As a practical matter, there are none beyond what you learned in Marketing 101. But we got your attention.
When you go global, what you rely on ultimately are common sense and cultural sensitivity. Think segmentation on steroids: Your marketplace became more complex by orders of magnitude; and your approach to potential customers needs to be nuanced in ways that you could never imagine previously.
Let’s be frank: Americans, on average, seem more unsophisticated about the rest of the world than their counterparts in other developed countries, good intentions notwithstanding. We want to believe, in the most positive spirit, that all humans are basically the same. Therefore, everyone must have identical pains, needs and aspirations. As such, the rest of the world ought to respond similarly to the messages and stimuli we use at home. We fervently hope that employing outstanding translators will overcome any barriers to creating demand for our products and services.
For a very few exceptional companies, that’s actually true. Apple, Google, Coke and Harley-Davidson don’t need much translation. (In rare cases, translating stuff actually hurts consumer products because local language text hurts the cachet. Mysteriously, the product no longer feels authentically American.)
The rest of us in the B2B world don’t have platinum-coated brands, so we need to muddle through a very complex world in a more conventional manner. Take a step back and consider these critical aspects.
One Size Doesn’t Fit All
You must disabuse yourself of the notion that domestic segments you’ve worked so hard to define and manage are more or less the same outside your country. That may in fact be true in some cases, but you’re much better off with a default assumption that segments in other countries are completely different unless proven otherwise. It’s a kind of innocent-until-proven-guilty skepticism. Invest time and resources to confirm or refute what might seem intuitive.
Prepare for the World Early
You may not be ready to go global quite yet, but there’s a lot you can do to prepare in advance and eliminate rework later. The product folks call this “internationalization” or “globalization”. This starts with the recognition that every aspect of your marketing may need to be used eventually in a foreign country. To save yourself aggravation and expense later on, think about culture-specific nuances in writing, graphics and overall design. Will that stuff play equally well in Peoria, Paris and Penang?
Great marketing in fact depends on cultural references, humor and other local signals to evoke specific feelings and responses. That’s fine – but you need to be aware of possible adverse consequences in other places when you make this choice. You may choose to tune your campaigns to domestic needs, but make this a conscious decision, not a mindless default. Build your portfolio of marketing assets in a way that allows them to be customized easily for other environments later on.
If you have equivalent content options available, choose the one that’s most culturally-neutral.
Localize When Needed
This is not just about language and currency symbols. It’s about meeting the needs of a segment in a different locale. You may be tempted to take shortcuts and reuse what you already have. It MIGHT work, but not as well as if you try to meet prospective customers on their own terms. And, of course, you might fail completely.
If you’ve done your internationalization work correctly, you’ll be in a much better position to localize your marketing assets. The required work will be completed faster and at lower cost.
Make the investment in appropriate research to determine what aspects of your marketing need to be localized and how you should do that. You may find that it makes sense to postpone entry to a new country until you have the resources to do it properly.
Invest in Local Expertise and Wisdom
You don’t know what you don’t know.
If you don’t have the required knowledge and expertise about a locale, find it and buy it. You may not yet understand which questions to ask. Partnerships with local firms often make sense. Don’t move forward with campaigns until you understand who your local competitors are, how they market and which channels they use to reach prospective customers.
Talk Less. Listen More.
And don’t forget to ask questions.
Relationships and the Long Haul
In many parts of the world, personal relationships are the bedrock upon which business is conducted. That’s true in all cultures to some extent, but some societies require far more time and effort to create a level of trust that’s needed to do serious work together. This can be frustrating and annoying for people who are accustomed to quicker gratification.
This holds true for consultants, agencies, partners and other organizations or people you might work with. If people perceive that you are there to make a quick buck without creating value for the long term, you’ll have a tough time.