At some point in the growth trajectory, brands start to think out of the box – or more specifically, out of their main market. Is it time to take the plunge and enter into foreign markets? It’s not an easy decision, as it is one that will cost a lot of money and time, whatever type of brand you are. That’s where our comprehensive guide to building an international marketing strategy comes in.
In this guide, we:
- Establish the advantages and disadvantages of international marketing.
- Look into the preparation you need to do before taking the plunge.
- Show how to adapt audiences and creatives for international markets.
- Examine a number of international markets and their main characteristics, including Germany, France, the UK, the US, Canada, the Netherlands and India.
Before expanding, it's important to have everything ready
Your step by step guide to going global, in one nifty template for you to use.
What is international marketing?
It says it on the tin. International marketing refers to any marketing activity that occurs across borders — something that’s more possible than ever with advances in technology, communication, transportation and financial connections. In fact, according to UNCTAD’s Global Trade Update, global trade hit a high of $28.5 trillion in 2021, up 25% on 2020 and 13% higher compared to 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
It’s important to remember that the international expansion experience is completely different for physical brands compared to digital brands. That’s why, for the purposes of this article, we have focused on providing marketing internationalisation advice for DCMN’s core customers: digital brands and startups.
What are the benefits of an international marketing strategy?
Why would you expand? Sometimes it can be the only way to achieve growth, particularly when you’ve reached a plateau or have reached a saturation point in your core market(s). Furthermore, this could lead you on the road to more profitability – particularly if you introduce higher prices. And even if it may seem risky, going international lowers the risk in another way. If one market fails — or encounters unforeseen difficulties — you have others to fall back on. This economy of scale also makes things more affordable as you keep going on.
It’s not just economics though – a brand with a global presence historically has higher brand reputation and consumer trust. In the webinar below, Daria Suvorova, Launch Manager – Global Expansion at Klarna talks about how market expansion has helped Klarna become one of the most successful fintech unicorns in the world, and how they manage their expansion strategy.
What are the disadvantages of international marketing?
Comparatively, there are some disadvantages to internationalisation to consider too – including increased transaction costs and finding local talent. If you’re shipping physical goods, you’ll also need to make sure your logistics strategy is airtight as well.
Making you have a solid understanding of the market you’ll be expanding into is key to decreasing risk. In fact, all types of brands can analyse the PESTLE factors (political, economic, social, technological, legal, environmental) as a way of analysing the trends of a particular industry in a market – and working out whether it’s wise to expand there.
Are you ready for marketing internationalisation?
Are you ready or are you ready?
Thinking of my business, knowing that I have limited resources, what strategies and actions do I need to activate in order to create the most value for the customer? – Eric Vissers, Head of Growth at DCMN
On the surface level, brands are ready for marketing internationalisation when the brand can fully support the delivery of the product and service in a new market without having to sacrifice on customer experience. And it goes the other way around too: Brands should not sacrifice their current and future customer’s demand in the core markets. You need to have the resources to ensure that the domestic market won’t suffer, too.
On a more granular level, It’s important to zoom out and think about the big picture. First, focus on the brand’s value proposition and go-to-market strategy until your brand has more customer and financial value than the current competition. Once this is supported with a strong functional and operational foundation that’s executing on all levels, then the business has the blueprint to head to new markets.
And remember: when it comes to multinational strategies, there are three strategic options that always need to be kept in mind. While some brands will just be interested in expansion (growing in new target markets), some will just be interested in sustaining their growth in their current markets. And a multi-international strategy sometimes also includes eliminating markets too.
What type of brand are you?
Brands that sell a product or service online often have the benefit of limited logistical hurdles when launching in new markets. These type of brands can more easily make the leap without requiring too much heavy lifting — in comparison to brands who may have to set up export of physical product, for example. Certain verticals, however, can be more challenging than others. For instance, verticals like food and beverage, nutritional supplements, medical and health care often have regulatory challenges associated with entering new markets. This shouldn’t stop brands in pursuing their expansion interests, instead it’s just something that needs to be accounted for in estimating the resources required for a successful expansion.
Checklist: What do you need to know beforehand?
- The compatibility of the market with the brand
- The culture, values and beliefs of the market
- Which segment you would like to position yourselves in the new market
- Your primary and secondary target groups
- Your positioning and communication strategy
Using data to back up your international marketing strategy
As much as it hurts, most brands aren’t ready for international expansion. But the good thing is that brands can definitely minimise the risk by conducting the following research in order to better evaluate their growth opportunities, enabling decision making with less gut feeling and more hard information.
- Start with 1st party customer research. Understand the data about the size, growth, density and needs of the target customer base in your target countries. We will go into more detail on this below.
- Take a look into the estimated Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) by market for your particular category of business. Look to see how this projection has changed over time, as it may offer clues into how rapidly certain segments are growing. If your category is growing, it’s a good time to enter the market – whereas a plateau can show it’s already saturated.
- Next up is to understand the competitive landscape through market and competitive research. Once this information is available, prioritise your focus regions with the help of tools like a decision matrix.
- When this is completed, then it’s time to discuss business. Does your business model suit the selected countries for growth? Does the value proposition position itself strong compared to competition? And will the brand be able to deliver a better customer value?
To get a really in-depth analysis of the global market landscape for a particular category, it may be worth investing in a report from a reputable market research company. These reports can range anywhere from €1000 to €6000 depending on the depth of analysis, and cover topics such as market by market dynamics and drivers, supply and demand side analysis, competitive insights, economic and political implications and SWOT analyses (strength, weaknesses, opportunities, threats).
Media consumption: Building a media strategy for international expansion
Before you start building your international marketing strategy, you need to understand local differences in media consumption. Media consumption is determined by a variety of factors including the consumers’ interests and preferences, affordability, accessibility, gender and other social characteristics. And every country has their unique mix of factors which influence the overall behavior in consuming the accessible media. It is therefore important to understand what role each media type has on consumer perception and how much effect it has on their purchasing behaviour. For example, in some markets TV is the most trusted medium, whereas in others it isn’t. This makes a big impact on a fintech brand for example, which heavily relies on trust in directly handling consumers’ money.
That being said, we would nearly always recommend starting with a digital marketing campaign in a new market, as a relatively affordable option for testing how well the product resonates in the market. Offline marketing can then be added on top, keeping in mind variations between different markets. Below in our market guides you can find out a little more about media consumption in these markets, but rest assured there are big differences. While things might be broadly similar in Europe, you can’t expect to have the same experiences in India for instance. We would recommend setting up relationships with local partners and sales houses to help you out. Also, take a look at the calendar and more specifically, different calendar hooks and marketing holidays across the world. A focus on Christmas won’t work the same in India as it would in the UK for instance, with a Diwali campaign something more likely to be your focus.
And it’s not just media consumption that you’ll need to keep in mind, but also legal and regulatory issues. Setting up a TV campaign isn’t as simple as creating your TVC and sending It out, often it requires a host of approvals from local bodies too.
What to consider:
- Do digital marketing first to test the market
- Set up relationships with local partners and sales houses to help you out
- Take note of specific calendar hooks across the world
- Make sure your creatives fit with local rules and regulations – and have the requisite approvals
How to do a competitor analysis
Competition isn’t the same in every market, for which the restaurant delivery vertical is a great example. While Wolt and Lieferando might be dominant in Germany, the likes of Deliveroo and UberEats rule the way in the UK. In the US, the name on everyone’s lips is DoorDash with a market share of 59% while in India two brands, Zomato and Swiggy, are neck and neck in the race for market leader. In short, in some verticals, the landscape of competing brands is completely different – and you need to fully understand that before you head into the market.
But it’s not just knowing that you have different competitors, it’s also important to have those rivals fully scoped out. Make no mistake: a competitor analysis isn’t just a quick look through the website of your competitor. It’s much, much more than that. Carrying out a full customer analysis report will help you work out the value proposition of your rivals and how yours is different. You’ll find out what they are doing right and what they could improve, which will help you tailor your international marketing strategy.
Top five questions to answer in your competitor research
- Who are your competitors?
- What products do they offer?
- What price points are they at?
- What marketing channels are they using…
- And how is engagement on them (like on social channels for instance)?
Read more: How to run a competitor analysis
How to target the right audiences in your international marketing strategy
If you think everyone needs or wants your product, you are sorely mistaken. While everybody needs food, that doesn’t mean everybody needs fast grocery delivery. That’s the same for every product or service. For example, while 50% of gamers are female, males account for over 70% of the esports audience – something esports brands should take into account in defining their strategy.
The next step is defining your audience via a target audience analysis – and you will need a separate one for each market. A target audience is a group of people that are bound together by similar characteristics and attributes and your analysis is how you find out exactly who these people are.
That being said, an audience analysis will broadly follow the same template across all your markets. A survey is a great way to do this, in which you can ask the audience in the market directly exactly the questions you need to ask. Another way is by carrying out a target group analysis like the one offered by DCMN’s Insights team. And then lo and behold, you’ll have detailed primary and secondary buyer personas including all the demographic data you need to create a campaign that appeals to that customer.
Are your current creatives ready for market expansion?
It’s the little things that count – Jan Interthal, Creative Producer at DCMN
It’s not a one-size fits all solution with your creatives either. In executing your international marketing strategy, your creatives might need an overhaul – and we don’t just mean a new voiceover in the local language. This goes for both your digital ads and your offline ones too.
In fact, some creatives might be broadly suitable for a new market with just some superficial tweaks here and there. This can include changing the voiceover, from American English to British English, or adapting your German for the Austrian dialect. Then you may also want to adapt some specific details, like changing kmh to mph (miles per hour) for the UK market in a TVC for an automobile.
But with other markets, you might need to produce new creatives in many circumstances. This is particularly notable for branding campaigns in which the emotional engagement of the viewer is paramount, compared to a performance-driven discount campaign for example. And for certain verticals localisation is more important. Take fintech over gaming, in which consumer trust is vital – and a fully localised ad, not just an adapted one, is the best way to achieve that trust.
And last things last, if you are considering TV, don’t forget that your spot needs to be compliant with the legal bodies in each country. While in some markets, the TV channel will approve it, sometimes in others it needs to go through a regulatory body for approvals – like ARPP (France), ThinkTV (Canada) or Clearcast (UK).
Market entry: How to grow your brand in Germany
Where else should we start? Home to 83.2 million, our homebase of Germany is the largest consumer market in the European Union. A mature market, it is the fourth largest economy in the world – and will undeniably be in many brands’ market expansion plans.
No matter the market, it’s crucial to do your research before entering. Then you could find out for instance that German consumers are sticklers for terms and conditions, with a staggering 82% checking the sales terms before buying a product. Trust and security are considered vital needs of the German consumer, even over price. That means making sure you have your site fully in German and with local payment possibilities, including the likes of Sofort by Klarna and PayPal, as well as Klarna’s actual buy-now-pay-later options. And make sure your product descriptions and photos are up to date, as this will also help reduce returns – something vital for ecommerce providers for instance.
What else do you need to know? Data privacy is a cornerstone of consumer concern, with Germany a forerunner in data privacy laws. In fact, the German state of Hesse was the first in the world to enact a data privacy act back in 1970! That means your digital brand needs to have its data privacy sorted out to avoid complaints.
Germany is undeniably a difficult market, but a highly valuable one with a high amount of internet penetration (German internet users amounted to 91 percent of the population in 2021). Here’s one extra tip: in many cases we advise testing Austria first. Austria has a similar culture and the same language, plus it’s cheaper to test TV there — making it a great option for brands who are not sure if their product fits to Germany yet.
Read more: How to Grow Your Brand in Germany: All You Need to Know
Market entry: How to grow your brand in the US and Canada
The U.S. and Canada are ranked #1 and #9 respectively for consumer spending across all markets in the world. If done correctly, accessing these large and diverse populations can unlock explosive growth that can accelerate global expansion – David Figueroa, Head of U.S. at DCMN
You know what they say: if you can make it in the US, you can make it anywhere. And this goes for your brand too.
The US is the world’s biggest advertising market and the world’s largest economy. The home of Silicon Valley, and the companies formerly known as the FAANGs, an acronym referring to Meta (META) (formerly known as Facebook), Amazon (AMZN), Apple (AAPL), Netflix (NFLX); and Alphabet (GOOG) (formerly known as Google).
It’s a market full of opportunity. Even with uncertainty around privacy regulations – and the recent economic tumult in general – digital media in the US is thriving. In 2021, digital ad revenue went up 35% to $189 billion according to the IAB Internet Advertising Revenue Report: Full Year 2021 conducted by PwC, with all channels including CTV, OTT, social media and search surging forwards. And once you’ve done that, offline is still the way to go. Of all of the channels, TV leads the way with the largest share of total offline media spend, at $60.1 billion, followed by experiential and sponsorship at $36.1 billion (a fast-growing channel up 27.6% year on year). If we’ve made one thing clear, it’s that your marketing campaign should be a multi-faceted one, with a campaign spanning many channels.
As for Canada, we’d highly recommend this different but similar market as a testing ground for the US, as we did for our client Wooga. With cheaper media, and with 85% of Canadians living within 150 kilometres of the US border, it is the perfect opportunity to test before heading to the US. Don’t expect it to be the same though. There are linguistic differences – don’t forget a large proportion of Canadians speak French in the Quebec region – and a whole host of other things to consider too. For instance, TV in Canada requires a different approach than in the US, with all TVCs having to go through the ThinkTV body before they go to air.
Market entry: How to grow your brand in the UK
For digital brands, the UK is unmissable. According to McKinsey, the UK is the most advanced e-commerce market in Europe, with 86% of UK citizens using e-commerce in the first six months of 2021. There’s no doubt that the pandemic fueled digital adoption, even in a country like the UK – which has commonly been called a “nation of shopkeepers” with regards to bricks-and-mortar retail.
While that is an opportunity, it also means competition is fierce, so your brand must demonstrate a clear value proposition and you should have done your competitor analysis. One big tip: don’t just expect to just replicate your international marketing strategy for the US.. Apart from the obvious differences in English word meaning and language, there are also clear differences in media consumption and culture that need to be considered across your creatives and your strategy. Working with a team of UK-specific copywriters and market experts will be helpful here.
Clearly digital marketing is your first port of call in this developed market, but once that is established – and you’re hitting your KPIs – the offline market is ripe for success too. Linear TV still offers the broadest reach – with over 480 channels – while radio and OOH are also full of potential. And the advent of OTT also means CTV is growing, even if it’s not reached the same levels as the US yet. Look for market leader Netflix’s adoption of ads to further boost the CTV game too.
And we’ll address the elephant in the room too: Brexit. With Brexit laws in flux, be aware that delivery and customs includes more cost and paperwork than it did when Britain was still in the EU.
Read more: Top tips for marketing in the UK
Market entry: How to grow your brand in France
With the French very sensitive to controversy, it can easily go wrong for a brand with their market entry into France. But don’t skimp on the jokes: it always works better if you do it with a touch of humour – Géraldine Boillereaux, Offline Marketing Manager at DCMN
One of Europe’s biggest markets, France is often top of the list for brands looking to expand. A startup capital with a lot of backing – and a particularly business-minded President too – there’s no doubt that the French are digital and quick to convert. This makes France a great opportunity for your brand and an integral part of your international marketing strategy. But anyone who thinks that they can quickly replicate their campaign from Germany or Benelux for instance is sorely mistaken.
It’s important to make sure that your creatives are both culturally fitting and legally compliant. Particularly for offline media, there are a lot of legal checks your creatives need to go through in order to go on air or on the streets (OOH). For TV for instance, this is the ARPP body. This is particularly prominent for brands in the gambling, food and beverage or automobile industries. And make sure your advert is in French – despite the understanding of English being strong in cities for instance, that doesn’t mean you can advertise in it.
That being said, offline marketing in France offers a huge amount of opportunity, with TV still strong. Despite pandemic closures, cinema is also a popular pastime still, with over 96.17 million admissions in 2021 – making it Europe’s leading market. That’s why this channel is also worth a try. As for the much-hyped CTV, while VOD and OTT are surging in the market, CTV is still a nascent channel, meaning TV should still be your go-to for reach in the next couple of years.
Read more: Offline marketing in France guide
Market entry: How to grow your brand in India
India is a price conscious and discount driven market – and competition with local brands will be very stiff – Bindu Balakrishnan, Country Head India at DCMN
Welcome to India! Home to more than 1.6bn people in 2022 – and now the world’s fifth largest economy – there’s no doubt India is a worthwhile addition to your international marketing strategy. And that means you need to do it properly.
First things first – and there’s no doubt about this – you need to have a team on the ground with market and media experts. With different tools and a completely different cultural and media landscape, local know-how is undeniably crucial. Your creatives and campaigns need to be fully localised to avoid upsetting or not engaging with consumer sentiment. It’s a big country, so it’s also necessary to take note of regional differences, as behaviours and languages differ across the country. There are 22 official languages in India, although it is largely expected that your ad campaign would be in Hinglish — a combination of Hindi and English.
What else do you need to know before you enter? “India is a price conscious and discount driven market – and competition with local brands will be very stiff,” says our Country Manager Bindu Balakrishnan. Replicating your price point from European or US markets will not necessarily work here. For certain verticals this makes more sense than others – for example, gaming brands will find it harder to make revenue from in-app purchases as they do elsewhere. According to Balakrishnan, only games where people can make money, known as real money gaming (RMGs), are ones in which people will spend money.
Brands with a big mobile presence should get excited. India is a very mobile-forward country, with a staggering 1.2bn mobile subscribers in 2021. In fact, many consumers often are using their mobile data over WiFi. With transit times so large in the big cities, this means consumers often watch TV or read on their phones to pass the commute. That means CTV, the darling of the channels right now, isn’t so popular in India yet, but we would highly advise a strategy that focuses on other offline channels including linear TV. With over 850 channels, Indian TV is one of the world’s biggest and offers you the chance to really tailor your campaign to your consumer.
And you don’t just have to focus on the big cities: there’s an increasing amount of the population living in tier two and three cities, as well as the main tier one cities like Mumbai and Delhi – and the economic aspiration is quickly trickling down to these smaller cities. Focus also on consumers in smaller cities, who are increasingly wealthy, digitally minded and open to new brands and experiences.
Market entry: How to grow your brand in the Benelux
Don’t think Belgium is the Netherlands part two – Marc Dahmen, Lead Growth Strategist Netherlands at DCMN
Three for one! The Benelux region consists of three countries in northern Europe, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg – with an estimated population of 29.3 million in 2022. All three countries are mature markets and heavily urban ones at that. Belgium and the Netherlands lead the charge as the two countries above 10 million inhabitants with the highest urbanised population, with Belgium the world’s highest at 98.12%, followed by the Netherlands at 92.57%. What does that mean? There’s an extremely digitally minded population there and one which isn’t so hard to deliver to (speaking to you, e-commerce!).
Often we would advise to test in the Netherlands as the largest market first. While you will have to localise into Dutch, it is often seen as a good testing ground for the other markets in Europe. It’s also a little easier than Belgium, which is divided into areas speaking Dutch (Flemish), French, and even some German, each with their own media channels and culture. That’s the main reason why Belgium is certifiably many different markets – and requires its own strategy too.
As for Luxembourg, it’s an admittedly very small market, with a population of 632,000, but one in which the average income is extremely high. That means if you’re searching for higher income consumers, this small market could be a nice cherry on top.
Read more: The top Benelux startups in 2022
Make measurement and privacy a part of your international marketing strategy
One thing brands can do is to tailor their privacy policies to the strictest markets to get ahead of the curve – David Figueroa, Head of U.S. at DCMN
If you’ve heard anything about GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) or CCPA (the California Consumer Privacy Act), you’ll know measurement and privacy laws are different across markets – and need to be considered. While you may use Google Analytics across all these markets – or even our own DC Analytics – laws regarding attribution vary greatly. Pay attention to these laws and make sure you are compliant to avoid any unpleasant twists and turns with your international marketing strategy.
Getting ready for the world is going to take time, so don’t expect results right away with your international marketing strategy. But rest assured: if you’ve followed all the steps outlined here, you stand a great chance of international success.