9 Tips for Excelling at International Digital Marketing

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The internet has changed how we enter new markets, and it has dismantled barriers to acquiring international consumers and business buyers. Here we discuss how you can craft a successful international digital strategy with the aim of scaling your business beyond borders.

Let’s start with my 3A’s

Access: Being able to reach international markets online

Appetite: Customers’ preference to source and purchase online

Ability: The abundance of technologies and tools to support international expansion strategies

How exactly can these 3A’s lead to success? The essential ingredients include (but are not limited to):

Audience definition: Arrive at a crystal-clear understanding of the market’s needs, preferences, and behaviors. Is there a demand for what you have to offer?

Competitive research: Define the competitive landscape, clarifying market trends, potential gaps for a product or service, pricing, and appetite. Is anyone else providing what you have to offer?

Local norms: Take the time to develop a clear understanding of local norms and cultures. Select and test tactics to reflect local behaviors and preferences.

Influencer research: Make sure to iidentify local influencers who align with your brand and target audience. Partnering with influencers not only allows you to leverage their reach and credibility; it helps you build trust within the local market. Their informed take on your product and how they position it with their audience can help frame your local messaging and approach.

Performance measurement: Track and analyze performance metrics and adapt based on your findings.
Getting started with international marketing


Some key tools for testing include Google Trends, Keyword Planner, Facebook advertising data, and Analytics to identify demand, competition, and trends for a given product or service in different regions.

For insights into local interests, you can also use SEMrush, BuzzSumo, or Ahrefs.

For more nuanced insights into local norms and preferences, you can tap into local business groups and associations, as well as advisory groups from your own country.

And… my secret sauce

Tools and tactics in my secret sauce include:

Trade groups

Enterprise bodies


International business networks

In my experience, you get back even more than what you put into these usually pro-bono business networks. However, you do have to be willing to do some work to engage these networks which can be time consuming.

Tip: Don’t overlook the obvious leads. Find (and ‘interrogate’) colleagues in your company who may be from, or know, the markets you are targeting.  Speak to your sales team. They may know of customers already operating in your new target market. And, I have yet to find a business person who doesn’t like to share their experiences –  so long as you’re not there to ‘eat their lunch’!

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Finding your first customer in a new territory

In my experience, one of the most common ways businesses enter new markets is through existing customers. So, find out from your sales team or other contacts if any of their customers have offices or operations in the new territory you are targeting. In fact, this can often be the easiest way to expand with minimum effort and will provide you with a local early-case study to give confidence to other new customers in that location.

The importance of language

Don’t be fooled by the ‘illusion of similarity’. Even a common language does not guarantee similarity of interpretation. Be mindful of the nuances of regional dialects and idioms, as well as the cultural weight of different phrases and words.

And do remember to translate and localize your website, ideally through a professional agency that understand the relevant differences and design implications. For example, text on a German website is typically  40% longer than that on an English language site. You’ll also need to take into account local currencies and local payment preferences, such as the use of mobile payments in India and many other countries. And, of course, you must comply with local regulations including data-collection and financial obligations.

9 Tips for Your International Digital Marketing

Here are my top 9 tips for success when entering international markets.

1. Words

Remember, we don’t all speak the same language, even when we speak the same language. For example, in Canada and the U.S., people purchase ‘cans’ of tomato sauce, but, in Britain and Ireland, they purchase ’tins’ of it.

2. Color

Simple choices can have a huge impact. In Japan, black and white are colors of mourning. Avoid them on your packaging if you plan to sell into the Japanese market. In Hispanic countries, purple is the colour of death.

3. Aesthetics

Design norms and UX issues can differ from country to country, for example a Chinese ecommerce site might seem busy and unstructured to an American eye: this can be attributed to a cultural difference in how information is consumed, the features of language characters and other factors. Likewise, the use of white space in a northern European seller’s website might feel off-putting to a market elsewhere in the world that craves more, not less, information.

4. Customs and taboos

When McDonald’s opened restaurants in India, it had to consider how to serve its famous hamburgers to a market where 80 percent of the population are forbidden from eating beef. Its solution was to use a non-beef meat substitute.

5. Values

Knowing the subtle differences in values from region to region can create market opportunities. So, for example, in America, cleanliness may be associated with looking well and making a good impression, whereas in other countries, it may be associated with personal health. Reflecting on small but important cultural differences such as these could make the difference between cracking a market or going home empty handed.

6. Time

Take the time to consider local time differences. Don’t send out marketing emails when your targets are tucked up in bed. Understand how people use time, and what they do at different times of the day or times of the year. This can have an important impact on a marketing campaign and messaging.

7. Business norms

Find out how decisions are made, and finesse your messaging accordingly. Who are the decision-makers? Use this to interact and inform decisions at key touchpoints in marketing campaigns.

In China, where collective decisions are the norm, you should consider providing material that people can share with their colleagues who are part of the decision-making process.

Bear in mind that it is important to be respectful of these business norms. In some Asian countries, for example, older or more senior staff expect to be treated with respect. What can seem like assertive self-confidence in one culture can come across as rude, disrespectful behavior in another. So respect these business norms in other countries, even if you don’t agree with them

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8. Religion

Don’t get ethnic or religious references wrong. This can be disastrous so it can be safest to just avoid any.

In 2018, the German confectioner Katjes launched an advertising campaign for a new line of vegan fruit gums. It unleashed a social media storm in Germany. The advertisement showed Turkish/Serb model Vicidca Petrovic wearing a hijab, happily chewing on a fruit gum. Although the campaign was probably well intentioned, some right-wing politicians called for the brand to be banned. Others protested the use of a Muslim custom while promoting gum in the ad and labelled this act “racial capitalism”.

9. Social structures

In order to market to the right audience, you must understand how the target society is structured. Research the purchasing groups, and their levels of education and power.

Changes in social structures within a country or society can have a dramatic impact on your marketing focus and messaging based on socio-economic class. For example, in the U.S., the wealthier cohort controls 50% of the nation’s aggregate income, up from 29% in 1970. The middle class (as opposed to the wealthiest) used to earn 62% of the nation’s income. That share has since fallen to 42%.

Marketers who shift their focus to the upper middle and high income US earners will need to reflect this in consumers’ purchasing priorities. This group’s expectations are based on attaining the best of both worlds: that is, high quality products and services offered at reasonable prices. To appeal to this cohort, brands must prove that they are worth the price by offering extra-attentive services both online and offline.

Customer motivations and hierarchy of needs

Learning the social structures, business norms, and culture also provide a clear way to establish your customers’ motivations and hierarchy of needs. (Yes, you’ve heard it before, but that’s because it’s very, very important.)

For example, many small to medium B2B purchasers select Salesforce as their CRM. However, Salesforce, due to the effort and higher cost associated with setup and implementation is not an ideal choice for small to medium sized companies.

However, if we view this purchasing choice through the “motivation optic” we can see that purchasing Salesforce is often driven by a desire to reduce risk by purchasing the most popular CRM solution. As well as the desire to gain admiration from peers who assume that a certain level of customer has been reached if a business chooses to purchase Salesforce.

Considerations for B2B and B2C customers

Establishing relationships with your new customers’ can also depend on whether they’re B2B or B2C.

B2B customers

For B2B customer this can include personal and often some hidden motivations such as:

Avoiding risk

Avoiding inconvenience

Gaining praise

Gaining power

Having fun

Making profit

These are then often communicated as more practical motivations such as:

Achieving a return on investment, either immediate or long-term

Minimizing a potential risk

Optimizing a potential gain

Becoming more efficient, ultimately saving money in some way

Investing for strategic purposes to achieve longer-term gain or fulfil a strategic objective.

B2C customers

Consumer decision-making will also include hidden motivations, as well as rational logical decision making.

This can include motivations such as:

Fundamental needs (physiological needs such as air to breath, food, shelter, water, clothing, and sleep)

Safety and security (health, employment, property, family, and social ability)

Love and belonging (friendship, family, belonging, and connections)

Self-esteem (confidence, achievement, respect of others, the need to be unique or to contribute to the group)

Self-actualization (creativity, morality, spontaneity, acceptance, purpose, meaning, and inner protection)

These are often presented or indeed rationalized based on more logical motivations such as:

Value for money

Time saving

Improving employability potential

Safety and security


In most cases, it is a mix of instinctive and rational motivations. However, the priorities often depend on nuances informed by the culture, business norms, and social structures.


Taking the time to test out what you have learned by trying out different tactics, messaging (A/B testing), and content will help you to fine tune your market entry, before committing large budgets. Such research can provide truly valuable insights to drive the marketing effort.


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