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The Internet seemingly erases geographic boundaries and makes it possible for businesses to sell around the world. But most businesses don't come equipped with the knowledge and resources to market to an international audience.

Targeting another country takes more than translating materials from one language into another. In many countries, people speak forms of Chinese, English, Spanish or French, but meanings can vary. For example, "elevator" in America is "lift" in England. Using "elevator" in a campaign for England might prove confusing. Other words, used incorrectly, can be downright offensive.

Yet some small and large companies successfully manage international business, whether doing so involves hiring a distance worker, selling products, buying products or using services. If it makes sense for a business to go beyond borders, what do its employees need to consider when marketing on a global scale?

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This Week's Dilemma

Promoting products and services in other countries

I don't have a specific product or service in mind. The Internet opens the doors for marketing to people anywhere in the world. Working with a global audience requires considering many things, including language and culture. How do you go about promoting a product on a global scale?

—Shannon, product manager

Previous Dilemma

Initial marketing campaign isn't flying

I started a new line of gift baskets for babies, families and new parents. We've built everything, including a Web site. At this time, we're not selling locally or through the Internet. We mainly use the Web site as a virtual brochure and for our customers' buying convenience. We've passed out our business cards and created an email flyer that we've sent to everyone we know, their friends and their coworkers, with no results. How can we entice prospects to purchase our product? What do we need to do with our current campaign to see results?

—Angela, owner

Summary of Advice Received

Angela, the responses from readers point to a theme: adding another dimension to your marketing. Each of the following approaches incorporates this theme:

1. Know your audience.

2. Use promotional materials.

3. Promote through other businesses.

4. Turn the Web site into a sales tool.

1. Know your audience

We hear "know your audience" with almost every bit of marketing-related advice shared. Still, it remains an important part of marketing. Florian, marketing consultant with DGS, says, "I think you should know your audience first and make sure what you're telling them actually concerns them. First, get to know them and their needs and then address them. If you build your business on real needs, they will buy. They always do."

Ken Hall, communications manager at Meister Media Worldwide, believes that Angela hasn't quite reached her target audience:

You entice people to buy by making sure you're talking with the people who have a use for your product, and by communicating the benefit of buying. It doesn't sound as though the people with whom you've communicated so far are actually part of the target market you've identified. In research, we call it "convenience sampling," so maybe we could call it "convenience marketing." You have to start somewhere and an approach that more aggressively seeks to identify and communicate with your targets would benefit you.

Another potential issue is whether or not your specific offering appeals to the target segment. Do the baskets have the right combinations of features (translated into benefits) and price?

Consider looking into what your competition does in terms of marketing, and comparing your effort to theirs. You can't be entirely "me, too," but if there are elements of their campaigns that are absent in yours, it gives you something to think about. Next, if you have the resources, you might rethink using your Web presence as brochureware. My impression of the product market is that it's not high involvement. Prospective buyers will put a little thought into selection, but won't spend days agonizing over just the right gift basket, I'm guessing. Therefore, you want to enable your prospects to make an impulse buy with as little effort as possible.

Finally (although it probably ought to be first), you might want to backtrack and think about your marketing strategy. You've got a product/service offering and a target market. That's a good start and the strategy needs to be more than checking off the boxes next to Web site/business cards/email flyer. Decide what you want your Web site, your business cards and your email flyers to accomplish, and evaluate each one accordingly.

Zahid Adil, director of Thinkmor, says a PR strategy needs to be a part of the marketing mix, and the current campaign should be evaluated:

To gauge your current campaign, you should ask these questions. Was our offer compelling and relevant to gain trial from prospects? Did we target the right prospects at the right time, when they were ready to buy? Are they comfortable buying on the Web or do they prefer other channels? Did our message cut through the noise to reach our target audience—did we deliver a simple and effective message the target audience could understand and that compelled them to take action?

Was our call to action easy enough to understand and carry out? How much did we spend in total to generate the campaign, and how much did we sell from this campaign? Did you market your products with an expected profit margin? Did you achieve this? If not, what went wrong? To increase results, talk to your customers/prospects and give them your products to try. Get their feedback; were the responses what you expected or not?

2. Use promotional materials

Promotional materials could be as simple as a postcard or brochure. A creative approach may include turning your business theme into a promotion. Akeela Davis, advisor at Arista Asset Management, suggests using postcards, a great visual reminder of your business, since people put them on the refrigerator. The trick, however, comes in landing that spot on the refrigerator!

Davis says, "To get people to keep your post card, put a picture people will want to keep or share, or important information people will want to have handy."

Jennifer Janus, marketing manager with FNC, suggests going outside of your circle of associates to look for opportunities where the customers are:

See if local hospitals would let you distribute information through their prenatal, birth-prep, Lamaze and infant-CPR types of classes. Make the handouts unique—use a diaper pin, bow or other inexpensive, standout piece that distinguishes your marketing materials from a flat piece of paper. Target local baby-themed stores and see if they would let you do a drawing for a free basket—you'd be getting addresses for new prospects for future direct mail and email campaigns.

Also give your market a chance to see your wares firsthand. Along the same line—if there are a few stores with which you could establish a relationship by consistently purchasing items from them to include within your baskets, maybe you could develop a referral system with them. Print brochures and leave them at local churches—or advertise in church bulletins—lots of times, new mothers' church pals are shower-givers. Try finding local daycares, nurseries, mothers-day-out groups and moms clubs; they'd be another good target. If you have the funds, print onesies or burp clothes with your logo and hand them out at some of the aforementioned locations. Consider setting up a booth at a local baby expo.

Michael Dunne, principal with The Ox Marketing Group, makes a good point when he says people buying baskets generally don't know what to buy:

New moms know what to buy for a new mom and they don't buy baskets. I would suggest a simple brochure entitled: "A man"s guide to gift buying" or "The single person's guide to buying for new moms." You'll probably find that men and singles are often handcuffed when it comes to "WHAT to Buy." So you can become the educator; and the one who educates gets the customer.

What do you have on your refrigerator? What made you keep it? This could lead to new ideas.

3. Promote through other businesses

An alliance or partnership works to the advantage of everyone involved. Businesses can help each other reach markets and resources they might not otherwise reach without each other's help. G. Santhanam, manager with CEI, suggests promoting through clinics and hospitals, displaying a flyer at baby shops and supermarkets, and displaying information at parks where families often go to walk and play on the swings.

"Go to where the moms-to-be are! Go to where the babies are (or will be)! Promote your products through local maternity hospitals and OB-GYNs. Offer custom products through baby and maternity-wear stores. Get links from baby and maternity-related sites to your site," says Phil McCutchen, marketing manager at VCG Inc.

Another word for promoting through other businesses is "cross-sell." Angela, a marketing project manager, recommends thinking of life triggering events to cross-sell opportunities:

Some things I suggest are considering where people go when looking for gifts, where cards are sold in your area and also advertising in your local flower shop(s) and hospital(s). Real estate agents and financial advisors are also often looking for relationship building, thank-you gifts for their clients; you may want to make it known to them that you have the perfect gift.

When you're a new business, it takes a different approach to get your name out there. Katie Crews provides examples:

Because your name and product is new, customers need an incentive to buy your product over one that they may be more familiar with. Give new customers a significant coupon or discount so they'll give the product a chance. You may not make much off the first basket you sell to them, but you can build loyalty from there.

Marcus Barber, strategy and foresight analyst shares three tips—pay attention to the timing of the offer; ensure the product mix is right; and tap into maternity suites with free samples and low-key marketing materials:

If you are targeting family members and friends to buy "for" the parents, then you also have to look at the product mix in your gift baskets. The one thing I have heard almost all new parents say is that they wished they had the time to prepare meals.

Gift baskets also have to be functional. Another cuddly soft toy, while an appreciative thought, probably doesn't help much when it's the fifth one the parents receive. Be sure of who exactly should benefit from this gift basket. Look to making life easier for the parent—so functional products are essential. If you highlight that your gift baskets "make life easier for parents AFTER the arrival," this is a niche market you could tap.

4. Turn the Web site into a sales tool

A Web site that sells products uses a different method from one that provides information or games. Frequent updates and content ensure your site is optimized for search engines. Barry Vusko, creative director with Firestar Communications, advises making the Web site a sales tool as the first step:

Using the site as a "Web brochure" is not prudent these days. When people go to a retailer's Web site, they expect to be able to buy things. Not to mention that starting an online store today is dirt cheap. Once you get that up, register your site with all the search engines. Once the registrations kick in and searches start eliciting your company's name in their results, sales will start flowing in.

Caterina Borg, CEO of Practical Marketing Solutions, believes that the target market for each product on sale needs further research as well as evaluating competitors' strengths and weaknesses:

I encourage selling online by developing a gift club, and ensure your products are trendy and innovative, not mainstream. Persuade individuals (new mothers) to register online for a free monthly drawing of one of your gift baskets, and further develop relationships with boutique stores. Include a serial number on brochures for each location so that you can track where they are coming from.

Successful marketing campaigns have meat in them—multiple dimensions. Rather than just handing out brochures and business cards, such campaigns go the extra mile with promotional materials and by working with other businesses. Then, when you add the Internet as another marketing outlet, focus on making it a sales tool.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hank Stroll (Hank@InternetVIZ.com) is publisher at InternetVIZ, a custom publisher of 24 B2B e-newsletters reaching 490,000 business executives.