Market expansion 101

5 min read

By 2018, we have come to a place and time where borders don’t mean that much anymore. We are connected to each other through the same apps and on the same platforms. People in Sydney uber it just as much as people in San Francisco. Facebook has 2.2 billion monthly users – out of the world’s 7.6 billion. And we’re breaking records for online spending – year after year after year. In 2017, an estimated 10% of all global retail was spent online (2.3 trillion dollars, in case you’re wondering). By 2021, this number is expected to be 17.5%.

One way to ramp up users and sales for your business is to start penetrating new markets in a cost-friendly way.

1. Picking a new market

A lot of young businesses think up their internationalisation roadmap like it’s a big Risk board. You don’t need to expand to the countries closest to you.

Start with the lowest-hanging fruit, first. Do some research. Find markets where your product is just as necessary, and where both your business model and marketing strategies would appear to work.

2. Keeping your brand consistent

You don’t want to be designing a different website for each new country you penetrate. Or setting up three different brands to be in three different countries. Selina Tobaccowala, of Survey Monkey, mentions that you might want to design a different homepage for each market you’re in. To me, that sounds like a terrible (and terribly expensive) strategy.

Even if you could afford a different brand for every market, you’d end up managing dozens of small, isolated companies after a few years. Facebook, Google, Uber and Airbnb all live on the same idea: nothing beats building a global brand.

3. Testing expansion

Always test markets before you commit to them. Expanding requires investment. This is true. And if you don’t invest enough you may not reach a level of brand awareness that allows you to really test your business.

A good idea is to decide how much you can afford to spend on this new market and how long you’re willing to fight it out. Break it down into milestones: assign portions (or tranches) of the money you have for every goal you achieve.

4. Not getting attached

The only country song my friends know is Kenny Roger’s The Gambler. You might know it too – the chorus goes “know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away and know when to run.

For all its cheesiness, there’s sound business advice to be taken here. I’ve seen too many great startups close after spending more money than they had trying to force their way into a market. You always have to be ready to cut your losses if things don’t go as well as you expect.

There are a thousand reasons why a market might resist your entry. Maybe the competition has a solid foothold and it’s keeping you out. Maybe the local culture isn’t as open to your business as you expected. Maybe you’re just not ready for this market – or maybe this market just isn’t ready for you.

A lot of these problems can’t be solved by throwing money at them. And the fact that you’ve already invested X, Y or Z into penetrating a market shouldn’t prevent you from folding your cards and moving on to a different one. General rule of thumb: if you ever think to yourself the only reason why you don’t pull out of a market is how much money you’ve already thrown at it – you pull out.

Go back to step 1: do some research, choose a new market to test.

5. Translate everything

If you aren’t trying to expand to a market that speaks the same language as your domestic market, translating everything will make your expansion smoother. Your website, your FAQs, your blogposts, your video.

From a business perspective, translating your website and content makes sense for two reasons. First, you are making sure you’re opening your product to the whole market, not just an english-speaking segment. Secondly, as Google reports that more and more queries every year are being made in local languages (and not in English), it’s a solid SEO tool as well.

And if you’re still not sure, here’s a few more reasons to just localise your marketing content.

6. Prepare multilingual customer support

If your website isn’t only available in English (and it shouldn’t be), your users will expect customer support to be able to speak the same language as they see online. The good news is that you don’t necessarily need to hire native speakers for every new market.

Businesses like Daniel Wellington, Pinterest and Under Armour are scaling their customer service operations across multiple languages without hiring hundreds of native speakers – by turning to Unbabel, instead.

Unbabel helped Skyscanner, for example, increase their customer satisfaction up to 92%.

Picking the right market, entering it wisely, and getting over the language barrier: do these three things and you will be one market closer to being a global company.

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