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The Keys to International Expansion

An Executive Voices Blog by Sarah Sloane

Expanding into foreign markets is a natural course of progression for businesses that feel they’ve hit a ceiling in their home market. However, going global isn’t an overnight process, nor is it a decision owners should make lightly—it’s a process that requires the ongoing commitment of all stakeholders and a carefully laid-out plan.

For brand owners and manufacturers in any industry, international expansion comes with a unique set of challenges. But, when executed correctly, businesses will have the opportunity to appeal to a far broader target market to enhance global recognition and boost their bottom line.

If you’re looking to capitalize on the opportunities that come with growing your operation in new territories, this post will break down the top three things you can do to facilitate this next step.

The Importance of Market Research 

Conducting market research will lay the groundwork for any expansion plans—be it internationally or regionally. As a business owner, you’ll need to have a thorough understanding of the markets you’re looking to explore, since customer behaviors and trends can vary drastically from country to country (or even state to state).

A crucial aspect of this research is determining the level of competition in the market you’re looking to enter into. You may have found a niche in your country of origin, but that’s not to say that these market conditions will be mirrored across the globe. Find out how many competitors already exist and analyze their performance so you can make smarter decisions that yield more positive outcomes.

There are lots of different strands to the discovery and research phase of international expansion. Taking a structured approach to this important part of the process will ensure you’ve left no stone unturned before making the move. From interpreting the regulatory landscape to fully understanding the economic implications of expansion, you need to cover a lot of ground before setting up shop in a new region. This will involve many small-scale tests, field research, analysis, and engagement with existing as well as prospective customers.

Don’t be afraid to reflect on this research and reconsider your plans if necessary. Whilst it’s possible to break new ground and succeed in an untested market, it will be a lot harder and may end up being costly. Once you’ve gathered the relevant information, make sure you talk to stakeholders and experts in your team to decide if it’s a level of risk you’re willing to take. If you go ahead, you may want to consider your exit strategy if things don’t go to plan—for example, signing a five-year contract with no break clause for a shop or with a partner in the new country may not be advisable at this stage.

Branding that Crosses Borders 

Effective branding and marketing could be what sets you apart from your competition, ensuring you attract and retain loyal customers. When entering an unfamiliar market, it becomes that much more important to develop an impactful strategy, and leaning on the market research you’ve already carried out is a great way to get started. From this, you’ll hopefully gain a better understanding of how your competitors appeal to their target market, and also decipher any cultural differences that could influence your marketing and branding strategies.

Despite your best efforts to maintain consistency, it’s all too easy for a brand’s message or tone to be diluted during expansion efforts. To ensure every piece of marketing collateral is singing off the same hymn sheet, it can be helpful to produce a set of internal guidelines—these guidelines should be shared with any international partners in new territories. From fonts to tone of voice, keeping things consistent as you grow will ensure you can hold onto your business values and convey the same message wherever you go.

Make sure that you sense-check these guidelines to ensure they work culturally in the region you’re looking to expand into. If there are any concerns, tweak them slightly to accommodate your new audience, whilst maintaining the spirit of your brand. You may want to focus on what you want the customer experience to feel like, and what you want the brand to stand for, rather than specific wording in this case.

Another important aspect of branding is establishing loyalty amongst new customers, and one of the most important areas to optimize is your customer service offering. You may have perfected this side of your business at home, but you will essentially be starting from scratch in a new country. Make sure you have systems in place to handle queries around the clock in different time zones. It’s equally important to have agents able to speak the local language, to make the process more efficient and to ensure customers feel heard and valued by the business.

The Value of Local Insight

Having the right individuals in the right roles is key. Often, there are subtle cultural differences or standard practices that can be missed by an outsider looking in from across the globe, and this can impact the effectiveness of an international campaign.

Brands should look to connect with an expert in the market they’re targeting in order to increase their chances of success. This could be a freelance copywriter for social media or advertising campaigns, a direct hire who is based in the new location, or a local marketing manager responsible for this region. Whilst this will depend on budget, getting a local expert can make a big difference and is worth the investment.

Alternatively, if your business is focused around a product, you may want to consider trying to get stocked in a local store before you take the plunge and set down roots there yourself. By trialing your brand’s popularity with a small quantity of stock, you reduce cost and risk. Plus, you can gain valuable feedback from your customers, allowing you to tweak your plans and boost your chances of success. Once you’re selling at a consistent pace, you can take steps to expand your offering further, but building a loyal customer base is a valuable first step.

Breaking New Ground in the Business Landscape 

International expansion opens up a whole new world of opportunities for brand owners and manufacturers. Unfortunately, there isn’t an instruction manual to follow and you’re bound to encounter unique challenges you could never have foreseen. However, by doing your due diligence at every stage of the process, you’ll give your business the best chance of successfully becoming a household name in whichever territory you venture into.

Sarah Sloane has previously worked in both brand management and business development roles. Sarah has an extensive understanding of how challenging it can be to take on new markets and her writing aims to give companies tips for facilitating their own growth—internationally or otherwise.

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