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International Expansion: Choosing the Right Countries And Marketing Strategy For Success

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Digital Marketing / September 16, 2021

Every business hopes to reach a point where it can, or even must, expand to new markets in order to grow. That can mean a new neighborhood, a new state or province, or a new country. International expansion may seem like a daunting task, but when done right, the benefits vastly outweigh the drawbacks.

There are lots of good reasons to expand your reach beyond your borders. International expansion could allow you to:

  • Find incremental revenue opportunities.
  • Future-proof the business against local market fluctuations.
  • Leverage existing assets in new markets that share languages and cultural similarities to the domestic market.
  • Fill a need in under-serviced markets.

For businesses that already reach prospects online, there’s really not a lot that holds you back from reaching anyone with an internet connection, either organically or through paid ads. 

Of course, just because you can reach someone, doesn’t mean you can serve them, or, serve them profitably.

So what do you need to do to figure out the right place, right time, and right strategy for your business’ big move?

Where to Expand Your Business: Finding a Fit

Some businesses are a more natural fit for international expansion than others. Businesses that offer services, especially online services, may find it easier to expand globally than businesses that ship large products for example. The first thing you need to determine is your business’ readiness level for entering new markets. For each country or territory you would like to explore, ask yourself these questions:

  • Are your website and ad campaigns translated to the local language or a language most locals are comfortable with?
  • Is your business set up to accept the preferred local payment options?
  • Does your business have the capability of fielding a local sales team and offering after-sales support?
  • What additional fulfillment costs would need to be absorbed to service the target market?
  • What is the current level of brand awareness and what is the current brand sentiment in the target market?

Answering those questions and reviewing your recent activity in these markets should naturally bring a handful of locations to the top of your expansion priority list. Now it’s time to measure. 

Set up a matrix to help you determine which market your business is best positioned to enter without any changes to your current assets. Some of the questions you’ll need to answer are:

  • Are the website and other marketing materials such as ads and email sequences translated in a preferred local language?
  • Is the product or service compliant with local laws and regulations?
  • Can the business process local payments and is it structured to accept the preferred payment methods?
  • Is there existing organic brand recognition and social proof in the market?
  • Are there sales and service teams currently servicing or capable of servicing the local market?

The countries that check the most boxes will be most ready for expansion and require the least additional resources, but that’s just one side of the story, you still need to ensure there is a suitable demand and favorable market conditions before investing in any of those expansion options.

After gauging your readiness for each territory, it’s time to determine which countries will have the lowest barriers to entry. Again a matrix would come in handy, but this time, instead of yes/no answers, you’ll be ranking countries on a scale of 1-3 or 1-5:

  • What is the level of competition in the country? (based on benchmarks like average CPC for the industry and number of competitors in PPC auctions)
  • What is the current level of demand in the territory? (based on historical search queries and sales value for the vertical)
  • Is there a growth trend for the vertical? (based on search query and sales volume trends)
  • What is the market size? (based on population sizes and demographic data)

Give the most favorable result the high rank for each (lowest competition, highest level of demand, etc) and score your countries accordingly. Hopefully this has crystalized your expansion targets down to a manageable number.

Entering a New Market: Setting the Strategy

Let’s say you’ve identified just one market to expand into, now the fun begins, planning your entry or expansion strategy.

To start, it’s important to really understand your new market, especially these key points:

Language Preferences: Do people in this country browse online in English even if that is not their mother tongue or do the assets need to be translated?

Differences in Local Dialect: If you’re expanding to a country that shares a language (like from the US to Canada or the UK), do you need to adapt your colloquialisms to avoid sticking out?

Payment preferences: Do shoppers here prefer to pay by credit card, online processor, or maybe even bank transfer? Are you equipped to meet their expectations?

Seasonal Trends: What seasonal trends and local holiday periods should you plan for?

Social Media: What platforms are most popular and are there any local influencers who can help raise your profile?

Once you understand your new market, you can review the marketing channels that will help you reach your prospects. This is the time to set the SEO and organic social media strategies, review potential paid channels, set the ad budget and goals, and adapt your marketing assets, like landing pages and ads, to match local tastes.

Once you have the promotional channels that you’ve identified as a strong fit and you know the budget you’ll be working, as well as the advertising assets that are available to you, you can build a media plan and marketing calendar.

To start, you will want to have more of a focus on brand awareness as you start to generate traffic and interest in the new market. As your notoriety increases and your lower funnel audience grows, you can slow down on awareness campaigns and focus on driving conversions and generating revenue!

Partnering with Export Experts

Local agencies and agencies that specialize in international growth can be key partners in a successful expansion. The right agency partner will have a deep understanding of the marketing channels that work best, and the ways to reach the audience in the right place, at the right time, and with the right message to help you maximize your marketing budget.

Bloom is the first Canadian Agency to take part in Google’s International Growth Program. This gives the agency access to exclusive tools, insights and strategic support. Learn more about the program.

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