Operating on a national basis used to be a solid aspiration for a small business, but things have changed since then. The immense growth of ecommerce and its accessible global supply chain has made it possible for most businesses selling products to expand internationally, and various service-centric models can easily work at a distance (consultation, for instance, or SaaS).
While it’s easy to cater to a global audience, though, it’s markedly harder to make any sales outside your home turf — not because of the practical challenges of shipping, but because you can’t exactly sell to people who aren’t interested in your brand or don’t even know it exists. Every country will have a strong local bias. People gravitate towards familiar brands.
If you’re going to make the most of your international operation, you need to know how to market your business in a suitable way. In this post, we’re going to look at four steps you can take to achieve this. Let’s get started.
Create regional website versions
Before you do anything else, you must ensure that you get your website ready to deal with international traffic. You can set up distinct sites for different countries, but it’s unnecessary: instead, you should have variations of your main site with hreflang attribute tags. This will save time and allow Google’s regional versions to rank the appropriate pages.
Another option, though, is to duplicate your site and launch it using different domains with suitable tweaks. This is worth doing where your brand has different trading names in certain countries, either because of name conflicts or because the wording is important. For example, the Mega Millions lottery has various international sites allowing non-US citizens to play, but each one has a different name and domain: grandesloterias for Spain, grandsjeuxlotos for France, etc.
Invest in competent translation
Setting up your regional sites is just the first step: you also need to make the content as good as it can be, which means investing in proper translation. Automated translation of the kind you’d get through Google Translate (or similar services) is good enough for figuring out what’s on the menu when you’re traveling, but it isn’t good enough for marketing a business.
In addition to producing pieces of wording that don’t quite make sense (usually because they’re overly literal, preserving the letter of what was said but not the intended meaning), such services can even generate translations that locals might find offensive (or just silly). The takeaway is clear: pay for decent translations, and check them before you proceed.
Consult local industry experts
The reason why poor translations can prove offensive is essentially that language is very strange, and every culture has specific constructions that — for whatever reasons — have become controversial over the years. If you happen upon such a construction, it won’t help that much that you didn’t know what you were doing. In fact, that’ll reveal a level of indifference about fitting in that will make people less likely to buy into your marketing.
For every region in which you’re serious about finding success, you should find a local who’s familiar with your industry and use them as your area consultant. This can be done through any job marketplace site. That consultant will then be able to review your content and your marketing model and tell you what’s likely to work (and what’s likely to fall flat).
Take a long-term approach
Lastly, you need to keep in mind that gaining any momentum in a foreign market takes a long time (barring rare exceptions), so you’re not going to see results very soon. It’s not uncommon for a company to make a big-budget push to get a product selling somewhere, fail to see a fitting response, then abandon the expansion concept within weeks.
It could take you many months to find a foothold. You’ll need to slowly and stubbornly figure out what works, what doesn’t, and what else you should be doing. To support this, set out a modest budget that can stretch over a suitable period of time, and set realistic targets so you don’t get disillusioned and feel like quitting.