4 Pillars of an International Marketing Strategy

You know what’s a colossal marketing mistake? Assuming a message that resonates in one place will also work in another — especially when there’s an ocean between them.

While every new marketing venture requires due diligence, the nuances of international communications are often overlooked when marketers try to gain traction in a new region. You can’t simply “copy and paste” your marketing efforts from the U.S. into another market. International marketing demands a substantial level of research in order to ensure a good product-market fit and a high probability of ROI. 

“It can take anywhere between one to two years to penetrate a new market, and then you have to show consistent growth,” says Amir Biran, senior director of sales at ZoomInfo.

While it can be tempting to start big — such as all of Europe — usually that’s way too broad. Instead, start at the country or region level. Aim for an area that’s big enough to build a sizable campaign list, but small enough that a single marketing strategy suffices. 

So, how do you know which country is the right choice? And where do you go from there? Let’s dive into the specifics around building an international marketing strategy. 

4 Considerations for Building an International Marketing Strategy 

1. Conduct thorough market research 

If you’re not sure which market you should target, start by looking at first-party data. Who’s coming to your website? Which regions are they coming from? Pay attention to those who attend webinars, download content, and request demos. If there’s growing interest from a specific country, that’s a good indication of where to begin. 

In your CRM, pull a list of customers by country and identify commonalities among them. Segment by industry, company size, and annual revenue to see where you are winning the most. This can help you build your target lookalike companies list.

Then look at third-party data, including:

Markets with low barriers to entry. If this is your first time expanding into an international market, you might want to find a region that has a need, but not a lot of competition, for a solution like yours.

Market share. What is the current breakdown of market share in that region? Is one company dominating? Do you have a realistic chance of displacing them? This information can help inform your value proposition and product positioning. For example, you might want to consider temporarily reducing your price in order to gain a foothold in this new market. 

Lookalike markets. Consider starting in a market similar to the one you’re currently in. For example, many northern European countries are similar to emerging markets in the U.S. This can be a good jumping-off point compared to introducing a brand new product in a totally unknown market.

Competitors in that market. Once you’ve chosen a market, run a competitive analysis. When did they penetrate that market? How did they do it? What’s their adoption rate? How and why are people using their services? What problems are they solving for their customers? How can you differentiate yourself from your competitors?

Intent data. What topics are trending in your targeted region? What types of technology solutions are companies looking to implement? What kinds of questions do prospects want answered? This can help inform everything from your ABM approach to your content strategy and your sales engagement plans.

“Using intent, and particularly technographics — insight into the technologies a company currently has installed and the technologies they’re actively researching — can really help tailor your messaging,” says Ashley Eleveld, senior manager of international demand generation at ZoomInfo. “It’s also valuable information for your sellers because it enables them to have more relevant conversations with their prospects.”

Cultural do’s and don’ts. What are the regional privacy regulations? How do locals communicate personally and professionally?  If your sales team likes to send dozens of emails, call early in the morning, and cut straight to the point, is that going to come off as rude? Are people more formal or laid back? Do they respond well to humor? How does this audience typically greet each other in a business setting? Any taboos to avoid?

2. Get to know your total addressable market 

Obviously, language can be a huge barrier if you’re from an English-speaking country selling into a non-English-speaking country. If you need to market in a different language, tap into local speakers or hire an agency to help.

But there are other barriers to consider, too. In order to nail down your messaging, you need to know your audience — their business, values, and culture.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What is their fiscal year? What are their top priorities or focus areas in each quarter? (i.e. hiring, goal setting, strategic planning, spending year-end budgets)
  • What time zone are they in?
  • What are the main industry segments they classify themselves as?
  • What channels do they typically rely on for information? Do they prefer blogs and webinars over press releases and whitepapers? 
  • What language do they use to conduct business? How comfortable are they with second languages like English? This will help you determine if localization is necessary.
  • Are they a local economy? How much business do they do outside of their home country?
  • Where are they in terms of digitization? This will help you determine how to tap into their market from a digital standpoint. 
  • What are their pain points?
  • What are the primary barriers to purchase?

3. Create your digital marketing plan 

Once you understand who you’re targeting you can start building out your digital marketing plan, including when, where, and how you go to market.

There is no perfect recipe or one-size-fits-all plan for digital promotion. Your plan will completely depend on what you’ve discovered works well for your target market.

For example, German professionals use XING, a career-oriented social networking site, far more than LinkedIn. If you’re marketing in Germany, you’ll probably want to advertise on their native platform.

When it comes to measuring the effectiveness of your digital marketing plan, establish domestic benchmarks that you can compare against your international performance. Then track important KPIs such as:

  • Traffic volume
  • Bounce rate
  • Average deal size
  • Sales cycle timeline
  • Average revenue (QoQ and YoY)
  • Market share 
  • Churn rate

“At first, it’s not about dollars,” Biran says. “It’s about landing those first few deals and building a name for yourself.”

Budget allocation will depend entirely on what percentage of business you want to come from your target market. For example, if you want 10 percent of your business to come from Spain, you should put 10 percent of your marketing budget toward Spain. How you divide and conquer that 10 percent over different channels will vary depending on what works in that country. Test and optimize repeatedly. 

Additionally, make sure you’re working hand-in-hand with your sales team every step of the way. Once a marketing qualified lead (MQL) becomes a sales qualified lead (SQL), your team has to be prepared to sell into that foreign market. And once the lead becomes a customer, your customer success team needs to be prepared to cater to their needs for the long haul. Marketing is just one step of the buyer’s overall journey. 

“You have to have the right people on your team,” says Matt Balaschi, director of sales at ZoomInfo. “People who are okay with rapid change and uncertainty, rather than just continuing to do what works. You’re going to have to try new things that may not succeed, regroup and try again.”

4. Establish a local presence 

After you’ve somewhat penetrated the market, your team may want to open an office there. If this isn’t feasible, there are other ways to establish a local presence.

Holding and attending events in your target market is a great way to build brand awareness. If physical events aren’t possible, hold virtual events targeted specifically at your international audience. Make sure it’s held in their native language.

You can also work with a channel partner, agency, or local sellers who have existing relationships and expertise in that country. For example, Japan is a very difficult market to penetrate — but our senior director of sales knew just what to do.

“In Japan, they typically only buy from people they’ve known for many, many years. Their business culture is built on trust, so I hired a local country manager. He was well-known in the Japanese market and he knew the right customers,” Biran says.

Don’t be afraid to outsource and ask for help. If you know that a company — even in a different industry — has successfully penetrated your target market, do some digging. Figure out who they hired and see if they could help you achieve your business goals.

Expand your Marketing Internationally with ZoomInfo

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