6 Steps to Preparing Your Brand for a Foreign Market

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Are you expanding your business into foreign markets? Do you want to tap into the Canadian market because of its surface similarities to the US? Interested in the disposable income of increasingly wealthy Koreans who are hungry for luxury brands? Or is your firm looking to target rapidly growing, emerging markets like Brazil and China?

Before you jump feet first into the world of international commerce, be sure to keep in mind these six steps to prepare your brand for a foreign market.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Benjamin Franklin

How to Prepare Your Brand before Expanding into Foreign Markets

1. Understand your geographical footprint

Many companies invest too heavily in costly infrastructure at the start of an international venture and create a heavy burden on the initial roll-out of their brand in a new market. Savvy firms take a long look at their current geographical footprint and work to understand how international distribution can be integrated into their current manufacturing, shipping, and packaging program. Before expanding into foreign markets, look closely at which of your products would be the most cost-effective to package and ship from your current facility with only a minor increase in production capacity while still being able to absorb the cost of any import duties.

2. Pick a pilot set of products/SKUs

There are many good reasons not to go “whole hog” into a new market. Your geographical footprint may point to a very tight set of products that would be easy to expand without adding to corporate infrastructure. In addition, by testing the waters with a pilot set of products, you will get a better on-the-ground feel for how best to translate the central message of your brand for a new set of consumers (see step five below). Finally, putting a pilot project in play makes it easier to sell the idea to corporate leadership – and lowers the bar for a positive ROI on the campaign. Stacking a lot of little wins together is a lot easier than betting it all on one huge win. This pilot concept also opens the door to a more refined approach to category management. Your North America categories may need to be changed for a new market. It won’t do you much good to market a clock radio in electronics if your target population will be looking for it in the bedroom category.

3. Understand the difference between transcreation, specialized human translation, and machine translation

Transcreation is a highly adaptive and customized process where your most important brand communications are translated and essentially recreated in idiomatically correct, localized versions of your target languages. Human translation is more appropriate for product descriptions, digital user interfaces, and corporate content. Finally, machine translation is a less-expensive alternative where an automated translation algorithm provides translated material for things like detailed product specs. All are valid options – for different situations. Be sure that you are transcreating content that is essential to communicating the value and message of your brand. It’s well worth the extra cost. (In fact, adapting SEO and search campaigns to international markets is one of the key areas where transcreation offers huge returns but is often not used. Effectively tapping into behavioral differences across search populations can yield massive results. And it may be one reason why it’s worth engaging with a localization and translation service.)

4. Decide whether or not you need subject matter expert translators (as opposed to generalists)

There are some cases where a generalist translator can help you when expanding into foreign markets, or at the very least, they can help you avoid massive blunders that might kill sales. (While the famous story of the Chevy Nova not doing well in Latin America because “no va” means “doesn’t go” in Spanish is an urban myth, the story of the Tiz razor is all too true. The Tiz was introduced to the Qatar market without proper vetting. Turns out “Tiz” meant “passing wind” in Qatar. Not the kind of association you want for your product.) That said, there are many situations where you want a translator with both top-notch localization skills, but who also understand your vertical and target market intimately. Selling specialty products and services often require particular knowledge of a field.

5. Understand how the essence of your brand is best communicated across cultures

A brand is more than a tagline and a logo. At its best, a brand communicates a variety of emotions and makes a promise to consumers that they will find valuable and compelling. You need to be sure that your brand translates conceptually rather than just literally. For a great example of doing this right, consider Coca-Cola’s entry into the complicated Chinese market in 1928. Faced with over 200 symbols available to create a sign that, when pronounced, would sound like “ko-ka-ko-la”, they settled on four symbols that together sounded out “K’o, K’ou, K’o, Le” which acceptably translated at “happiness in the mouth”.

6. Be prepared to adapt your current online marketing strategy to reflect different kinds of searches

To understand where your product fits in the larger picture of your target market, be sure to engage a team with intimate knowledge of the consumers you will be targeting. For instance, dishwashers in China are a luxury good. In the US, consumers consider dishwashers to be a basic necessity and something of a staple good for any homeowner or renter. The words you use to search for a dishwasher and, more importantly, the tone of your digital ads should take this cultural reality into account.

Opportunities abound in foreign markets and expanding your business into a new country is a manageable (and exciting) projects as long as you keep a few key rules in mind. Got any great stories of your own firm’s move to overseas markets? Let us know.

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