There are 195 countries in the world, and chances are your business is currently only targeting one of them at the moment. With Americans only comprising around 4% of the world’s population, it’s easy to see potential markets being missed south of the Rio Grande and north of the International Boundary.
Risk-averse (or apathetic) entrepreneurs often have ready-made excuses about why they don’t try harder to attract foreign customers. However, these arguments rarely stand up to scrutiny. Language barriers don’t apply to Commonwealth nations, while posting items to Mexico or Canada would hardly break the bank. The .com top level domain adopted by most stateside firms is global, not country-specific – few people use the .us TLD originally intended for American companies. And while US sports rarely appeal beyond our borders, our retailers and manufacturers are admired globally for their style and substance.
Being able to attract foreign customers is surprisingly simple, and any company can do it. These are some of the steps you should consider:
Research the existing market
Even if you sell a product that’s currently unique or market-leading in America, it might be ubiquitous everywhere else. Or perhaps your mainstream product has no direct rivals in certain territories. International research should be undertaken through a domestic search engine (Baidu in China, Bing.ie in Ireland, etc), rather than a .com address that will skew results towards American websites. Never assume the world wants to buy what you’re selling – instead, focus your energy (and budget) on countries where there is strong demand.
Choose a website address with care
When seeking to attract foreign customers, it’s often best to downplay any sense of flag-waving Americana. Choose a domain name that travels well, avoiding the .us country code TLD in favor of the internationally-respected .com or .biz. Some American companies have adopted the .com TLD and then incorporated country-specific sub-domains (such as .com/br for Brazilian audiences). However, the best SEO results come from a dedicated website with the ccTLD of that nation – search engines prioritize domestic TLDs over international ones.
Consider a global brand name and slogan
Many countries have subtle differences in their spelling; for instance, the British are very keen on using the letters ‘s’ and ‘u’. A photography business called Recognize Color will instantly seem alien to a UK audience, whereas a firm trading as Picture This could be based in New York or York. Similar rules apply to slogans, where references to Solo cups or hot dogs will baffle foreigners. The same is true of measurements in feet and inches, or costs in dollars.
Pay for translation services
Don’t think Google Translate will be sufficient to convincingly reproduce existing web content in a foreign language. When those words “Don’t think” are typed into Translate and converted into Greek, the words “Don’t think” become “Do not believe”. To a computer, this makes perfect sense. To us, it sounds stilted and jarring. Hire a freelance translation specialist to convert copy into overseas languages, and ask someone else to proofread it before the site goes live. After all, you’re unlikely to notice any errors which might be glaringly obvious to locals. Remember that transcribed text won’t be treated as duplicate content by search engines, so you can publish the same blog in twelve languages and get the same SEO benefits every time!
Develop local advertising and social media channels
Trying to gain Twitter followers in French is difficult if you don’t know a croissant from a brioche. Consider employing marketing agencies in target nations to build an advertising and PR presence on your behalf. American companies that perform well overseas tend to have media teams in each country, respecting local customs and speaking to audiences on their own terms. This is expensive but crucial for firms to attract foreign customers, since one-size-fits-all marketing campaigns rarely work across different continents.
Target overseas holidays and customs
This builds on the previous point. The date of the Chinese New Year varies widely, so annual marketing campaigns need to move around the calendar. Nevertheless, there are rich pickings to be had when targeting foreign holidays. In the UK, pretty much everyone likes a drink at New Year, so December is a great time to market bourbon. Focus on England and Wales, though; in Scotland, many people regard bourbon as a poor imitation of the national drink of Scotch whisky! Again, local knowledge is easily acquired with the help of domestic media agencies.
Choose distribution partners carefully
If you manufacture blown glass decorations, you’re going to need lots of protective layering to send these delicate items halfway around the world. Investigate packaging and shipping costs to any country you’re planning to target, and use the market research outlined above to identify whether consumers would happily pay these distribution costs, even at cost price. This is especially significant for companies selling heavy or awkwardly-shaped objects; exports might be problematic if you manufacture anvils. Appoint distribution partners on the basis of reliability and track records, not according to how cheap they are.
Consider currency options
Maybe one day the world will trade entirely in digital currencies like bitcoin and Ethereum. While it doesn’t hurt to offer these exchange rate-free cryptocurrencies today, most customers will still favor Visa cards and PayPal. Dynamic conversion tools process transactions in the client’s preferred currency, albeit at a cost. But this will reflect better on your business than asking someone in Switzerland to pay in US dollars or Euros, neither of which are the local currency. And since you were wondering, it’s the Swiss franc, which trades at roughly 1:1 with the dollar.
Monitor foreign traffic
Monitor international activity levels with tools like Google Analytics. These platforms can identify territories where your business performs well or badly – a croissant and brioche wholesaler might be more successful in Quebec than elsewhere in Canada, for instance. Market knowledge allows you to redirect ad spend to optimal locations, or redouble your efforts at attracting consumers in tougher markets. Finally, you may achieve spikes in site traffic by inviting local experts to guest blog, or adjusting your budgets for paid search marketing campaigns.
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