• April 7, 2019
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

To Sell Globally, Market Locally

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Over the past decade, e-commerce teams have learned how important it is to invest in international customer acquisition, but doing so hasn’t always been easy. Early on, companies moving across borders primarily harvested organic demand coming to their sites, but they soon learned that such growth was not sustainable. This has forced them to pursue new marketing strategies to create international demand, according to a study by the Global E-Commerce Leaders Forum (GELF) and the National Retail Federation (NRF).

Among these, the two organizations have seen companies attempt to grow global retail sales through cross-border e-commerce, international marketplaces, and localized, in-country e-commerce sites.

Cross-border e-commerce, they note, typically involves online retailers or manufacturers selling online and fulfilling international demand via their domestic e-commerce infrastructure. It remains the most popular model for U.S. companies, but localized, in-country e-commerce sites often provide better shopping experiences by providing multiple regional fulfillment options that speed up international delivery.

International marketplaces, they add, are attracting more attention today, largely due to the growing global reach of Amazon, Alibaba, and Walmart.

Based on the research, highlighted in the report “Transforming International Retail Distribution: Global Ecommerce’s Latest Wave of Disruption,” companies with an international mind-set have adopted the following four marketing strategies:

  • Focusing on paid search (localized by market), affiliate/performance marketing, and social media. The optimal mix varies by country and can be retailer- or brand-specific as well as dependent on product category.
  • Reconsidering social media display advertising with Facebook, given that building traction on Facebook now requires a significant amount of money.
  • Partnering with lower-tier social media influencers, like local and B-list celebrities and micro-influencers with fewer than 1,000 followers.
  • Leveraging local distribution partners who can share their experience with local language search, social marketing, and local influencers.

Of course the marketing mix depends on the size and scope of the company, the report points out. Lesser-known companies must build brand awareness first, and that will likely require traditional print and TV advertising, feet-on-the-street public relations outreach, and events. Better-known companies can also benefit from these marketing tactics, but they should look to focus more on digital marketing.

The optimal mix varies by country and can be brand-specific and product-specific, but the key is to make sure it’s customized to any new markets that are being targeted.

Companies also have to be aware of the need to tailor their sales and marketing strategies to meet the dynamics of specific geographies, the report explains. Companies trying to enter new markets simply using the same marketing methods they use domestically often find that campaigns fail because those messages aren’t localized to resonate with foreign consumers the same way they do with domestic ones.

To demonstrate that point, the report revisits several famous marketing attempts that got lost in translation, including Mitsubishi’s popular SUV Pajero (which the company had to sell in Spanish-speaking countries as the Montero because “pajero” is the Spanish word for “jerk”), AMC attempting to sell the Matador (“killer”) in Puerto Rico, and Mercedes-Benz entering the Chinese market as Bensi (“rush to die”). “The takeaway is to make sure you have local partners involved with making sure the brand messaging translates,” says Kent Allen, GELF’s cofounder and co-author of the study.

Along those same lines, companies marketing internationally need to be aware that, because of social media, social and racial miscues that create problems in global markets can also lead to troubles at home. “Don’t forget how diverse countries can be, and don’t make assumptions about who will see the ad copy. In the Age of the Internet, it goes global as soon as it goes live,” Allen advises.

And while the flops typically get more attention than the successes, the report notes that there have been quite a few of the latter. Among those singled out is Airbnb, which a few years ago got high marks for its social campaign #OneLessStranger, which invited global audiences to document random acts of kindness by strangers. Nike and Converse let global audiences customize their own shoes, which proved to be a great way to empower consumers to localize their own products and for marketers to sit back, watch, and learn which design trends connected with different global audiences.

“Marketers should also mind their global marketing calendars,” Allen says. “It’s almost always a holiday somewhere. Don’t forget that those holidays can be a great way to reach expatriates at home too.” 

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