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Rubbermaid. Tupperware. Avon. Mary Kay. Marketing to women never goes out of style and has proven successful. Increasingly, many nonprofits are getting into the game by marketing to women as well.

As always, however, marketing dollars are hard to come by. The phrase you hear often in such organizations is "limited budget." Marketing offers many opportunities to find and reach customers. However, the challenge comes in determining which method works best when marketing dollars are scarce. What efforts lead to the best results when selling an item or service on a limited budget?

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This Week's Dilemma

Making a product a household name for less

I work at a nonprofit that is establishing a for-profit sideline—selling a line of silver jewelry, the design of which has been exclusively licensed to us. The nonprofit serves women; and they (and their family and friends) are the target market for the jewelry sales. I have been selling the product through our Web site and programs to our members and constituents.

I want to expand our market beyond this small number—preferably to like-minded nonprofits in other states, and women business owners everywhere. I want to start small, gain success and experience, and then grow big. Some ideas: find an organization already identified with women (Avon, for instance) and see if they'll promote our product through their Web site; find local retailers (women) and ask them to promote our product through their stores (preferably not on consignment); find other nonprofits that cater to women (women's healthcare, for instance) and see if they'll sell the product as a fundraiser (their selling price covers our manufacturing cost, a mark-up for us and their profit); find a larger-than-life public figure (Oprah), give her a set of the jewelry as a gift and hope she'll plug it.

Of course, there's a limited marketing budget, so I need to choose and follow a course of action that most likely to result in the most sales. What works best for this type of product and/or taking a small endeavor and making it a household word (like the Live Strong bracelets)?

—Gail, business development manager

Previous Dilemma

Promoting products and services globally

I don't have a specific product or service in mind. The Internet opens the doors for marketing to run 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

Summary of Advice Received

Doing your research before leaping into the global market is a wise move, Shannon. As you know, two countries sharing the same language still have differences in their versions of the language. Take Chinese, for example, it has many dialects and variations. When selling the Chevy Nova to Spanish-speakers, the first step requires changing the name from Nova to something else. Nova means "no go." Would you want to sell a car with such a translation?

This example doesn't begin to address the many rules and challenges in taking your products and services to other countries. The following three ways provide a high level approach to expanding your reach.

1. Do your homework

2. Plan your strategy

3. Leverage common resources

1. Do your homework

Marketers live and breathe research so they can hit the right target when going after their markets. Reaching beyond borders involves research and collecting data you might not need for a typical marketing project. Pam Burton, president of Global Buzz Marketing, offers questions to consider while doing homework.

Which country markets offer the greatest potential for your product or service and why? Who are your competitors in these markets? What level of investment will be required to succeed? The answers to these questions should provide details for your international plan. Customers in other countries may have different problems to solve, needs to satisfy and opinions about doing business:

They also operate differently. In Italy, for example, tradeshows matter. They provide a social context that is more conducive to deal-making than a slick ad or a telemarketing call. German buyers, however, generally require extensive technical documentation early in any sales cycle. You must understand how they buy and why they buy.

In assessing the competitive landscape, it's perilous to ignore non-US players. In the late '80s, the international team at one Boston software company warned management about a then-unknown German company that was coming on strong. The staff believed the company was a serious competitive threat in overseas markets and even, someday, right here at home. Management ignored the evidence, simply because the potential rival was based somewhere in Germany and not here. That company was SAP, and it wasn't long before it also became the definitive market leader.

Paul Kemper, marketing operations director at Novell, says that "going international" has its special challenges:

The combination of having English as your company's native language (because you are in the US or UK) and electronic marketing can be nearly lethal. With the advance of content-rich Web sites and emails, Anglo-Saxon companies tend to forget some basic rules when it comes to data handling and writing emails:

  1. Not all customers want to communicate in English, so provide localized content. This means not only translating text but also translating cultural assumptions.

  2. Most people do not adhere to the standard "code pages" in their Web browsers and email readers. This means you have to make sure you code your HTML texts correctly. A simple, but annoying example is the Norwegian O-slash. If not coded correctly, this character will turn up as a Yen currency symbol or another symbol.

  3. Capturing customer data like names and addresses is a challenge. When people fill in online forms, the character encoding they use in their browsers usually gets their accented characters mangled unrecognizably inside your database. It's tough to get them back to the correct representation. And since you might want to personalize communication, you might end up with strange characters in people's names if you are not careful.

  4. Where Anglo-Saxon companies are used to naming people by their first name, this is usually not true in other countries. In German-speaking countries, for instance, it is rude to use first and last names in a letter or personalized email. You should properly include the person's title. Many CRM applications have a problem with this.

  5. Communicating to people in person or on the phone (telemarketing) needs special care. It is better to invest a bit of extra time to find a true native speaker than to rely on someone who has learned the language as a second language. It is also a mistake to assume English is English. Many UK people do not like to hear American English if they think they're talking to a call center that has "local language" support.

  6. Customer response centers (inbound calling) have hidden costs. Imagine that you are represented in 20 countries and work with a centralized call center. No one wants to pay for international phone charges to reach you. So you need to set up local phone numbers and mention them in your collateral. Depending on the countries you are in, you might be able to get the same 800-number in all countries, which makes communicating with them more cost-effective. And the same is true for email addresses that you use for more information. These might need to be set up in all countries.

2. Plan your strategy

It sounds like we're stating the obvious, but a reminder never hurts, plus readers offer suggestions for how to go about strategy planning. Pam Burton explains exactly why no one should dive into something new without planning:

Many companies expand opportunistically or simply as matter of convenience. Too often, they choose to launch internationally because the government created a particular incentive, or the CEO met a certain distributor or it's easy to sell over the Internet! Boston companies typically think of Europe first because of its proximity. Companies often choose Canada or the UK first because English is spoken there. These are not acceptable strategic criteria. Rather, they are guesses based on convenience. And it's more expensive to set up operations in London than in other European cities.

Only a clearly defined strategy can prioritize and organize your market approaches. For example, is it logical to create an expensive Mandarin Chinese version of a product because China is a "hot" market? To answer this question, first understand where your greatest market potential exists. Maybe a much smaller investment in a Spanish version of the product will open more lucrative and accessible markets in South America, the Caribbean and Spain. It depends upon the strategic choices the company makes in advance of international expansion. The truth is that without an international strategy, most companies will never become market leaders.

Guy Smith, principal with Silicon Strategies Marketing, recommends involving a localization company:

Bring your localization company into early meetings, making sure they understand your brand statement and core marketing messages (and if you don't have a localization firm, see rubric.com). Also, don't be cheap when it comes to having your localization firm study cultural imperatives (words, images, colors and slang). A mistake here is expensive, and occasionally not recoverable.

Also use the media to your best advantage. They often communicate to local audiences better than your teams can. Use them to carry water. Use the Web wisely. If the media is spreading the word, but your Web site does not make people in other countries feel like you are a part of their culture, then you lose traction and momentum. If you are not willing to cater to them as well as you cater to your domestic buyers, then don't expect similar results.

3. Leverage common resources

Few think of taking advantage of resources with common ground. Ivan Frank, SVP of strategic services with ePrize, describes how it works:

I work for a promotion agency and we've found the key to doing multi-country programs is to leverage tools and vehicles that are common to users in multiple countries, but can be flexible enough for some key specific culture/country needs. The Internet provides an ideal medium. In the promotion industry, we've helped create loyalty programs, chance-to-win sweepstakes and contests that cross multiple boundaries. Because these programs leverage the Web, we've been able to create standard approaches to data capture, CRM, and remarketing within the scope of the overall program.

While the Internet is common, promotion law and language do vary by country. For these aspects, we coordinate with local counsel and brand personnel to make sure that the global approach works in each region/jurisdiction. We've successfully helped our brand clients in over 35 countries and more clients are looking to deploy similar types of programs. The Internet makes this all possible as the back-end technology allows communication and format to be personalized. I guess the other key would be to work with personnel (internal or agencies) who have the experience and expertise of doing international programs. In many cases, it's too risky (in terms of results but also trust from your geo counterparts) to learn on the fly.

All the readers imply one thing: Don't jump into international waters without planning and researching. Some experts encourage businesses to "Fire, ready, aim." This won't work well for growing globally. It takes extra research beyond the target market, as it requires understanding the cultural differences. After that, develop a clear strategy and take advantage of the resources that have something in common with you and your business.

Steve McNamara, creative director with AdCracker.com, has experience with international sales as his company sells a CD through the Internet to over 100 countries. His company's international success indicates going global with a simple product can be done. McNamara says, "Keep the price low, keep the message simple, offer a product not found locally and do it."

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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.