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How to Market Your International Business

It’s common for business owners to venture into new territory using past experiences as their guide. Yet, past experiences in one country don’t always translate to new markets with new types of customers.

Here are some tips to help small business owners develop effective international marketing strategies with a fresh perspective.

Make It Simple to Find Your Business

When Mark Jackson, CEO of Moreson Conferencing in Birmingham, Ala.,decided to expand his company into the U.K. and New York, the first step of his marketing plan was to purchase the right domain name for his website. He’d had success with a URL that included the term “conference call” in the U.S. However, this term isn’t widely used in the U.K. He began searching the Network Solutions website to see which domain names were available, and source a digital marketing agency and New York website designer to help build his online presence . Finally, for a cost of $100 per year, he decided to purchase the domain

Small businesses that expand overseas can’t simply apply their current marketing strategies in new countries and expect the same results.

Jackson also found other ways to give his website a higher profile in the U.K. “We tailored our message through working with business groups in-country to understand language and cultural items and trends,” he says. “I believe, when in Rome, ask a Roman.”

Within weeks, an executive at a London-based company with operations across the U.K. Googled ‘teleconference,’ found Jackson’s company and gave him a call. “They became one of our most profitable clients,” Jackson says.

The Internet makes it possible to extend a brand into the global marketplace simply by customizing a website for a new market. In fact, tailoring a website to a foreign audience can make the business seem more familiar and trustworthy to potential customers.

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Find a Local Professional

Small businesses that expand overseas can’t simply apply their current marketing strategies in new countries and expect the same results, says Todd Colbeck, executive coach and principal at Colbeck Coaching Group in Miami. They need to customize their approach based on the language, culture and cost structure of that country, he says.

“For example, the cost structure for goods in Europe is typically higher than Latin America, while Latin America may be higher than a country like Bangladesh or Kyrgyzstan,” Colbeck says. “Then within a country, the cost of opening a store in a major city will likely be higher than a rural area. Then, foreign exchange comes into play: Will the country’s currency make the cost of goods higher or lower overseas? For example, Chinese goods benefit from the lower value of the renminbi versus the dollar or the euro.”

For help crafting a targeted marketing strategy, Colbeck recommends hiring a marketing professional with industry experience based in the new foreign market. A local marketing expert can help an international business owner understand cultural marketing issues, such as the types of advertising and messaging that resonate with customers.

Bringing on a marketing specialist does require a financial investment, but it could help businesses avert financial and logistical missteps. “Working with a local company will save you a ton of money in the long run,” Colbeck says.

Test Different Strategies

Daniel Boockvar, the senior vice president of U.S. operations for Weight Watchers in New York, learned the importance of experimentation when he helped open the first Weight Watchers office in Shanghai.

“Advertising and marketing vehicles, such as billboards, are extremely expensive in China,” he says. So instead of relying on these traditional marketing tools, he was forced to implement more grassroots, one-on-one sales approaches to see what would work.

His team placed banners in local malls and subways, handed out flyers and attended wedding shows and new moms groups to tout the new store. Then, they established a targeted "cost per acquisition" goal, and measured their results by asking new customers how they heard about the company, Boockvar says. “For the first store we spent thousands on subway banners, but our research showed it didn’t pay off so we cancelled the banners for the next store.”

While small businesses typically don’t have the financial wherewithal to spend thousands on their entire marketing budget — let alone on one tactic — the lesson remains the same: Either tap into the talents of a digital marketing expert to guide your business through the digital landscape, or try new marketing strategies and ensure those strategies are data-driven and can be measured in some way, such as through Google Analytics, Omniture or other web analytics.   

“You have to be scrappy,” Boockvar says. “Take the time to test and refine your strategy, then look for what delivers the best ROI.”

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