In 2012, we conducted research into how the recession had affected attitudes towards global trading opportunities.

We found that many of the respondents had been forced to rely heavily on global markets to maintain or grow their revenues.

One of the recession’s ‘silver linings’ was that it changed the ‘tunnel vision’ attitude many businesses can develop. 

The difficulties that arose as a result of this economic stagnation forced business to explore other opportunities – namely those abroad.

International e-commerce

Now that the economic situation looks a bit brighter at home, we wanted to revisit the research. We surveyed 500 senior decision-makers within large organisations to understand how they now prioritise their expansion budgets, and what they consider to be the main barriers for successful market entry. 

The overriding theme of the results was a sense of missed opportunity. The survey revealed that 62% of respondents believe they are currently missing out on key global ecommerce opportunities.

This statistic alone highlights that many UK businesses are still yet to fully explore the global opportunities an online presence can provide.

It also highlights a potential dearth of information about how and why a business should engage in such markets. 

With the country looking forward to developing better, more profitable business offerings, a lack of information in such a key area may highlight the need for a more protracted, government-led emphasis on globalising UK ecommerce.

The problem may, however, not be as dire as the figures suggest. 83% of respondents considered overseas expansion to be a new revenue stream. 

This means that although they might currently be engaged in ecommerce in overseas markets, they simply aren't getting the most out of their endeavours.

So, how can businesses that have identified the potential in these markets then go on to take the next steps and ensure they're not missing out?

Read on to find out, or for more on this topic read:

Speak the same language as your customers

The study revealed that a large majority of UK businesses felt that they were failing to properly embrace digital business opportunities.

While many businesses have certainly woken up to the digital opportunities available to them, many are still not adapting their marketing strategies country to country. 

Worryingly, 40% of the businesses we surveyed don’t think that communicating with customers in their native languages is important.

This is despite the fact that three out of five of these businesses rely on up to 50% of their revenue from global markets. 

Studies have shown that failing to communicate in native languages can have a serious effect upon the trust consumers place with brands.

However, translation doesn't just pertain to the direct translation of written content on your site. The content on your site should always be implemented with technical SEO best practice in mind.

This could range from meta-tags and titles to more advanced technical recommendations. This should help you to develop fully optimised content on local domains, which will help increase rankings on your targeted keywords, but also give a better user experience.

A native speaker’s cultural insight is also invaluable when moving into a new market. The nuances of a language and culture may not be immediately available to a second language translator but it is these small insights that will keep you ahead of the competition.

For example, a native speaking French content consultant could reject content with sub-titles such as “Did You Know…?” for the French market.

While acceptable in the UK, this could be perceived as condescending to French audiences, who would prefer something neutral such as “Additional Information” as a title.

International e-commerce

Localise your site

It’s not just issues around translating content that can influence customer sentiment either, there are many other big factors to consider too, including your domain structure.

87% of businesses stressed the importance of using a local website domain. 

Yet, many are still not implementing vital changes like this. In a country where 20% of the ecommerce market is through exports, with the majority in Europe, the need for specialised and tailored ecommerce presences in these markets is vital.

International e-commerce

You should also spend some time on specialising your backlink profile for each country, as this can have a big effect on the trust signals that Google places on your localised site.

Your online marketing plan should include local PR, such as PR campaigns and events that will help build natural links to your site.

Businesses should also implement a proactive quality link building campaign (brand mentions can be an effective tactic if your brand is already well known in the region) to get links from local sites.

This two-pronged strategy should help indicate to both Google, and your customers, that you’re a trusted brand in the market.

Get your brand noticed

The usability and relevance of your website are vital to ensuring your audience's journey ends in a conversion – but you need to get them there first.

In markets where you’re a new brand, you're competing with established businesses who know the market inside out. Often you may have to build yourself up from the bottom.

To get noticed you have to get your name out there, which involves lots of relationship building with industry influencers.

Communicating with these influencers (often journalists and bloggers) is easier if you use native speaking employees. Native speakers understand the market and can save you valuable time lost in research. 

Content promotion methods differ from country to country too.

For example, while forums are generally considered bad practice in the UK, in China they are still hugely influential.

Social media is becoming ever more important to brand recognition. In Europe and America, Facebook still dominates the social landscape.

When looking at other large markets though, don’t be mistaken for thinking that it’s the be all and end all.

In China, the platform's website is blocked, so usage is very low. QZone and Weibo are the market leaders, with the former boasting a profile for 99% of Chinese internet users. (For more on this topic, download Econsultancy's State of Ecommerce in China Report).

In Russia, VK (Vkontakte) has over five times as many daily users as Facebook. 

These platforms work in different ways, with users interacting differently on each site. You should research the habits and trends on these different platforms before forming a social media strategy.

Use paid platforms effectively

You may also choose to run paid campaigns along with your organic ones. As with organic channels, you will need to translate each campaign for each market.

One of the mistakes that marketers often make is rolling out a successful campaign from one market across many others. 

Just because a PPC campaign was successful in one country doesn't mean it will be in another.

The structure and content of your ads in different markets should be based upon comprehensive research and testing in each market. Successful campaigns will have relevant messages and a tone that is in keeping with your market. 

Programmatic has also become much more important to many digital marketing strategies. 90% of stakeholders in Europe have said they plan to increase their visibility on the platform over the next 12 months.

Effective use of programmatic is heavily reliant on the ability to analyse audience habits. It’s important, therefore, that you have good insight into the markets you’re entering.

This insight covers a wide range of ideas, such as how your brand is perceived in a particular country and how programmatic campaigns in your industry have worked in the past. 

Looking at this, as well as the cultural attitudes and habits of your audience, should help you localise each campaign. 

In conclusion...

The UK has the third biggest ecommerce market in the world. Considering the size of country and population, that’s quite an achievement.

This indicates a market and consumers who are progressive, and global, in their thinking.

Today, there are countless opportunities for businesses to expand overseas. UK business leaders should focus their efforts on tailoring their strategies to each market.

If they present an accessible and relevant online presence to users, brands can reap all the rewards that globalisation offers.

Ian Harris

Published 23 November, 2015 by Ian Harris

Ian Harris is the CEO and founder of Search Laboratory, and a contributor to Econsultancy.

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Comments (1)

Pietro Leone

Pietro Leone, CEO, Europe, Middle East & Africa at Geometry Global

Valuable tips on boosting brand awareness beyond the UK. As the CEO of a major European marketing network, trans-national branding is core to what we do, and I find this sort of pragmatic, detailed approach essential to helping clients understand that what works in one geography almost never translates wholesale to another.

over 2 years ago

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