Top International Marketing Problems that You Should Know When Going Global

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Written by: pTranslate Contributors


“Language matters a lot in global business. But culture matters even more.”

International marketing problems that you should know before going global

When a company expands internationally, there are a lot of problems to consider. Almost all businesses have to start small and grow big, so expanding internationally means stepping out of the familiarity. When being thrown into a totally new environment, it is best to research everything carefully. That is why businesses spend a lot of time, effort, and money on market research before expanding to a certain region.

After that, the company has to market its brand and products to entirely new consumers there. It is when a lot of problems arise. These problems can range from slight misunderstandings to huge blunders that can potentially ruin the reputation of the brand. International marketing is always a sensitive thing, and we should take caution in every step. When we haven’t fully understood the people we are marketing to, it is better to step back and research. A thorough research that provides deep insights into the new market lowers the risk the company might face.

In this article, we will explore the major problems that marketers face when expanding to a new region that they had no previous experience in. The main rule of thumb is to be careful with the culture. Some cultures are open, while some are extremely strict. Even a misuse of a single color can change the outcome entirely.

1. People – Understanding Customer Behavior

People is our target. After all, we are trying to capture the market share by influencing the customers. We might have an easier time doing marketing in the local regions because we are a part of that community. However, when going overseas, we might encounter cultural differences. What we thought to be normal turns out to be offensive to people there, and vice versa. In another scenario, they may not even want to use the products you are trying to sell.

This is all about culture. Knowing the culture of the place you are about to market the products to is crucial. There are a lot of examples of cultural backlash that have become iconic in the marketing world. They have all been brought into marketing textbooks to teach students to be aware of the cultural aspects.

For example, we can look at Dolce & Gabbana ad that sparked public outrage in China back in 2018. We all know that China is a country with a rich history and tradition, and their people are really protective of it. We can even say that China is the most Asian country because its culture influenced a lot of the regional Asian nations. Dolce & Gabbana of course will not miss the opportunity to profit in this billion-people country. However, they mistakenly offended the Chinese tradition of using chopsticks.

In the ad, they featured a woman wearing Dolce & Gabbana dress trying to eat pizza, spaghetti, and cannoli. The woman then proceeds to use chopsticks to eat pizza, which angered the Chinese people. The way that the narrator in the ad spoke Chinese was also a bit inappropriate. It sounded like they are mocking the Chinese language. The Chinese public then called for a boycott of D&G, because they are “trampling on Chinese dignity”.

Asian countries are known for being protective of their culture, so this reaction is easy to understand. D&G had to take down the ad within 24 hours, but it was too late. The D&G stores, both online and physical, had to be closed. People were trying to return the D&G products, and it sure had an effect on D&G’s sales in China.

Although the Chinese are protective of their own culture, they have a higher tolerance for other ads that other countries find offensive. If we air an ad that is deemed racist in the US in China, the reaction might not be that bad. In other words, offensiveness can be regional. Once we expand beyond that region, cultures change, and the way we do marketing changes.

For another example, we can look at Heineken’s 2018 ‘Lighter is Better’ ad, which sparked a lot of controversies. In the short ad, we can see a bartender slide a Heineken bottle, which passes through three dark-skinned people. It stopped at a lighter-skinned woman. The ad then says “Sometimes, lighter is better”.

We can easily interpret this ad as offensive and racist. However, it seemed like Heineken didn’t suffer much from this ad. Everything went fine, although they did have to pull the ad down. Heineken was accused of “cultural insensitivity”, and their spokesperson simply said that they “missed the mark”.

Some of the most controversial and heated international marketing campaigns are related to race and gender. People believe that those companies are trying to feed off of the controversy to promote their brand. It is understandable. If we look back to controversial ads in the past, we can all see that they are from large companies with sizeable market shares. These marketing “blunders” might seem terribly racist, sexist, they did make themselves memorable. Implanting the brand into the customers’ minds is the ultimate goal of marketing, and it indeed worked.

If the brand already had a firm position in a market, culturally offensive messages might get passed easily. However, for smaller companies, an offensive ad might mean the end of their business. That is why the cultural aspects should really be considered before doing marketing. International marketing is about bringing cultures together in harmony.

2. Technology

This is simple to understand. Different countries have different technology growth rates. It might be harder to use SEO to promote a website in a country that doesn’t have many business websites. If the technological aspect of the country can’t keep up with your current strategy, consider changing your strategy. It is best to examine what people there are using the most and improvise accordingly.

Another example is the way people use the Internet. In China, people use Baidu. In Russia, people use Yandex. They all work in considerably different ways. What used to work with Google will not work with Baidu and Yandex. Or, Chinese people aren’t really a fan of email. Email marketing is a wonderful strategy to generate leads and find customers in the US and other Western countries. However, in China, people prefer messaging or calling.

Similarly, in the Western world, a good website is a clean website with little information. However, in Japan, people prefer websites that are rich in information. The more information they can get in the shortest time, the better. If you want to reach these markets and sell your products, consider changing your strategy. Companies usually hire experts who have a deep understanding of these platforms to help them. Having a local person in the team is extremely beneficial because they can provide insights that foreigners can’t have. Even the most seasoned travelers sometimes are surprised by the cultural nuances. As businessmen, those “surprises” might cost you money, time, and sometimes even our business, so always be careful.

Payment method is another factor to consider. Of course, some countries prefer paying with their credit and debit cards out of convenience. However, some other countries only prefer paying with their bank accounts. Some had their own payment system, and they have their own rules. Money is vital, everywhere you go. Customers need to trust you to use your products or services. If you’re an international marketer, remember to research the system carefully, and let your customers know how your payment process works. Read more on the popular payment methods for different countries and regions here.

3. Language barriers

Language is an indispensable part of international marketing. It is one of the biggest challenges when expanding globally. When establishing a new business there, you need to find locals to help you familiarize yourself with the culture. However, the locals don’t speak your language. Even if they do, the odds are that they don’t speak it so fluently and clearly.

Miscommunication is unavoidable. Sometimes, confusion can be fun, but most of the time, it isn’t. Confusion costs a lot, and sometimes having to fix the problems caused by the confusion is truly annoying. And it’s not only about communication. It is also about the image of your brand. When translating content for the advertisement of your brand in foreign countries, meaning might be lost in the process. There have been hilarious cases where, after translation, the original message became meaningless, or worse, offensive. The latter is scarier than the former because your brand is at stake if the translation is not done right.

Sometimes we should try to simplify our messages and convey things in a basic manner. When communicating with someone that doesn’t speak your language, being clear means more than being detailed. Have a look at some tips to overcome the language barriers when communicating with non-natives here.

It is better to find someone that understands your language and can speak it fluently. If you can’t find one, it is advisable to find a translator or an interpreter. Being able to communicate effectively with each other smooths out the workflow and helps everything go easily.

At pTranslate, we work to eliminate those language barriers and help international marketers perform better in the work. Not only the marketers but anyone that deals with cultural nuances and languages on a daily basis can all benefit from our services. Language barriers will no longer be a problem with you, and all of your documents, writings, and information will be properly translated into the language of your choice.

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