These days, selling products worldwide can seem as fast and easy as Amazon Prime’s two-day shipping. But global marketing? That can be as messy and complicated as a high school love triangle. You’re gonna wanna go in with a clear head and a comprehensive plan.
1. Slow your roll
Stay lean and don’t jump into a new market before testing things out. Now is not the time to tap into the unearned confidence of a mediocre white man. Instead, earn that confidence with preparation, research, and a deep understanding of the new market you want to break into. Because even the most widely beloved business in one market can fall flat in another.
I’m looking at you, Target. The highly successful U.S.-based box store tried to establish itself in Canada in 2013, launching 124 stores in quick succession. But just two years later, they all closed and the big box giant cut its losses after their launch fell flat.
Things went south for the chain right away because they failed to understand and meet the expectations of the new market.
- They did this with pricing, charging more for some of the same products they offered in U.S. stores — which many Canadian customers had previously crossed the borders to visit.
- They also didn’t understand their competition in Canada, which had largely already cornered the low-price box store market.
Combine all that with other operational failures, including inconvenient locations and an underdeveloped supply chain — and the launch was doomed from the beginning. The customers just didn’t show up.
And I don’t blame them. I’d be disappointed too if I was promised Target and they didn’t deliver.
2. Don’t get lost in translation
It was true in high school French class, and it’s true now: Google Translate is not always your friend. Tread carefully when translating phrases into another language.
- Take this troubling attempt from KFC, whose tagline “Finger-Lickin’ Good” literally translated to “We’ll Eat Your Fingers Off” in Mandarin for a campaign trying to launch the brand in China. Aggressive.
- And HSBC Bank made the same cringey mistake and wound up having to do a total rebrand for the entirety of its global operations for a multinational marketing push. The issue? In many of their new markets, their slogan, “Assume Nothing,” translated to “Do Nothing.” It’s like the anti-Nike. And it was definitely not what they were going for.
- Ford did the same thing for a marketing campaign in Belgium. Its tagline, “Every car has a high-quality body,” translated to “Every car has a high-quality corpse.” Chilling. And not the best car safety message. (Though High-Quality Corpse would make a pretty good band name. They could go on tour with Death Cab For Cutie.)
You really hate to see it. Learn from their mistakes and be sure to work with people fully fluent in the language of the market you want to break into. If you don’t, potential customers will be able to tell.
3. To assume makes an ass out of you and me
It’s not just a literal translation issue. You need to make sure you’re culturally fluent in the new market, too. Don’t assume that your home-based customer profiles translate to other places. The same ideas and stories with universal understanding in one culture can be a head-scratcher in others.
Procter and Gamble Co., the company behind Pampers, made this mistake when trying to market their diapers in Japan in the 1970s. They launched an ad campaign to introduce their product and used a symbol that’s universal for American consumers: a stork, which was carrying diapers like it carries babies to parents Western folklore.
But in Japan, people were utterly confused. Because there, the stork fable doesn’t exist. The closest Japanese folklore comes to such a story is the tale of Momotarō, a boy delivered to his parents in a giant peach floating down a river.
The moral of this story is to never assume your culture and worldview are universal. After all, American consumers wouldn’t respond well to a diaper ad with a peach in place of the stork (peaches mean something very different in the US, these days).
4. WWHMD: What Would Hannah Montana Do?
In the immortal words of a certain part-time Disney Channel popstar: “mix it all together and you know that it’s the best of both worlds.” A lot of products and marketing pitches won’t translate internationally. But that won’t always be the case. And for products that do translate across markets, the international appeal can be at the heart of their marketing pitch.
Take Starbucks for example: in 2015 the coffee giant introduced the flat white — an espresso drink that originated in Australia and became popular in the UK — into the U.S. market, where it became a staple. In fact, at the time, some longtime customers said they switched over drinking flat whites exclusively.
(It’s me, I’m some customers.)
When they made the introduction, Starbucks Vice President of Espresso and Brewed Coffee (hello, dream job) Christine Barone explained, “The growing sophistication of coffee drinkers around the world and in the United States makes the Flat White a perfect beverage for coffee lovers. As a global company, we have the opportunity to find inspiration from our cafes around the world and bring products to our customers that offer ways to further explore coffee like this handcrafted beverage.”
But a reminder: this rule has exceptions. Need I remind you about KFC’s Finger Lickin’ Bad slogan translation?
5. Keep it separate, sweetie
Okay, so you’ve done your research. You’ve adjusted your business model for your new market. You’ve partnered up with locals to craft the right messaging that translates your brand (literally and figuratively) for the culture you hope to assimilate into. You’re riding high on that type of confidence usually reserved for mediocre white men, except you’ve earned it.
There’s just one last thing: when it comes to social media, don’t send mixed messages. Create a separate profile for each distinct market so every post a potential customer sees is intended for them.
Otherwise, all of the targeting and culture-specific messaging will get all jumbled together into one social feed. Don’t do all that work for nothing!
6. Seal the deal
Clearly, there is a lot to consider when developing a global marketing strategy. And there are a lot of ways you can go wrong — especially in the Wild Wild West of social media.
The good news is you don’t have to go it alone. Nowadays is ready to take you to the next level of social media marketing. We design bold, unique, and emotionally charged campaigns unique to your brand.
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