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How to market internationallyExporters who have done well in Australia will often believe that their domestic campaign will work just as well overseas. But international markets are markedly different and exporters need to be aware of certain purchasing triggers and cultural factors before beginning their international assault.

“Many SMEs think if they are successful domestically, they will be successful internationally, but they need to work on the target market, that is, culture, language, branding, pricing, competitive positioning, product life cycle, climate conditions and local marketing regulations,” says Mohammad Khan, Australia Post’s international business development manager (NSW/ACT). “One key factor for succeeding in a new market is understanding the local requirements and marketing it to the right audience.”

The fundamental difference between SMEs and multinationals is that SMEs generally seek a market that already exists because it is expensive to create and educate a market from scratch. Therefore, the existence of competitors is actually a good sign, because it means there is a market for your product; you just have to be wary of where your business might position itself in that competitive environment.

“Essentially SMEs are market takers rather than market makers,” says Nick Scott, lecturer in international business at the University of Western Sydney. “Foreign consumers are very different from Australian consumers in where they see value, so you have to look at your product and what triggers their purchasing behaviour.”

Language and culture
Exporters should tailor their marketing campaign to accommodate language and cultural differences that may affect the acceptability of marketing material. The first thing you should check is whether your brand or business name has any unexpected connotations, which may occur even in English-speaking countries due to local slang.

Also be aware that in non-English-speaking countries, or in countries where there is more than one official language, the law may require that any information about your product or service, including your brand name, be in the local language/s, even if English is widely spoken and understood.

“If your market is in a foreign language, there’s no alternative but to find some partner or agency that can localise the message,” Scott advises. “Language is not just literal translation, it’s the tone and the references.”
He recommends exporters keep advertising visual to prevent lost nuance and mistranslation in spoken and written languages, and avoid trying to translate humour. “Humour is something that seldom crosses borders.

Americans are irony-deficient; they don’t get the self-deprecating humour of Australians. What the Swedes find side-splitting, we don’t get and so forth,” he says. “Humour just doesn’t translate.”

In countries where religion dominates culture, you need to consider the style of advertising you might employ; for example, Boost Juice found they had to replace the midriff of the ‘Boost girl’ on their store design in some countries. Countries with a sophisticated media environment will often have an advertising code of conduct you can follow to avoid controversy.

For countries where marketing isn’t as well developed, Scott says exporters may have to rethink their campaign. “Promotion usually has to be expressed in simpler terms and sometimes the media you’d expect in Australia aren’t there, for example, print advertising would be largely distributed in urban areas and may be affected by illiteracy,” he notes. “On the other hand, studies have shown that in developing countries, consumers haven’t yet been bombarded by advertising and tend to be a lot more believing of it.”

Market preferences may also play a role in your presentation. Elements such as colour scheme, and the kinds of models you choose to represent your product or service may affect the way potential customers perceive your offering. However, this is more applicable to marketing consumer products rather than promoting business-to-business, says Scott: “There’s a big distinction between consumer products and industrial products where you don’t have to worry about the cultural acceptability of the product and its promotion.”

Brand Australia
One thing both B2C and B2B exporters can do is use Australian-ness as a branding tool. “The country of origin effect is a powerful form of cross-cultural advertising that SMEs can use very effectively,” says Scott.

“Incorporating Australian symbols and references is a way to gain the country of origin benefits because we’re seen as clean and green and so forth.”

Food products benefit from the perception of Australia as clean, eco-friendly and safe, and manufactured goods carry the inference of quality and innovation, which is something the Australian Made, Australian Grown campaign has worked hard to promote in various markets around the world.

The ‘Australia’ brand is very powerful and has positive connotations, says Ian Harrison, CEO of Australian Made, Australian Grown. “We did an international survey a few years ago and it showed that people leant towards their own products and produce, but Australia ranks really well behind the lead country, and that’s what we were keen to see.”

The Australian Made, Australian Grown symbol is one way that SMEs can leverage brand Australia. “As an SME it’s almost impossible to get your brand name recognised overseas, so the one thing to attract that first point of interest is the fact that it’s Australian,” says Harrison. “Ultimately the role of the logo is to assist companies in establishing the fact that their product or produce is Australian and that then forms part of the marketing strategy for that company. Don’t underplay that position, be aggressive about that fact. It does an important part of the job and it’s recognised.”

Even without the symbol, exporters can use positive associations with Australia as a selling point, or even a point of difference. Service exporters could focus on Australian qualities such as being easygoing, flexible and hard working in their marketing. Exporters could also take advantage of existing stereotypes in the marketplace by using certain ambassadors, for example using cricketer Brett Lee to market an energy drink in India because of his renowned athleticism and connection with that country.

Marketing law
Apart from the linguistic considerations mentioned earlier, other laws may apply. Check with the relevant authority in the destination country to see if you are infringing on existing intellectual property, such as trademarks or copyright on promotional material. It is recommended that you register your intellectual property in that market to prevent others from imitating you and skimming business from your marketing.
Other laws may apply depending on your product, service or channel of communication. If you are marketing the eco-friendly properties of a product, for example, you may need to supply evidence of your claims. Channels such as email marketing may be subject to spam legislation.

The principles of international marketing are generally no different to marketing domestically, provided you are sensitive to the differences and tailor your campaign accordingly. The expense of marketing overseas teaches many Australian businesses the value of researching the destination market thoroughly before rolling out a campaign—but shouldn’t that apply to all marketing?

The World MAP
Michael Durie, marketing consultant at Australia Post, offers a step-by-step guide to developing a world marketing action plan (MAP).

1. Have a plan from start to finish. Include a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis, measures of success, and cover off the four Ps: price, product, place and promotion. Exporters must also have systems in place to respond promptly and efficiently, as meeting service standards in overseas markets is essential.
2. Work out the campaign return on investment and budget. Exporters need to know the acceptable return on customer acquisition investment across every sale. Know the true and current costs of every element and allow for exchange fluctuations and overruns.
3. Do a lifetime value calculation of each customer. Due to the higher cost of marketing overseas, it’s useful to determine how much income can be derived from a customer. A customer database will enable you to gather data to enable better allocation of resources by prioritising the most important customers and prospects.
4. Target the right customer with the right offer. Spend time developing your core proposition. Exporters need to communicate in an appropriate way using language and terms that respect local customs; this requires knowledge, planning and understanding.
5. Choose the channel(s) of communication carefully. Online and emails are cost effective, but one-to-one contact such as meetings, telephone and direct mail work just as well, especially in business-to-business environments where gaining buyer trust is paramount to building long-term relationships.
6. Test, learn and refine. When targeting overseas markets, it is vital to adopt regular campaign testing as part of the process. Not accounting for local and cultural differences can cost the sale. The cost of marketing overseas means every dollar must count, so it is important to test the message, the offer, the price, the packaging and/or channel regularly. Also consider the timing of the campaign.
7. Consult the experts! Talk to Austrade, your state export office or Australia Post’s direct marketing specialists (see www.mailmarketing.com.au).

Making a mark
When Ron Van Prooyen, managing director of strategic branding company Di Marca, visited the Vladivostok Austrade office, little did he know what their small business would become in Russia’s Far East.
Earmarked for the 2012 APEC Conference, Vladivostok is an emerging economy that has recently become a destination for global brands, introducing sophisticated competition for local companies. That’s where Melbourne-based Di Marca stepped in.

“Our client Primorskiy Konditer is a very traditional confectioner, but with new competition taking their market share, the brand started to dissolve into the supermarket shelves,” explains Steve Alley, Di Marca’s joint managing director. Di Marca examined the brand and compared it to the competition, then developed the essence of the brand through workshops with management. “We created the slogan ‘The choice of generations’: we were emphasising the history of Russia, playing on the fact this was an established Russian brand that has been loved for generations as opposed to a Cadbury.”

Di Marca’s brand strategy for Primorskiy Konditer included a complete visual brand identity for its packaging, business stationery, signage and delivery trucks, plus fashioning the confectioner’s head office and factory into a landmark.

To establish relationships in Vladivostok meant travelling there every six weeks to meet with companies and discuss opportunities. “Business takes time: they want to get to know you, but once they do, off you go,” says Alley. “Most of them had a need to do something once they saw other brands come into the market.”

In Di Marca’s favour was a portfolio including famous beer brand Foster’s, and the fact they were Australian. “We are closer to the Russian Far East than their capital city,” says Alley. “Dealing with design agencies in Europe is more expensive for them, and we’re working in the same time zone, so we’re able to communicate with ease whether it’s through email or telephone.”

Another aspect that endeared Di Marca to the region was their dedication to the market, demonstrated through their willingness to educate businesses about how branding works. “If you go in and are genuinely committed to helping their businesses grow and flourish, they’re going to pick up the integrity of that,” explains Alley.

As for marketing advice for exporters, Alley believes that while there might be differences in the market, the rules of branding remain. “You have to undertake local research that’s relevant to the project to get a feel for the landscape, and understand the essence of your brand,” he says. “We’re using the same principles, but applying it to a different market and different consumers and different companies. There are fundamental differences, but the principles of working through them are the same.”

Finding funding
Austrade’s Export Market Development Grants scheme has been designed specifically to reimburse businesses for export promotional activities. For information on eligibility see:


Also check with you state or territory government to see if there are grants or other types of assistance available for your business.

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Adeline Teoh

Adeline Teoh

Adeline Teoh is a journalist with more than a decade of publishing experience in the fields of business, education, travel, health, and project management. She has specialised in business since 2003.

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