(This article originally published at ClickZ)
It’s exciting to take a business onto the international stage, targeting global customers and new opportunities. However, in your hurry to reach them before your competitor does, it’s all too easy to overlook some of the finer points of internationalization.
Unfortunately, it’s these same details that can make or break an overseas campaign. Even some of the largest brands have discovered this to their cost.
Looking at what they did wrong and what others have done right can be useful when it comes to reviewing your own global marketing strategy.
Mistake #1: Failure to Adapt to Local Markets
The most successful global businesses understand the importance of being relevant to their local markets.
That’s why you can now buy a KFC rice bucket in Singapore. Likewise, you’ll find pasta dishes on the McDonald’s menu in Italy and the chain has now opened the first of a planned 500 or so meat-free restaurants in India.
You don’t need to be in the restaurant business to see the benefit of appealing to local culture, while avoiding marketing angles that might offend local values and religious beliefs.
Mistake #2: Brand Names That Don’t Translate
The public loves to laugh at brand names that mean something unflattering or off-color when translated. Japanese sports drink Pocari Sweat is just one of many casualties of this.
Similarly, the scenic connotations of Microsoft’s Vista made quite a different impact in Latvia. Here the word equates to “hen” and is also used to refer to a dowdy woman.
The difficulty with this is it’s often not obvious to non-native speakers of that language and by the time the mistake has been caught, there’s already an expensive marketing campaign underway.
Mistake #3: Keyword Translation Issues
The right keywords mean search traffic will be well matched to your service or product, and more likely to buy. However, a dictionary or Web translation won’t always provide the best word for a specific product.
Regional usage where different countries share a language can also be a problem. Orange juice brand Tropicana ran into this challenge when marketing “jugo de china.” While the term had been correct for their orange juice campaign in Puerto Rico, it fell flat with Cubans in Florida. To them, it meant “juice from China.”
On top of using keyword research tools with country and language filters, it’s always a good strategy to double-check with a native speaker that you’ve found the best choice.
Mistake #4: Not Treating Local Markets as Separate Campaigns
A monolingual Twitter or Facebook account is simply not enough to connect with worldwide customers, still less to make them feel valued.
Instead, tailor each campaign for its target country or region. That means not only publishing content in the language of that audience but keeping it relevant to their interests. Creating separate social media accounts and using the market’s own preferred platforms is the best way to do this.
These might include Google+, Tumblr, Instagram, and Pinterest – all now major networks worldwide. Video also has an almost universal appeal, although Youku Tudou and 56.com are alternatives to YouTube if marketing to China.
Regional social networks can also play a key role. For example, companies are using messaging service LINE to reach out to its users in Japan: a number that had reached 47 million registered users by August 2013. Given their worldwide success, it’s no surprise to learn that Coca-Cola is one of the global businesses that was quick to get on board.
Mistake #5: Insufficient Research Into Local Culture
Creating a campaign that attracts attention begins with thorough research into cultural preferences. For instance, the colorful and visually exciting campaigns that create a buzz in Asia often need a redesign to appeal to Western markets.
Regional differences can also affect conversion rates. For example, while Germans will happily buy consumer electronics online, a 2012 Accenture study showed that a significant majority of Russians, Chinese, and Japanese shoppers prefer to visit a retail store.
Payment preferences also need consideration. Not all countries have high usage of credit cards. Some, such as Canadians, prefer to use debit cards. Others prefer to buy with checks or via online services such as PayPal.
Mistake #6: Failure to Adapt for Mobile
With mobile devices now so much a part of our lives, no online business can afford to neglect its mobile presence.
To avoid having a mobile-unfriendly site that sends potential customers to your competitors, get up to speed on the best way to meet the needs of mobile users. These include responsive design elements, large tap targets, and keeping the bandwidth load light. Keep up to date too with voice search trends.
The term “mobile” covers a broad range of devices and different platforms such as Android, iOS, and Windows. Test your site across as many of these as possible.
Pay attention to regional differences and changing trends now and you will lay a firm foundation for future success with international customers.