The idea that business transcends borders is probably as old as the idea of “business” itself. When Trog the expert flint tool maker, realized all of the tribe in his cave already had tools made by him, it made sense to head over to the cave next door and swap some tools for their lovely furs, especially since his tools would let them get even more furs. It seems only natural for a business on the rise to go international, whether it’s B2B or B2C.
There’s a lot to take into consideration when taking your company international, and your marketing is a considerable part of it. Just because you’ve had success in one country with certain strategies, it doesn’t mean you’ll have the same successes abroad.
We’ve put together some of the main factors you need to consider when conducting B2B marketing to international markets.
Know the rules
We’ll start with a short and sweet one: make sure you know the advertising and data protection laws of the country you’re marketing to!
Localize your language
First things first, you need to make sure you’re communicating in the right language for your international B2B marketing. English tends to be the language of business in large swathes of the world, but it’s not always the case, and you might have stronger successes if you can speak to people in their first language.
Even with the same language, there can be cultural differences in how it’s used in different countries. Take, for example, the differences between US and UK English. Besides just the differences in spelling, there’s plenty of idioms and cultural references that are unique to every country that speaks English.
Even in countries where English isn’t the official or most common language but is the language of business, marketers might find themselves falling on different sides of the US/UK English divide. It can even vary depending on generation in some countries.
For example, China historically had English taught according to UK standards, but it has rapidly shifted to a more American English as more and more Chinese nationals study in American universities and Chinese companies do business with America.
It can apply in different languages as well. The French spoken in France can be very different from that spoken in French-Canada, or French-speaking countries in Africa. The same with the Spanish spoken in Spain and Latin America, and the Portuguese between Portugal and Brazil, to name just a few examples.
Just like with the US/UK English split, it’s likely they’ll understand each other, but there are many cultural factors, idioms, and even pronunciations to consider for your international B2B marketing.
Brush up on the culture
Even once you’ve got the language nailed down, you’ll need to pay attention to cultural norms when it comes to business. A one-to-one translation might not always suffice, even if you’ve freed your copy and videos of idioms and references that might not translate.
You need to get to know how businesses operate in the international markets you’re targeting. How do people address each other? What degree of familiarity is permitted in the workplace? Knowing these sorts of things can help you establish the right tone of voice for your marketing.
You might also want to take a look at your design choices for particular markets. Certain symbols you might use, like in your logo could mean very different things in a different culture. The same with colors. For example, red is considered a warning color in Western cultures but is a color of happiness and good fortune in China.
These particular cultural differences are heavily considered in B2C international marketing, and while they perhaps matter less in B2B marketing, you might want to think about it if you want to make the best impression possible.
Follow their calendar, not yours
First up, make sure your digital marketing is arriving at the right time! You’ll need to keep track of the scheduling of social media posts and emails to make sure they’re arriving at the optimal times for your audience.
You’ll want to segment your audience geographically, and ideally have automation set up to make sure the posts and emails are going out at the right time (no one wants to be getting up at 4 am to send a tweet).
If a country has daylight savings, keep track of when that comes into effect as well. You don’t want to be missing key calls or marketing delivery times because their clocks have gone forwards/backward and yours haven’t!
When it comes to the calendar itself, every country has its own set of national holidays, and you should pay attention to them for international B2B marketing.
Is it a good idea to put out a post or piece of content linked to that holiday? Better do your research in case that day has a degree of significance that would make it poor taste to do so.
If the majority of businesses are closed on that holiday, you might want to take a look at which channels you’re allocating your resources to. If no one’s in the office, they might not be paying attention to their work emails, but they might be posting and spending a lot of time on their personal social media, like Instagram.
They might not even be official public holidays that you need to track. How many vacation days do people on average have in the country, and when are they most likely to use them?
For example, Scandinavian countries have some of the highest amounts of vacation days in the world, and many people in those countries take a large proportion of their summer off work, even senior people in large international companies.
Another very important example is the dates of the Lunar New Year, where large parts of China and other Asian countries take several days off work to celebrate.
Speaking of summer, it’s a good idea to pay attention to the seasons and climate of your target market. Running a summer-themed campaign in August in Australia might not be a great idea. Going on about snow at any time of year in a campaign targeting tropical or desert climates could make you look foolish.
If a country is large enough, it can even apply to different regions. December in southern California is very different from December in Minnesota.
Know where your audience is
We don’t just mean geographically, because, well, duh, they’re in the country you're marketing to. But what digital channels are they located on, and how do they use them? How do they conduct meetings? What industry-related events are they likely to be at?
In terms of digital channels, it can be obvious, like with China. Many Western social media channels are unavailable in mainland China, so you will need to utilize Chinese networks like WeChat and Weibo.
But even in countries where they’ve got access to the same channels as you, they might not utilize them in the same way. In Japan, for example, Twitter can be very different, simply because you can write a lot more with 280 characters using Japanese letters than you can with Latin (that’s the Western alphabet) letters.
You’ll also want to get to know how business proceeds. Do they value speed and efficiency, or do they take things slow and prefer to build relationships? Are their meetings formal and structured, or are they more relaxed? This can reflect the tone of voice and shape of the marketing they might respond well to.
So there can be a lot to consider when it comes to international marketing. Probably the easiest way to get things right is to have some kind of local contact help you out, especially if you want to make sure all your bases are covered. If you need help setting up these contacts, it might be worth looking to your governmental trade organizations, which often have programs to assist international trade.
This can be as simple as having a single person advise and review your marketing, or investing a bit more by engaging the services of an agency operating in that country, or hiring your own marketing team in that location.
If you don’t have the resources for that, well all you can do is research, research, research, and research some more.
What are your experiences with international B2B marketing? Got any top tips? Let us know!