The decision to expand your business to a foreign market generates a considerable and measured project that requires detailed planning and precise execution. Once a location is chosen, cultural aspects should be considered before introducing your product or service.

Facing cultural challenges, differences in international business styles, and discovering the impact of culture on the business environment are important aspects to investigate when developing your international expansion strategy.

As you weave your way through, navigating the culture of the new market, use these pointers to guide your business toward success.

Research is Your Friend

Conducting market research on the demographics – and culture – of the new market is essential when expanding internationally.

Analyzing relevant demographics will give you an edge in your marketing strategy. Factors such as age, gender, income level, education level, and other characteristics of your target audience are integral for success. and the United Nations Statistics Division are a couple of good international demographic data resources for your research.

Along with demographics learn the cultural history of the target region. It may seem like overkill, but culture is rooted in history, and learning where a culture came from provides valuable data in how you approach marketing messages.

Read the latest news of the region to understand the current struggles and strengths the population faces. Find out what the political and economic climates are like, and how the target population is responding to them.

Examining these aspects will give you an overview of where the country has been, and where it stands today, culturally.

Assumptions & Ineffective Marketing

Never assume that a marketing strategy and message that appeals to American consumers will appeal to consumers in a foreign market. Unfortunately, many companies make this assumption – then struggle to come back from the damage it causes.

For example, Starbucks failed to recognize Australian’s love of local mom and pop coffee shops when it entered the Australian market. The popular American coffee house chain had been successful in so many countries; why would Australia be any different?

Enjoying a morning brew at a local, unique coffee shop is common practice in the Australian culture, and when Starbucks entered the market, Australians were less than impressed. The failure to understand this cultural practice led Starbucks to close 61 of its 85 Australian stores.

Marketing strategy and messaging must be customized for each new market depending on its own unique demographics and culture. That is why you must research the culture thoroughly to fully understand your consumer and how to best approach them.

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Visit Region & Hire Cultural Expert

The best way to experience a new culture first-hand is to visit and explore the region you are targeting.

During your expansion, you will probably have to meet with local government, business partners, and other local resources. Instead of holding all your meetings remotely, take the opportunity to visit the region for yourself.

Make sure you hire professional interpreters to communicate accurately with locals and business partners. Some language services providers (LSPs) also have interpreting platforms that allow for instantaneous over-the-phone interpreting for any unexpected meetings that come up.

You can even meet with cultural experts in the region to dive deeper into the cultural psyche and better understand how your product or service will fit into the new market.

Let all these resources be your cultural guide to the population of this region, and take detailed notes to apply to your expansion strategy.

Don’t Get “Lost in Translation”

Language is culture and culture is language. When your business enters a new market, any content that is used to communicate with the customer and/or new employees will need accurate translation with cultural context in mind. The significance of language in culture can be summed-up in this quote:

“Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going.”

– Rita Mae Brown

Unfortunately, many companies think of translation and other language services as an afterthought in their expansion planning – which can have significant negative consequences. If not planned properly, last-minute translation can lead to overspending the budget, hurried and inaccurate translation, legal consequences, and more.

Partnering with an experienced LSP at the beginning of your project will save you time, money, and protect your brand as you enter the new market. Choose a service that utilizes language professionals that are experienced, well-educated, and native to the region you are targeting.
Do not be afraid to ask an LSP questions about what the elements of their translation process are, how they vet their language professionals, and if they customize processes to your needs.

Experienced LSPs will be eager to tailor their processes to their client’s needs, provide discounts through translation memory, offer monthly retainer options, and recommend services based on their experience with clients entering foreign markets.

Do not underestimate the importance of quality business translation services when entering a new market, and do not wait until crunch time to have your marketing collateral, website, media, and other materials translated!

Additional Resources

International Trade Administration – Provides trade statistics, industry analyses, competitiveness information, market share statistics, and much more.
BBC News Country Profiles – This resource includes in-depth reports for each country including political, economic, social, geographical, and historical information.
Internet World Stats – Has data on languages spoken in each country, internet usage stats, and other market statistics.
CIA World Factbook – Provides detailed reports on countries all over the world.
Guide to Business Translation Services – A complete guide to language services for businesses entering a foreign market.

Allison Shipman is the Marketing Manager for Teneo Linguistics Company, a language services provider that delivers customized language solutions including translation, interpreting, consulting, and more.