focused and purposeful: Don’t just set your sights an entire continent, drill down to identify the specific countries that will be most receptive to your service, and to locate regions where your product can fill a gap or satisfy an unmet need.

As an example, telecom or mobile firms will have a tough time breaking into the Eurozone market, since this industry is both highly regulated and ultra-competitive throughout the continent. But if you cast an eye across the Mediterranean Sea, you’ll find a much more relaxed mobile business climate in North African countries like Morocco and Tunisia, which means more breathing room to advertise and sell your product.

Once you’ve narrowed your search and found a suitable country or region for your international marketing push, you’ll want to double down on your research and study the ins-and-outs of your target market.

Learn the laws of the land

Your research must always include a deep dive on your target country’s legal and regulatory structures. Many nations have strict laws about the content and claims that can be included in an advertisement, and what’s legal in Dallas may not be in Dubai. In order to market and sell in some countries, your business may even need to submit to certain restrictions on its operations and investments.

The regulatory climate will vary from country to country, so you’ll need to be exhaustive with your research. National laws around marketing often differ between industries, but the most common stumbling points are the taxation of online sales and restrictions around contests and promotions. (In the U.S., advertisers are generally allowed to play fast and loose with phrases like “beats the competition” or “best in its class,” but European and Asian countries have much stricter laws around this kind of verbiage.)

Ultimately, the best guidance on this subject is always going to come from real people, so consider forming business and consulting partnerships with individual or firms in your target market. They’ll have an intimate knowledge of the business climate, and can help guide your strategy and ensure you avoid any potential legal or regulatory pitfalls.

Tailor your approach by culture

Fortunately, you don’t have to start entirely from square one as you launch your global strategy, because much of effective international marketing is simply taking what works domestically and adapting it to a new market. The effectiveness of your adaptation is key to whether your marketing efforts succeed or fail — your company may have a brilliant voice and a killer product, but it can’t compete internationally unless you tailor your approach accordingly.

Make cross-cultural competence training a priority for the team heading up your international marketing efforts. And as they research national laws and regulations relevant to your business, you should also pay close attention to that country’s language, culture and values. The knowledge earned here will inform any adjustments that need to be made, and help you overcome cultural differences that could otherwise prevent sales.

The pizza chain Domino’s saw great results with this approach during the launch of their brand campaign in China. Through careful research into East Asian eating habits, they determined that dairy foods (and therefore mozzarella cheese) aren’t as popular in Chinese diets as in the West.

Their solution was to re-tool their product to appeal to the new market they were entering, and advertise accordingly: “It’s easy to just change toppings market to market. In Asia, it’s seafood and fish. It’s curry in India,” Domino’s CEO J. Patrick Doyle told Forbes. With this approach guiding their international marketing training and efforts, Domino’s has become the top pizza chain in nearly 70 countries worldwide.

Optimize your website design

If you want your business to reach a global audience, one of the most important things you can do is optimize your website for international users.

Your site should already be designed to load quickly, but it should also be hosted in a way that enables fast download speeds for international users. Unless you have the resources to set up servers around the world, this means you’ll want to invest in a Content Delivery Network (CDN) to ensure your site loads as quickly as possible for international visitors.

It’s also worthwhile to consider the design and layout of the site itself: Do your colors and graphics have an acceptable, positive connotation in your target market? If you sell directly from your website, do you offer a currency-conversion plugin to display the relevant cost in an alternate currency? Is your site optimized to display properly on mobile, and does it still display properly even after it’s machine-translated by a service like Google or Bing? Carefully consider the needs of your target market and let these facts dictate your site optimization, not the other way around.

Real content from real people

Now that you have a framework in place, it’s time to start publishing content that resonates with a global audience. Content is king, and the savvy international marketer knows there’s more to it than a straight translation of their direct mailers or site landing pages.

Your content should be localized, and written in a voice that accounts for regional preferences and differences. Businesses that go the extra mile and localize their content for international markets are twice as likely to see a year-on-year profit increase over those who don’t.

When operating internationally, it’s also critical that your business puts forward a friendly, human face to distinguish yourselves from the competition. One great place to start is your website’s “About Us” page: This goes a long way in positioning your brand, and the inside glimpse of your business assures visitors that you’re offering a quality product made by real people.

Effective international marketing takes diligence, but the rewards are worth your time and effort. To learn more about how call tracking and analytics can boost your international marketing, start your 14-day free trial with CallRail.

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