International markets represent a wealth of opportunity for Texas businesses looking to expand revenue streams. However, growing the footprint of a business outside of the United States comes with serious challenges. Fortunately, whether an organization provides goods or services to its customers, many of the considerations for going global will be the same. These four keys form the necessary baseline for planning an expansion beyond U.S. soil.
Before pursuing markets outside of the U.S., it is important to understand current demand for products or services intended for export, and to identify growth potential. This potential may be based on (or limited by) a number of elements such as pricing, technology, innovation, competition, population and the maturity and general acceptance of the product or service to be provided in the global market. These analyses may be available through industry organizations and other market research firms, but it is likely best to seek answers from known and knowledgeable industry contacts with experience in the markets of interest.
It is essential to identify the organization’s potential to be competitive in international markets where demand exists. Remember, demand alone does not represent opportunity. There are other important variables that must align with demand for a global expansion to make sense. For example, one consideration specific to goods-based businesses is the amount of freight and import duties assigned in the target expansion regions. It’s imperative to understand the impact of these duties and their influence on the cost structure of the company’s sales model.
Evaluating the true impact of duties and other costs requires a number of examinations, including the feasibility of the business model to turn profit in markets where demand exists, the ability of the organization to compete against alternative providers in those same markets and the likelihood of the business to accrue market share.
Reliable, Local Partnerships
After global demand and competitive potential, a local partner should be the next key consideration. The benefits of a partner with boots on the ground include an increased likelihood of buy-in from foreign customers, inside cultural knowledge and minimization of the inherent risk of conducting business outside the organization and its personnel’s home region.
Despite all its benefits, local partnership still brings another party to the table, which means it’s imperative to find a trustworthy partner with whom to build a strong relationship. When vetting potential partners, make sure they are not only experts in the industry and members of the regional business community, but that they are respected businesspeople. The right partner should speak the local language and possess a deep level of cultural and customary knowledge — specifically pertaining to business. This cultural knowledge will prove essential for the organization in all negotiations, contracts and business development initiatives.
The right partner should also be able to provide access to channels in the market and represent the company’s values and brand in the local region — all while maintaining the reputation of a true “local” among potential clients and customers.
Don’t leave the partner relationship to chance. Invest in training partners to ensure they fully understand the brand, corporate values and growth goals. In much the same way a local partner learns from training, company leadership should invest in learning as much from its local partner as possible.
Marketing 101: One Size Does Not Fit All
As all marketers know, one size doesn’t fit all, and adapting the company’s marketing strategy for international audiences is another primary consideration for taking a business global. As a domestic marketing strategy must align with its intended target audience, so must an international marketing campaign.
First, make sure all marketing is culturally appropriate, utilizing the local language, dialect and nomenclatures, and ensuring the messages both incorporate and address regional expectations for the industry. Employ imagery and graphics that speak to the local culture and belief system, and pay attention to the smallest detail. For example, even measurements, which may seem like minutiae, should be presented in the local measurement system. And finally, use the local marketing channels, which will likely differ from the ones the company’s domestic audience uses. Just like at home, it’s important to identify the correct channels — otherwise, even the most perfect marketing will go unseen.
Does Everything Align? Go for It.
If all of these considerations align — global demand and regional competitiveness are established, a trustworthy and well-respected regional partner can be identified, and there is a firm grasp on culturally appropriate international marketing across the right channels — the baseline essentials for a successful global expansion have been established. In addition to eliminating unnecessary risk, this foundation will provide a path to additional avenues for increasing profitability, competitiveness, market share and the rewards of a global business.
Doug Kramer is President and CEO of Houston-based Lapolla Industries, a spray foam and coatings manufacturer. In 2010, he led the global expansion of the company and Lapolla’s products are now distributed in over 40 countries. Reach Doug Kramer at firstname.lastname@example.org.