Marketing overseas? 4 ways to make your message stick

Cynthia Dearin

  • Author, business strategist, advisor
  • Website
Cynthia is author of Business Beyond Borders: Take Your Company Global and an international business strategist, advisor and keynote speaker with 22 years of international experience as an Australian diplomat and management consultant. She is the founder and managing Director of Dearin & Associates and the International Business Accelerator, helping companies to scale internationally and amplify their impact in the world. Her previous book is Camels, Sheikhs Billionaires: Your Guide to Business Culture in the Middle East and North Africa.

Companies encounter a variety of challenges when it comes to marketing overseas.

Marketing departments often don’t know much about the business and cultural context of the international audiences they are trying to reach. Sometimes they are also unsure about what kind of marketing they should be doing.  

So they either ‘copy + paste’ – do exactly what has worked for them in their home market – or they take a ‘spray and pray’ approach to international marketing – trying a little bit of everything, rather than a targeted approach.  

Many businesses also forget to track their international marketing numbers closely, measure the results and adjust the strategy according to what the numbers tell them. When you market like this overseas, you usually don’t get the results you are hoping for.  

Although international marketing operates from the same core marketing principles as domestic marketing, how it works on the ground can be very different, because people in different countries have different expectations. So, how do you get your message to stick in overseas markets?

If you want to create an international marketing strategy that works in the country you’ve chosen, there are a few things you have to get right.

1. Understand the context 

Your first job as an international marketer is to understand the context for which you’re creating marketing. This is the best way of ensuring you don’t fall into the trap of assuming consumers in the overseas market are similar to consumers in your domestic target, just communicating in a different language.  

In my experience, companies coming from a domestic market often don’t understand the context that they’re selling into. Where a business has been successful at home, it’s easy to believe that there’s no need to do the work to understand the ins and outs of how marketing works abroad. People say things like:  

“We don’t need to do a lot of market research… we’ve been very successful in our home market and we have a great product. We can just keep on doing what has worked”.  

The reality is that when you cross national borders you cross cultural borders too. In some cases you might find that you’re not even competing in the category you were competing in at home. Your competition set could be broader or you might be speaking to a different kind of user base.  For instance, at home you might be targeting the mass market, whereas crossing borders you might be addressing a different consumer market which is more likely to use your product.

Without a good understanding of the business and cultural context, it’s hard to craft a strategy to market products and brands in a way that makes a connection with the customer, makes the product interesting and really satisfies a need, because these elements are often culturally determined.  

So, before you decide how many Instagram ads you’re going to run, take the time to really understand the environment you’ll be marketing in.  

2. Create a tailored approach  

Once you’ve got insights into the cultural and business context of the market, you need to create a tailored approach especially for that group of people. This includes choosing marketing channels that will be effective.  

Once again, you can’t just assume what works at home will work overseas. A classic example is where a company sells successfully in the US and Australian markets via Facebook and decides, as it enters the China market, that it will continue using this channel there.  

If you know anything about China, you’ll know Facebook is banned. If you want to go down the social digital marketing route for China, you’ll need to investigate platforms like WeChat Groups, live-streaming and TikTok (‘Douyin’ in China).  

As with the cultural context, it’s important to choose a channel that will actually be effective in your new market, rather than just going with what you know and hoping for the best.  

3. Reverse engineer your international marketing strategy for real results

You’ll get the best results if you make the effort to reverse engineer your marketing plan, so that you base your marketing efforts on the amount of sales you need to make, rather than doing what so many companies do: ‘Pay, spray and pray’. In other words, arbitrarily spending money on marketing in the hope of sales, but without a clearly defined goal in mind.

There’s a lot to this topic, but when you boil it down, the key here is to set targets then work backwards to understand what kind of lead volumes will be required to meet those targets and what kind of campaigns are likely to drive those volumes of leads.

4. Research, test and measure

And finally, with your strategy in place, you need to research the most appropriate channels to use and then test and measure your results.

Tags: marketing strategy, marketing leadership, local marketing

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