by Lizette Louw

About the author:

Lizette is responsible for helping Web Strategy International generate leads and for implementing online marketing strategies for South African businesses. You can read more about international marketing strategies on the Web Strategy blog.

The number one trap for South African businesses who are entering international markets is the assumption that their new target is pretty much the same as the local one, except for speaking in a different language. Brand strategist at the Duffy Agency, Sean Duffy warns against this notion and points out that “Although international marketing operates off the same core marketing principles as domestic marketing, it is fundamentally different in practice.” Here are some international variables in terms of digital marketing that South African businesses must address in order to reap positive results from their efforts abroad.

Search and social habits of your target market

Digital behaviours differ from one country to the next, specifically with regards to preferred choice of social platforms and search engines. SEO and buzz word research needs to be done for each market as ‘keywords are not words’ but abbreviated thoughts that originate within a particular cultural framework, the rules of the particular language and under the influence of political and social pressures. Case study: Search Engine optimisation expert and linguist, Benjamin Lefebvre presents the following case study to illustrate how cultural differences in terms of mental schemes influence search habits.

  • Western cultures have been found to focus more on the shape of physical objects (round table) rather than their substance. Western children are brought up to make use of nouns to refer to physical objects (table).
  • In Eastern cultures substance overrules the shape of an object (wooden table) and children are taught to use verbs, or action words to refer to objects (writing).

To illustrate how these mental schemes affect SEO data, Lefebvre compares searches around the term ‘skirt’ on search engines Baidu (Mainland China) and Google (US/English settings). The results?

  • USA: 65% of results returned by Google’s keyword planner are about the shape of the skirt (maxi skirt, pencil skirt) followed by 19% that relates to the material (tulle, leather, denim).
  • China: Baidu results are very different with 63% of the top results relating to the purpose (summer skirt), quality (beautiful skirt lift) or action (blowing skirt) that the skirt is required to fulfil.

Read more: 4 tips for International Keyword Research

Use of digital technology

A South African study conducted by global market research company Ipsos reports that more than half (51%) of online shoppers say that their mobile experience is not friendly! With the number of global households who access the internet through a mobile device being twice the number of those that have access to a television (950 million), neglecting the mobile experience of your internationally focussed website could cost you the success of your entire marketing campaign. Opportunity: While ensuring the responsiveness of your website is a challenge that local companies will have to rise to it is also an exciting opportunity: Mobile features such as geotargeting allows marketers to created increasingly targeted messages based on the customer’s location and point of view. As Sunil Gupta explains in the Harvard Business Review: “Timing is everything in advertising, and mobile can wait for just the right moment to reach consumers.”

Create relevant content at the appropriate time

70% of North American consumers prefer getting to know a brand via content marketing rather than ads (Insights in Marketing). While digital technologies such as analytics and geotargeting can help you to create targeted content for specific buyer personas, local brands who are entering international markets will also have to get in touch with the cultural, seasonal and immediate context of their market. In this context cultural relevance is about being in touch with the customs, ideas and social behaviours that are particular of the people of a specific region or society. Seasonal relevance is about tailoring your content to local weather patterns, holiday seasons, as well as any regular festive period that influences the mind-set of buyers. Immediate relevance is about engaging with breaking news, the events that are currently occurring or developing. This includes controversial events such as political and social movements but also fashion trends, entertainment news and pop-culture. Tip: You can stay up to date on the breaking news of your target market by

  • following market relevant influencers on social media (Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn etc.),
  • setting up market relevant Google alerts to receive email notifications of new content from all over the web,
  • regularly monitoring Google Trends as well as Twitter’s Trendsmap for breaking news in your specific target market.

Get customer approval

If visitors enjoy a positive user experience on your website they will stay longer and return to your site for more. This is why it is so important to get your existing customers as well as potential buyers to contribute to the process of web design and your online marketing strategy. Tip: Although businesses who are entering new markets might not have an existing customer base to draw from they can make use of online test audiences. Services such as UsabilityHub gives you access to test audiences and also allows you to recruit your own testers. Read more: How website evaluations can help you increase website traffic

In a nutshell

For many South African products and services expansion into foreign markets is a great opportunity in terms of business growth. But with this new opportunity comes new challenges that should be acknowledged and managed. As point of departure it is best to assume that your new target segment is both very dissimilar to you and unlike other international markets that you might have experience of. You may be pleasantly surprised to find out otherwise, but starting off with this perspective prevents you from being caught off guard and unprepared. Thinking of outsourcing your digital marketing to a local agency with international expertise? Take your first step towards generating Sales Qualified Leads in international markets and download Web Strategy International’s FREE online marketing eBook. How to increase online sales

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