Expanding your business into new markets can help to grow your profits, minimise risk and create economies of scale – all great incentives for taking the leap. However, entering a new market can be daunting, and SMEs already face many challenges when taking their first steps in trading overseas or adding to the countries in which they operate.
One thing that doesn’t need to be a hassle is writing your international marketing plan. When it comes to tailoring your offering to new markets, a few tweaks with the right information is often enough. We’ve used our expert knowledge from years of helping SMEs export globally, and specialist insights from Department for International Trade (DIT) event speaker and multi-award winning Chartered Marketer Victoria Boldison, to come up with five key tips to help you make your existing marketing international.
Tip 1: Choose Your Market Carefully
With a changing global landscape, there are many markets that offer great opportunities to UK businesses which could easily be overlooked. The USA has long been a popular choice with UK exporters and in 2017 there were over 2,200 companies reported to export to the USA from Yorkshire and the Humber, but emerging markets are also valuable and in the same year, over 1000 Yorkshire and the Humber businesses reportedly exported to the United Arab Emirates.
The infographic below shows the top 10 target markets of Yorkshire and the Humber businesses, reflecting the region’s interest in markets worldwide.
So how do you choose which markets to pursue? That will depend on various factors, including the market size and your sector, but you also need to find one which fits in with your expansion plans. Some criteria you could use when considering potential options:
- Suitable market size and demand
- Your product is culturally appropriate and/or there is a clear way to introduce it to market with cultural sensitivity
- A direct competitor is already selling its products or services, so you’ll be tapping into an existing market rather than creating one
- Your product can command the required gross profit
- Easy distribution with a suitable climate, infrastructure and supply chain
- Products and packaging don’t need to be adapted
- The market has cultural similarities and adequate business English
Boldison emphasises the benefits and difficulties of trading internationally, with the example of the popular US market:
“The US is often an attractive market for many industries due to its large scale and seemingly endless opportunities. However, it is not without its challenges on a number of levels and especially when it comes to the regulatory and logistic idiosyncrasies of the country. As such a more state-focused approach to this market is certainly advisable for optimum success as well as an appreciation of the upfront and long-term investment required to effectively enter the market.”
It can take a lot of time and resources to investigate a new market, but make sure that you are prepared to walk away if you discover it’s not the right one for your business. The limited sunk costs are far better than what you might lose if you choose the wrong market. An International Trade Adviser can help you choose the best markets for your business and provide tailored support for getting started overseas.
Tip 2: Do Your Market Research
After deciding which market to enter, you’ll need to do extensive research on the chosen market to best prepare your marketing strategy. This includes understanding your competition, your target market including its price sensitivity and purchasing power, the stage of the product life cycle, logistics, tariffs and legislation.
Examples of sources of information include trade magazines, trade associations and statistics websites, although some of these have a paywall. Sites like Worldbank offer global development data and the UN Comtrade Database gives free access to trade data. You can also do competitor research with the help of Google to search for companies online; focus on what they offer, their pricing, strengths, weaknesses and unique selling points.
Finding the relevant information and the right contacts can be tricky, but fortunately there is a range of help available, including advice, funding, trade missions and introduction services. The Overseas Market Introduction Service (OMIS), for example, can help you with international market research, connecting you with local experts and explaining regulations and legislation.
Funding is available through the Exporting for Growth programme, where match-funded grants of up to £3,000 can be used for research, travel to your target country, translation services and internationalisation of marketing collateral and your online presence.
Tip 3: Find a Partner (Your Distribution Strategy)
When it comes to moving your product, you don’t have to do it alone. There may be benefits to going direct to a consumer such as building relationships through customer service and the ability to sell your whole product range in one place, but often, there are people in-market such as agents, consolidators or distributors who will have the knowledge, experience and channels in place to help you succeed.
It’s wise to get a clear picture in mind of what you want to get out of the relationship before you approach a potential partner, and this will help you to compare different options. For example, your criteria may include:
- Existing relationships with major/relevant stores
- Location convenient to you
- Sells complementary products but not one from a direct competitor
- Human resources e.g. marketing, sales
- Suitable warehouse and logistics
- Able to commit to required annual spend
For help with finding the right partner, the Overseas Market Introduction Service (OMIS) can help you to find and connect with in-market partners and offer advice for entering a new market.
Tip 4: Make International Trade Shows Work for You
Attending or exhibiting at a trade show is a great way to make new contacts, promote your business and keep up with developments in your sector. Meeting your contacts in person can help to build and strengthen relationships with prospects and customers and move them through the sales funnel. Some of the larger industry shows attract exhibitors and buyers from all over the world, meaning the opportunities at a trade show go far beyond those offered by the host market.
Much like when preparing to find a distributor, considering what you want to get out of a trade show will help you to make the most of the event. These events can help you to better understand your competitors and your target market and find new suppliers. Deciding what you want to find out and which contacts you want to meet, in advance, will help you to focus on the best opportunities when in the busy show environment. Many companies book up their diaries well in advance, so to avoid missing the chance to meet an exciting prospect, reach out early and set your meetings before you go.
If you choose to exhibit, attract prospects to your stand using social media, and plan how to best capture valuable prospect data. Often there are networking events surrounding the show, so do your research and get tickets early if needed.
There is assistance available in the form of match-funded grants of up to £2,500 as part of the Trade Show Access Programme, which can be used for stand costs, conference fees and promotional materials.
Tip 5: Adapt Your Online Channels to the Market
Digital channels offer massive opportunities with over 4 billion Internet users worldwide and approximately 10% of all worldwide retail sales in 2017 made online. Adapting your website will allow you to access new markets, and as you might expect this can involve providing content in different languages.
English is the most widely used language online, but by also offering Chinese and Spanish on your website you can serve half of all global internet users. Avoid machine translation which can be lacking as, unlike humans, it cannot interpret the context of a word, and make sure you also translate meta data. Websites often use images of countries’ flags to denote different language options, but this can alienate speakers of the language from different countries. It is better to offer the language option without pointing to it with a specific country’s flag.
Whilst UK shoppers are more likely to make online transactions with debit cards or PayPal, the popularity of payment methods varies between countries with Alipay being the most popular in China, for example. Researching and providing the preferred payment methods for each market could help improve your online sales. When it comes to optimising your site for search, the most popular search engine can also differ, so you may need to optimise targeted content for Yandex (Russia) or Baidu (China). The same applies for e-marketplaces, with Rakuten being the Amazon equivalent in Japan. On great.gov.uk you can find a list of online marketplaces with preferential rates for UK businesses.
Quality Bearings Online are a great example of a Leeds-based business which has understood how it has needed to adapt its offering to another market with help from DIT. By implementing geo-targeted web pages, local telephone numbers and incorporating all usual additional taxes and duties into an all-in-one product price for orders over a certain amount, they have managed to successfully grow their business at an incredible growth rate year on year, with exports outstripping their domestic revenues.
Our International e-Commerce Advisers can help you to adapt your online channels for specific countries or languages, and Exporting for Growth funding can be used for the internationalisation of your marketing materials, website and social media. Get in touch today for more information.
Our International Trade Advisers have years of private sector experience and can help you with free, tailored advice and support to help your business trade overseas. Book a meeting now.
Victoria is a multi-award winning Chartered Marketer and has worked internationally for all of her career within the start-up and SME environment, marketing and selling health and wellness-related products around the world.
Multilingual and with an executive MBA, Victoria now runs Bolst Global, supporting British brands within the health food, drink and supplement sectors to export via various international sales and marketing services.
Victoria is involved with the Department for International Trade (DIT) and regularly runs workshops and webinars. She also network manages ExportExchange, a peer-to-peer export community, on behalf of Leeds Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and DIT in Leeds City Region.