Launching in an international market is a big step for any company. If you’re an e-commerce brand looking to scale abroad, there are dozens of additional factors to consider, especially when it comes to effective marketing. But the challenges presented by international marketing are well worth overcoming. Adapting your brand to match the expectations of local consumers in different markets may present a steep learning curve, but if you get it right, you unleash a huge growth opportunity.
It may be helpful to think of cross-border marketing as a two-pronged challenge of getting the word out about your brand to attract visitors, and then ensuring that the on-site experience feels local and domestic.
Understanding Local Social Media
It’s important to consider the question of how people use social media in different locales. Conducting research into how social media fits into the marketing mix is step one, as is understanding the cultural nuances of using those channels. How do local consumers engage with brands on social media? In China, customers use WeChat and Weibo to engage with brands, while in most English-speaking countries, Facebook and Instagram are where the bulk of brand marketing takes place.
More fundamental to communicating effectively and locally is knowing that in some markets, certain marketing and social platforms are blocked. For example, in China, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are inaccessible by the general public. This means that any cross-border e-commerce company looking to enter the Chinese market needs to get up to speed on WeChat and Weibo, the most important local equivalents.
No matter what channel you decide to use, their effectiveness for your brand should be reevaluated regularly — ideally quarterly, or whenever a platform announces big updates and new features. Spending significant amounts of budget on a particular social channel is no guarantee you’ll get the desired conversions, and you want to maximize a channel’s potential whenever possible.
Maximizing the Effect of Affiliate Networks and Influencers
In most developed e-commerce markets, affiliate networks can help ensure that your brand can be discovered by customers through third-party publishers. Figuring out which affiliate networks are popular in which markets can provide another way to reach your target audience. You’ll also need to consider the cost structures and commissions in different markets so you can assess which networks might make the most sense for your product mix.
The impact of local influencers on brand awareness and driving web site traffic can be significant for a growing global business. Keep in mind that influencers may be popular in different markets and countries, and these individuals may also be better known among certain age groups or demographics within those markets. But leveraging influencers goes beyond simply hiring a celebrity spokesperson. To confidently endorse and successfully sell your products, the influencer must demonstrate an expertise in your brand’s product categories or have an authentic connection to the industry. The influencer also needs to know how to engage with your target audience in a way that resonates with your brand while still retaining their credibility so that customers aren’t turned off by the campaign.
Leveraging Paid Media Channels
When it comes to the paid media channels preferred by various local markets, you have even more homework to do. Leaving aside for a moment the need for landing pages that are rich in content with localized messaging before spending a dime on paid advertising, there’s the basic question of where to spend your ad dollars. Google’s advertising tools are effective in the U.S., but Baidu and Alibaba are popular in China, while Yandex is preferred in Russia. Ascertaining where different global consumers start their purchase journey is vital, and this should be the starting point of any paid digital advertising strategy.
Different markets will also have different customer acquisition costs. Some have a high social media penetration, which can bring down acquisition costs considerably through organic growth of followers. In contrast, some paid channels in certain markets can be more expensive than others, and costs can add up quickly. For example, according to a Google Keyword Planner search in May of this year, the average cost-per-click in the U.K. for the word “clothing” was 84 cents. In Canada, this keyword cost a bit more on average, at 98 cents, while in Australia it cost $1.10.
When you consider the thousands of impressions and potential clicks, you may find that your AdWords spend in one country is substantially higher than in a neighboring country. Recognizing that the cost of marketing can vary widely between markets is one reason why e-commerce companies should consider establishing separate marketing budgets for each international market they do business in.
International Shopping Holidays
You’re leaving revenue on the table if you don’t localize your marketing messaging to reflect local holidays, some of which may be geared specifically toward shopping. (At Flow we’ve published an e-book that outlines the major gift-giving holidays around the world.)
Local variations in gift-giving offer a tremendous opportunity for savvy e-commerce brands. Summer sales are a key selling moment in France, for instance, but not quite as popular in other European markets. And many holidays exist in only a few countries and not in others. As an example, for many countries in Asia, White Day — a follow-up to Valentine’s Day — prompts another round of gift-giving in March. Don’t forget that certain holidays might also be celebrated at different times of years, like Father’s Day, which takes place in the U.S. and other Western countries during the month of June, but is celebrated in Brazil two months later in August.
Mobile or Desktop?
Timing your marketing is one thing, but you also need to know the device best suited to customer interactions in different markets. This question of mobile or desktop matters depending on the market when it comes to conversions. Mobile devices have higher browsing rates than desktops in developing markets like India, Indonesia and Mexico, but the opposite is true in western countries like the U.S., the U.K., France and Germany. Marketing efforts will need to be different for markets where mobile penetration and usage is higher than desktop.
Onsite Marketing and Localization
The same attention to localized content that characterizes your acquisition marketing matters when it comes to your e-commerce site itself. Landing pages that take into account local tastes and preferences increase your chances of conversion. If you don’t have relevant landing pages to greet global customers that come to your site, you stand a good chance of seeing high bounce rates and losing potential new shoppers.
Important to note is that global e-commerce companies should consider “catalogue targeting.” Businesses should think about tailoring their product catalogue on-site accordingly. Just as you wouldn’t necessarily sell a full-price winter coat on your Australian site in November or December because it’s summer there, it’s also true that customers respond differently to certain styles in different markets. Also, there is the challenge that certain products cannot be sold in certain countries, therefore being able to exclude certain products from displaying on your site becomes critical for providing a positive experience. The more you pay attention to these dynamics, the more your marketing and merchandising efforts will pay off.
Messaging and Price
A lot of work goes into localizing an e-commerce web site. Getting the messaging right is a big part of it. If you run a Mother’s Day promotion in the U.K. (where it falls in March and not in May like in the U.S.) and your site doesn’t communicate the delivery window for orders, this could be problematic. If the customer doesn’t know when they’ll receive their package, that could very well influence their decision to not make the purchase.
Matching different cultural preferences and norms around price display is another onsite consideration. Customers in some countries might prefer rounded whole numbers ($25), while customers in other markets may respond better to prices that end in .99 or .95. On a per-country basis, this is a big consideration, and if not properly A/B tested or executed could lead to a missed opportunity to acquire new customers. If you’re pricing a product at $50 in the U.S., in euros — at the time of writing — that would be around 44.43 euros, which in some markets could be perceived as an odd price for a product. Listing a price that doesn’t follow local conventions may appear to customers that your brand did not put much thought or care into localizing the price display for a European audience.
Displaying the Right Promotions
Customers in different markets also respond to different types of promotions, so that requires research and A/B testing. A buy-one-get-one offer, for instance, might do great in one country, but fail to have the same impact in another. These are all things that can be tested, and e-commerce brands will do well to A/B test these variables if they want to provide the best promotions to their international customers.
The same goes for shipping promotions. Free shipping is quickly becoming an expectation in many global markets. In fact, a recent study revealed that 84 percent of online shoppers in the top 11 markets expect free shipping to be an option when shopping online. But some retailers might not want to offer free shipping everywhere and they may need the flexibility to offer flat-rate shipping in some markets where free shipping won’t work for their business. In some markets, offering tiered shipping, such as a flat rate or free shipping over a certain purchase threshold, would make more sense. It’s important to test local consumers’ tolerance for different shipping costs because a shipping promotion can be a strong incentive for conversion.
Setting a Budget
Last but not least, the simple step of creating a discrete budget for international markets will help you manage individual campaigns and marketing channels more effectively.
Factors to consider when crafting a budget for cross-border selling include the customer acquisition cost in each market you are planning to enter, as well as the landed cost of the merchandise sold to shoppers in each market. (Landed cost is the total cost of a product after it has been delivered to the customer, including all customs, duties and taxes, packaging, insurance, currency conversion, transportation, crating and handling.)
Understanding these two factors, among others, will create a foundation for determining an international marketing budget that will lead to revenue growth and profitability.
Evaluating countries as separate line-items is part of the process for developing a comprehensive international marketing budget. Each country will present different business cases. For example, should you bill the customer for associated duties and taxes at checkout, include those costs in the item price, or have the customer pay it later? In some cases, brands may consider absorbing the cost into their margins to keep prices competitive, but again, these factors may vary in different markets according to local shopper preferences.
Regardless of your strategy, making these business decisions upfront will decrease friction down the road and help you create a realistic and effective marketing plan for conquering new international markets.
Rob Keve is chief executive officer and cofounder of Flow Commerce.