Taking Your Brand Global Is Easier Than You Think

 

There’s a prevalent myth that I’ve encountered repeatedly in my years advising companies with intentions of going global — that it’s a massive project, one that takes extensive advance planning, and one that only the largest companies can pull off successfully. This conclusion is understandable. After all, it’s hard enough to build a business within one’s home market.

Recently, I spoke with the head of marketing at a multi-billion-dollar company which had been global for decades, long before it became trendy. In reviewing the countries and languages he appeared to be targeting with his website, I asked him why the company had selected the specific markets they are in today. His answer? “We didn’t. It just kind of happened.”

This process plays out repeatedly, even among some of the world’s largest brands. Take Apple as a prime example. After opening up retail locations throughout the United States, the American stores were flooded by foreign buyers purchasing iPhones in bulk in order to take them back and sell them to the scores of people yearning for these products overseas. At first, Apple didn’t target these international customers in a strategic way, which would have been making their products easily available in those countries from the start. Instead, they noted the demand and, little by little, gradually expanded their global footprint; to the point where today, a great deal of their growth strategy is focused on other countries. At the end of their 2012 fiscal year, 83% of new Apple Stores were found in international locations.

While it’s true that many companies make a concerted decision to enter a given market, it’s actually more common to see the reverse scenario take place — their customers make the decision for them, or at the very least, these customers play a significant role in steering the company toward those decisions. As a result, more and more companies are going global without any sort of grand master plan. Instead, they are easing into an international presence one small step at a time, often learning as they go, creating plans in response to what they learn, and experimenting along the way.

In the past, launching a presence in a new country required an office in that location, several trips to scout out office space, and a significant commitment of both time and money. But in today’s digital age, people in faraway places can find your website, learn about your company, and have an experience with your brand. Marketers and brand managers today cannot always control the traffic streams — and their sources — that arrive at their website. Customers are more empowered than they used to be.

Marketers are empowered by this new world order too, but in a different way — through analytics. While they may not be able to strictly control who is visiting their website and where these visitors are coming from, they can use demographic and behavioral data in order to determine the next best steps the company should take. If they see significant traffic from a given country or in a given language, this data can help inform the decision to launch a website for a specific locale.

Yet, sometimes, even when all of the signs are clear that demand exists outside of a company’s home market, many companies ignore the data — and therefore, the market opportunity — due to a fear of how hard it will be to expand across international borders. They envision massive up-front costs with unclear return on investment. The word “international” seems far bigger and scarier than it really is.

The problem for many of these companies is figuring out what to do next. How do you capitalize on these signs of potential global momentum?

Add a little fuel to the fire with translation. If you’re already seeing international interest among your customer base, consider translating some of your online marketing content in order to make your products and services that much more accessible — and desirable. Don’t make the expensive mistake of translating everything at once. Instead, try a “test launch” or a pilot in a given country.

Support your customers without going overboard. Many companies believe that they have to provide full-fledged customer service and support to customers in every language and country into which they expand. The reality is that if you’re already seeing interest from your customer base without any support at all, even providing minimal support (online help, for example) will often be a step in the right direction — at least until you have more customers, and therefore more revenue, to fund greater levels of client service.

Increase your sales and marketing presence. As you begin to see more traction from your small-scale efforts, consider amping up your sales and marketing presence for the international locations that seem most promising, using research and your own analytics to inform your decisions. As you see return on investment, you can provide more in-language content and spend more on local campaigns. You might even want to hire salespeople who speak the language of your newfound customers — but they don’t necessarily need to live there. You can recruit expats who live in your country but would love to travel back home frequently until you’re confident of the need to hire locally.

Decide whether you need a physical presence. You might never actually need a physical office location in the country where your customers are located. Granted, this decision is made easier for dot coms, digital media companies, SaaS developers, and others who primarily sell on the web. However, even if you are selling physical goods, a wiser strategy may be to take advantage of distributors and resellers in order to obtain the same benefits without investing in actually setting up camp in another geography.

Don’t panic when you spot global demand for your products and services. Instead, start making small, incremental investments in expanding your global presence. Before long, you’ll see that going global is simply a path — not an obstacle course.

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About Alexander Gordin
An international merchant banking professional with over twenty years of business operating and advisory experience in the areas of export finance, international project finance, risk mitigation and cross-border business development. Clients include foreign governments, municipalities and state enterprises as well as Fortune 500 and small/medium enterprises. Strong entrepreneurial instincts, combined with leadership and strategic skills. Transactional and negotiations experience in over thirty five countries. Author of the highly acclaimed "Fluent in Foreign Business" book and creator of the "Fluent in OPIC", "Fluent in EXIM","Fluent In Foreign Franchising", "Fluent in FCPA",and "Fluent in USTDA" seminar/webinar series. Currently developing "Fluent In ......" seminars and publications. Co-author of the Fi3 Country Business Appeal Indices. Extensive international business development and project finance transaction experience in healthcare, aerospace, ICT, conventional and alternative energy infrastructure, distribution and hospitality industries. Experience managing international public and private corporations. Co-Founded three companies abroad. Strong Emerging and Frontier Market expertise. Published and featured in numerous publications including: The Wall Street Journal, Knowledge@Wharton, NBC.com, The Chicago Tribune, Industry Week, Industry Today, Business Finance, Wharton Magazine Blog, NY Enterprise Report, Success magazine, Kyiv Post and on a number of radio and television programs including: Voice of America, CNBC, CNNfn, and Bloomberg. Frequent speaker on strategy, cross-border finance and international business development. Executive MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. B.S. in Management of Information Systems from the Polytechnic Institute of NYU. Specialties Strategic Management Advisory, Export Finance, International Project Finance & Risk Management, Cross-border Negotiations, Structured Finance transactions, Senior Government and Corporate officials liason

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