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International Marketing: Three Steps to Muy Bueno

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The most exciting part about international marketing is that you get to create or adapt your marketing mix to expand into a new country and connect with a whole new audience.

The truth is, it's never as easy as "translating" your marketing communications and website to a new language—the key is to "localize" and better understand the unique qualities of different cultures.

You might need to modify your product to agree with local preferences, the way Coca-Cola and Fanta do. In Europe, for example, Fanta has a higher percentage of fruit juice, no high fructose corn syrup, a lighter color, and a taste that's more refreshing than the way too orange and sweet American version.

Or, even if your product stays the same, you need to find a way to communicate with a new market. One example is the way multinational companies use different brand names in the US and the UK for the same products: Axe in the US is Lynx in the UK; Mr. Clean in the US is Mr. Proper in the UK.

Localization is the practice of adapting a product, service, or marketing content to conform to the language, culture, and legal and technical requirements of a country.

Here are three basic levels of localization to get you started as you gear up to expand into a new market in another country.

1. Functional requirements

These are the building blocks of your product launch in a new market, and the minimum investment you need to make to set up shop:

Language: It's vital to connect with consumers with compelling content in their local language. Don't make any assumptions—even in countries where "most people speak English."

Take, for instance, the wise words of Nelson Mandela: "If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart." To reach people's hearts (and pockets), you need to invest in resources that develop content in their native tongue.

Currency: Be sure to have the local currency loaded on your website, catalogs, and other sales collateral. Don't expect consumers in other countries to know what the exchange rates are when they are shopping online.

Local regulations: In different countries there might be regulations on how you can advertise. In the Province of Quebec, for example, you can advertise in French only if your call to action promotes a website, call center, or other distribution channel where the information is displayed in French. That makes so much sense and it's fair to shoppers, who need to be confident they understand what they are signing up for before making a purchase. For example, people need a crystal clear idea of what the return policy is before making a purchase. However, translating an entire website or opening a call center in a new country is also expensive. Factor those requirements in as part of your entry costs into a new market.

Weights and measures: Do your homework. Different countries display times, distances, weights, temperature, and other forms of measure differently. How to display time, for example: Month first? Day first? In the US, 04/07 is April 7, while in Germany that's July 4. In China and Japan, for example, the year comes first, followed by month and day. You also need to choose the appropriate time system: 12 hours or 24 hours.

Eye movements in reading: Take into consideration the way different countries read marketing collateral (including signage): Vertical or horizontal flow? Left to right, or right to left? In the Middle East, many stores display the Western name of the brand on the left, and the Arabic version on the right, since Arabic speakers will read the sign from right to left.

Now that you've done your research, think about how you are engaging these folks.

2. Local Culture

To adapt your product or campaign to a different country, you need to be able to understand the local culture.

Imagery: Ask yourself what visually captivates this new audience. What's beautiful or appealing in this new market? Who are the local sex symbols? What type of photography or design is popular? What's cheesy and what's sophisticated?

Tone and Manner: Find out how people communicate. Are they informal or formal?

Sense of humor: The sense of humor of different cultures likely varies from your own culture's. Find out what's funny and what references people understand in other countries. "Knock-knock" jokes, for example, don't exist in Italy. You might be able to explain your way until your Italian friend gets it, but any references to "knock-knock" will be completely lost.

Rituals: Gauge the daily rituals and habits of your targeted cultures. At what time do most people have dinner? How often do people bathe? Do people have lunch at home or do they go out on weekdays?

Religion: Determine the influence religion has on a person's day-to-day. How often people pray? What are the observed religious holidays?

Colors: Colors have different meanings in different cultures. For instance, white is the color of mourning in China, while red represents luck and good fortune. Take note on this type of symbolism when developing packaging and visual collateral.

Taboos, extracurriculars, and the like: Superstitions, interests, hobbies, views of sex and relationships, local politics, opinion about other countries and cultures. All of these can immensely affect how well your targeted culture receives your message.

3. Local consumer behavior

Gauge how your target buys. Working on the following areas is extremely important to getting your campaign off on the right foot:

Availability of credit: How easy is for people to buy on credit? Are people buying through layaway or cash? In Brazil, for example, the majority of apparel retail sales are done through private-label credit cards issued by large department stores, not banks.

Saving vs. spending: Are consumers more motivated to spend or to save? Is shopping a distraction, a pleasure, or a necessity?

Research: Determine how much in advance people research before making a purchase. How many touchpoints are consulted when shopping for a product? Do people wait for payday to shop?

Vacation: To successfully sell a product or campaign, find out the typical schedule of your target. For instance, the duration or time of vacation, how many days a year, etc.

Distribution channels: Determine the optimal distribution channels for your target. Bookstores and book printers, for example, are vanishing in the US, as the use of e-book readers increases. In Latin America, however, the market is way behind that trend. Consumers are slowly moving from brick-and-mortar to online bookstores, but they're still buying paper, as e-book offerings are still scarce in that market.

* * *

Research, research, research is the best way to go about international marketing. The idea is to build the foundation for your brand to succeed in a new market. Translating is one of the steps, but after that there's way more work to do.

Once your team has a true understanding of local culture and shopping behavior, that's when you're fully equipped to localize your efforts and create a stronger connection with consumers globally.

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Isadora Badi is director of brand marketing at Wyndham Hotel Group. She has worked in brand marketing in the telecommunications, logistics, and hospitality industries in several countries. She blogs at Are we "abroad" yet?

LinkedIn: Isadora Badi


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  • by Step 1 Fri Mar 7, 2014 via web

    Step 1 in international marketing: Check your translations. It's "muy bien" not "muy bueno."

  • by Rick Fri Mar 7, 2014 via web

    Isadora, Thank you for submitting such a great article. Many folks fail to recognize or adapt to cultural differences in doing business in foreign countries, thus many times resulting in diappointing outcomes. This post is a great step in getting people to understand the importance of keeping this in mind. Thank you.

  • by Kumar Aiyer Sat Mar 8, 2014 via web

    Thank you for this great piece of insight. Many marketers sitting in corporate office miss the ground realities how consumer react to your communication. As they say in creative 'You need a sharp nail, not a large hammer"- to make a lasting impression, if the message is not speaking in the language of customer and culturally connects, the contact is not made. The big challenge in International marketing is truly localization

  • by ratna karki Sat Mar 8, 2014 via mobile

    thank you for great article. I like this type of practical and research base article..

  • by DC Liquidators Mon Mar 10, 2014 via web

    To better handle businesses in foreign countries it's best to hire a manager that's native to that place because they will have a better understanding of their culture thus increasing the chances of selling successfully.

  • by Yo hablo español... Wed Mar 12, 2014 via web

    "Muy bueno" is ok in this case. Mercadeo internacional: muy bueno. (very good - as in a permanent condition)
    Muy bien is after "how are you?" Muy bien (very well - as in a current state).

    Good article. Thanks

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