Is your business ready for the biggest stage?

Just two decades ago, the young internet showed entrepreneurs just how big the world could be. Fast forward to today, and that same internet has shrunk the world into interconnected communities with more in common than we had known. Research from CultureWizard found that 24% of respondents spend at least 76% of their time on global work. High-performing global businesses consistently ranked higher for indicators of cultural awareness and intercultural competencies, suggesting that companies with a global mindset do better than their geographically narrowed peers.

Now, success in the U.S. does not ensure success in other countries, and a translated website alone does not a global business make. To succeed abroad, American companies must account for differences in local cultures.

Evolving Beyond Borders

Rakuten Marketing's U.K. data indicates that while 89% of marketing managers oversee international campaigns, only 11% use local marketing teams in different countries. "With limited resource, marketing teams must start by focusing on one country and carrying out thorough research to inform campaigns," says Anthony Capano, managing director, EU and APAC at Rakuten Marketing. If you don't invest in cultural understanding, you will struggle to make a successful international transition.

International business is local business in a different locale, and local business hinges on trust. Even if you understand the basics like local holidays and history, you cannot understand deeper cultural values without investing the time to learn them. It's one thing if you know to accept business cards with both hands in Japan--it's another thing to understand what Japanese audiences expect from online experiences, customer support, and brand personalities.

Before you set up shop in new territory, make a few preparations:

1. Measure the cultural fit.

All good business decisions have data behind them. International expansions require major investment, so before you begin marketing overseas, take the time to research your brand's potential fit in the market.

"Success in world markets largely comes down to preparation," says Matthew Debbage, CEO of Creditsafe USA, a provider of commercial credit information. "Understanding the place into which you want to expand is vital for making educated decisions about where and when to commit your resources. Do this, and you'll start out on the right foot when boldly taking your business to new locations."

2. Get to know new partners.

"You probably expect differences in laws and languages, so you would hire a lawyer and translator from the country you are moving into," says Josh Robinson, vice president of franchising and development for Pearle Vision. "But you also might need a local person's perspective to understand how the culture and even taste could affect the market for some consumer goods and services outside the U.S."

Don't waltz in and assume you can take over the local scene. Instead, identify the competition, learn how they do business, and look for organizations that can help you endear yourself to the locals. Working with companies that people already know and like can make your presence more welcome.

3. Accommodate customer service expectations.

The customer experience you provide will determine whether your new market accepts or rejects your brand. This is about more than having representatives available during local business hours: Exceed expectations by researching cultural preferences and infusing your service with your new knowledge.

People in a different region might prefer different product bundles and promotions than people in your U.S. market. International audiences may respond differently to different frequencies in marketing communications. As you learn the ropes, keep regulations in mind as well. Even governments with business laws similar to those in the U.S. have a few peculiarities, and if you fail to follow the rules, you could end up in hot water.

4. Pivot for different populations.

Maintain your brand's integrity while adapting it to fit local expectations. Starbucks, for example, adjust to the tastes of different cultures to expand its footprint. The world's biggest coffee brand localizes everything from websites to menu options to show locals that the company is globally aware and locally sensitive.

The culture may dictate that your company change up some products and services, and that's OK. For Starbucks, that meant adding Teavana products to its stores in Asia to take part in the historical tea house culture. Each locale presents its own challenges and its own opportunities. The key is to thoroughly research consumer demand in any new market you're entering.

If you're ready to take your business across international borders, do your homework before you make the move. A bit of caution, in the beginning, can help you make a great first impression and ensure the success of your overseas efforts for years to come.

Published on: Jun 19, 2019
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