The key to entering international markets

Launching a brand into a new international market is no small feat. Fortunately, Ryan Green, Vice President of Marketing and Innovation at Coegi, shares some of the key challenges and considerations for making the transition as seamless as possible.

There’s a lot to consider before diving in.

Coegi explains how to break into new international markets successfully

From a technical perspective, you need to consider possible language barriers, time zone differences, dynamic advertising regulations, platform preferences and availability, etc.

From a cultural point of view, there is even more to discover. What is considered funny in the United States might be completely misunderstood, even offensive, elsewhere. Holidays and lifestyles are likely to vary greatly. The behaviors and perspectives of everyday consumers are, quite simply, nuanced and distinct. For this reason, the most important component of an international marketing strategy is cultural relevance.

So how do you begin to put these puzzle pieces together to form a cohesive international marketing strategy that is strategically customized by region? It starts with research.

Assemble research to be culturally relevant in new markets

To reach a new international audience, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Just think about how you would approach a micro-targeted audience at the national level:

  • Create a high level persona of your new target audience

  • Use quantitative research (such as eMarketer or GWI) to understand demographics and media consumption habits

  • Overlay qualitative research to gain insights into consumer motivations, lifestyle and behavior

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  • Add human intuition and perspective to account for diversity

  • Tailor brand messaging to align with unique audiences

  • Align with the regulatory landscape to ensure compliance

  • Identify the main competitors that could hinder your success

Not doing this work could end up being a huge waste of time and money.

Wal-Mart failed with its initial launch in China. Why? Little did they know that big box stores were not suitable for a country where people shop several times a week at local markets.

Starbucks has also failed in Europe, where people generally don’t want sugary coffee drinks on the go, but instead prefer to sit down and sip espresso at their leisure.

So come armed with research, but know your limits. Be honest about what you don’t know. Then, bring in partners who can check your instincts and help you provide inside information. In countries with less cultural overlap, these partners become critical to your success, whether they are agencies, publishers, or technology partners.

Be culturally relevant within your brand standards

Once you understand your target audience and how you need to reach them, tie that knowledge into your brand standards.

There is a balance between brand consistency and personalization to reach unique audiences. Again, this sounds a lot like a micro-targeting strategy for national markets. You need to have a different communication strategy and execution to be authentic with unique audiences, but maintain a level of consistency so you don’t lose the elements that define your brand. Take McDonald’s for example: they have different menu options and store layouts in each country, but you’ll still see the golden arches.

Identify your ‘golden bows’

Identify the overarching ethos, brand characteristics, and aesthetic building blocks that are essential to the essence of your brand. From there, everything should be molded with cultural relevance in mind. For example, Subway learned that South Koreans love TV dramas and created its own dramatic YouTube miniseries about characters falling in love with sub sandwiches. Cheesy, yes – but local audiences loved it.

Don’t be afraid to look to other successful brands for inspiration. Adopt what you can from winning playbooks and build your own through trial and error.

The media is the message

This old marketing adage rings true to this day. Showing up in the places your audience frequents and loves is key to being effective in new cultural environments.

Think about it – if your brand appears during someone’s favorite show or in the feed of their trusted news app, you immediately establish a positive association (provided your creative messaging is effective). Finding ways to appear at the right time in the right context is at the heart of effective international media buying.

Ultimately, the key to breaking into international markets is to focus on what people want, value and respect. Position your brand and product offering to meet these needs. If they like American-made products, use them to your advantage. If they prefer local brands, work to integrate them seamlessly with other regional products. Find the key differentiators that make your brand unique and valuable to local audiences, always keeping cultural relevance at the forefront of your strategy.