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June 20, 2018

Should Your Small or Medium Business Expand Overseas?

Should your small or medium business expand overseas?

Exporting your brand is an opportunity to grow your business.

More and more businesses are entering overseas markets, with exports in the UK reaching an all-time high of £53,88 Billion in September 2017.

Not only that, but as many as 20% of UK SMEs and 40% of big businesses now trade overseas. The Internet has made it much easier for brands to expand internationally, especially for tangible products rather than services.

But how can you know if your brand is ready?

Considerations can be complex and time consuming. Overcoming language barriers, differing cultural practices, etiquette, law and politics, finding a language partner, getting your brand transcreated and marketing collateral localised.

Let’s find out why.

1. Is there a Market?

By 2025, 880,000 (or 17%) of small businesses in the UK plan to expand overseas, whereas only 10% are currently.

So, if you’re going to be one of the 17% of small businesses taking the leap to overseas expansion, see if there’s a market for your product or service overseas. Perhaps a similar audience exists in a different region. Can you ship your products at an affordable rate? Think packaging, postage and exchange rates.

If you’re selling a niche product or service, it’s worth exploring how big the target market is. It may be less crowded, or more mainstream. Really understand the market you are considering entering before making any decisions – as not every country has the same tastes and demands.

Google has a great tool which can help you identify how easily you might be able to access different markets.

2. The Brand can stand up to language and culture differences…and be tweaked if needed

Next stop, do you have a strong brand that will withstand the challenge of different languages? It’s always worth doing some market research first, and making sure your brand leaves a good first impression with your ideal audience.

A baby food called ‘Gerber’ which translates as ‘throwing up’ in the target market’s language or a hair tong meaning ‘manure’ in the new intended market (yes this happened) can be a showstopper. It’s best you find this out early on.

Sometimes something as innocent as a green hat can land your brand in hot water. In China, “wearing a green hat” is an expression for when a woman cheats on her partner. It dates back to the time of Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang who required all men who worked in the prostitution trade to wear green hats.

Make sure revisions to your brand don’t create conflicts between you and your customers. German company ‘Oetker’ for example, renamed its Dr Oetker pizza to a more Italian ‘Cameo’, when targeting the Italian market, while Starbucks removed the mermaid from its logo for its Dubai-based customers.

And while some localisation is a good thing, never create something that ‘jars’ with your existing market. Don’t threaten your core identity and always stay true to your brand.

3. My overseas marketing can still pack a punch

Once you know your brand can stand up as a concept in another country, the next step is to test how the brand’s messaging works overseas. This bit needs to be looked at before any translation takes place. Your messaging needs to speak directly to the local customer in accordance with their taste, cultural beliefs and language preferences. Your brand and its values should not get lost in this process.

Bland marketing and simplified copy can be the result of playing it too safe during translation, toning down copy removing any marketing punch it once had. Beware of under-qualified translators, who may do this to make their life easier.

The moral of this story is to use a translation company which already works with specialised linguists. They understand how to ‘transcreate’ marketing collateral and not just mechanically translate the words. They will retain the meaning the copy intended to convey. If the original copy included jokes and word play, a similarly powerful campaign should be produced.

Specialist marketing translation companies ensure appropriate images, slogans, case studies, training materials and cultural references are used to engage and bring much needed trust and credibility to your brand in new markets.

What now?

If you think there’s a market out there, your brand and product can be easily translated and you’re ready to look at overseas markets…where do you go now?

A great place to start is translating your website. It’s an investment but a relatively small one when you consider the size of some markets.

Once your website is built for your new audience, perhaps on a new country-specific domain, being found is key. Position yourself well against other websites which are already dominating the search engine results. After all, 90% of today’s shoppers research their purchases online. You could ensure visibility by effective SEO and gain a competitive edge by implementing Paid search until you start appearing organically.

And most of all, choose experts that really understand the target region’s language and culture (a good marketing translation company can help here).


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Keavy Slattery has a marketing, business background and an interest in business and language, and SEO.

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