About 250 million people in the world speak English – that’s only about 20% of the planet’s total population. Which means that there’s a big, wide, wonderful world of consumers out there for businesses looking to expand to an international audience.

The challenge is this: how do you market to an international audience? You have a familiar and comfortable customer base in your own country and you know how to market to that target audience. But in moving to a foreign audience, you have some work to do.

Here are six tips for getting started.

1. Proceed Slowly

You can’t move into multiple foreign markets all at once, unless, of course, you have a huge budget and unlimited resources in the way of contacts and assistance in a variety of countries.

And you can’t market to a new country without doing a good deal of research and decision-making.

First, you should try to connect with native “experts” of the countries that you want to expand to. If you don’t know any, you could use social media to contact people who might be able to help you. Here are a few types of professionals and experts that you could reach out to:

  • Authors of books and niche publications, especially those that have published something recently
  • Keynote speakers that cover topics adjacent to your field or niche
  • Journalists and bloggers that publish high-quality material
  • Seasoned professionals working for top companies in your field

If you want to find out more about someone’s website and see how well it performs before reaching out, you could check out this tool here.

Once you’ve determined the country you want to target and have located a few natives to provide counsel, you have to determine if there’s actually a need or desire for the product or service you offer. In order to find this out, you should enlist the help of your native “expert.”

2. Be Culturally Competent

Ideally, you would travel to the area in which you hope to establish a presence and immerse yourself in the local culture. But unfortunately, this isn’t always possible, especially if you have a tight budget.

Regardless, you need to find out and understand the cultural norms and behaviors of your target audience.

The operative concept is this: honor the culture and do not offend (in text, in visuals, on social media or anywhere else).

Many big corporations have goofed in this respect, especially when trying to translate their slogans into foreign languages:

  • Clairol wanted to market a curling iron, “Mist Stick,” in Germany. Unfortunately, the literal translation of the word “mist” is slang for “manure.”
  • Coors had a slogan, “Turn it Loose.” Unfortunately, in Spanish, it means “to have diarrhea.”
  • Ford should have re-named its car “Pinto” when it tried to market it in Brazil. The term means “small male genitals” in Portuguese.

You probably get the idea…But there are also other blunders that you’ll want to avoid. For example, you wouldn’t want to have a website catered to Muslim audiences showing young women in bikinis. Even something as simple as an owl, which means wisdom in Western cultures, is a symbol of evil in other cultures.

Colors are extremely important, as well, as they mean different things in different cultures. For example, in Turkey, the color blue symbolizes protection from evil. In Ukraine, it symbolizes good health. And in India and China, it symbolizes immortality.

So depending on the target culture, you need to pay special attention to the colors that you incorporate into your marketing strategy.

All of these goofs can be avoided if you have a native advisor and, even better, the use of a professional translation service with natives of the region you are targeting. You can find top-notch services through Pick Writers, a site that reviews and scores such agencies.

3. Research Local Laws

There are a variety of laws related to products, marketing, and advertising all across the world. So before you start advertising, you need to check out the country’s advertising laws and regulations.

You can usually find these documents online or otherwise hire a professional to guide you through the process. Here are a couple of examples of what to pay attention to:

  • In many countries, such as France, Germany, and Belgium, words like “best” or “better than” are pretty strictly regulated.
  • There may also be regulations related to contests, sweepstakes, and such. For example, in Taiwan, your prize shouldn’t exceed the sum of 120 monthly wages, or according to Dutch law, a person may not receive a prize that is over 2500 Euros. Make sure you thoroughly research the legislation regarding contests and sweepstakes in your target market.
  • Many countries have different laws related to ingredients, chemical makeup, packaging, performance, and safety

4. Localize for Search Engines

Your native expert should be able to tell you which social media platforms are the most popular for your audience. While Google, Yahoo, and Bing are the best for English-speakers, there may be local search engines that are better for your niche.

Localizing your content involves far more than simply translating your site and other content. It also involves:

  • Adjusting the design for colors and cultural symbols
  • Changing the images you use
  • Adapting the content

This will probably be costly, but don’t scrimp on this part. If not localized well, you’ll lose your audience…quickly.

It’s also essential to localize locally standardized values, like:

  • currencies and currency conversions
  • shipping (if your business is eCommerce)
  • date formats
  • measurement units

In order to help your target audience connect to your brand, you’ll have to adjust to their customs, habits, and routines.

Again, instead of worrying about translating your current keywords, take advice from a native trained in searching for keywords in the target language.

5. Optimize Your Website

Loading speed is just as important to your foreign customers as it is to your local ones. Rather than serving your site from one location, consider using a Content Delivery Network (CDN), which is a collection of servers in many locations around the world. That way, your visitors can view your website from the server closest to them.

6. Establish a Social Media Presence

With Facebook, your users will be able to view pages in multiple languages. You have two options here: create one page…or multiple pages.

One page

You can create one page and have it automatically translated as a visitor selects a language. This option might be more convenient for you, but it’s not exactly ideal for your visitors, as the translation isn’t always perfect. The comment section will also be filled with comments in different languages, which might confuse your visitors.

Multiple pages

A better option is to create different pages for each target country or language. This will provide your users with a more localized brand experience.

Keep in mind that many social media platforms have options for automatically translating image captions and comments. And, of course on YouTube, the easiest translation method is to hire an expert translator to create subtitles.

But the most important thing to think about is which social media platforms are best for your target audience. Maybe there’s a social media platform out there that you’ve never even heard of. For example:

  • Plurk is extremely popular in Taiwan
  • Xing is widely used in Germany
  • QZone is popular in India and in China

Get your expert’s advice for this.

Consumerism is Global Today

Consumers all around the world are ready to buy. But the question remains…Are you ready to sell to them?

If you do your research; find native experts who can help you; and tread slowly, carefully, and deliberately, you will be on the road to international marketing success.

About the author of this post - Kristin Savage
Kristin Savage observes with a special interest and shares her opinion on how the latest achievements in media and technology help to grow readership and revenue. You can find her on Twitter.
View all posts by Kristin Savage ➔
About the author of this post
Kristin Savage
Kristin Savage observes with a special interest and shares her opinion on how the latest achievements in media and technology help to grow readership and revenue. You can find her on Twitter.
View all posts by Kristin Savage ➔