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Using the Internet for global marketing

I had the chance to speak to 150 folks belonging to the World Trade Center (yes, it’s an organization) yesterday in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on the subject of marketing your business globally. I’ve appeared there twice before and am always struck by the mix of local businesses (large and small) and foreign embassies promoting trade with their countries. You can download my slides on Internet Marketing Trends, but I wanted to talk a bit about what I heard there and what I told the audience.


Rick Andrews, head of international marketing at Hershey, the candy company, gave a great opening keynote on how Hershey has expanded internationally. His talk was full of good advice for how to reach emerging markets in traditional ways. Clearly, Hershey can’t market chocolate bars to Chinese and Indian consumers unless they engage the local distribution channels and mass media. Rick explained to the audience how they selected their markets to focus on the growing South American and Asian markets, avoiding the saturated European market that has little growth and entrenched competitors.
After listening to Rick, it was clear to me that Hershey knows what it’s doing. It was also clear to me that most businesses, especially smaller businesses, have no hope of emulating Hershey. Not because Rick’s advice was wrong—it was spot on—but because most small businesses can’t afford the market research, the distribution, the local feet on the street, and the advertising required to expand internationally the traditional way. The traditional way still works, of course, but there are new ways that are accessible to more businesses.
In my closing keynote for the conference, that’s what I talked about. The Internet allows many small businesses to expand internationally because most of what you do is free. It takes time, creativity, and energy, but not much money, which puts it within reach of many businesses.
Now, not every business is primed to expand using the Internet. As I’ve written before, small businesses must specialize to succeed on the Web, and international success is no different. In fact, the broader the appeal you want geographically, the more narrow your niche must be.
You must also ensure that your customers are online. It’s more than looking at each country’s Internet penetration statistics—your customers might be online when most of the country isn’t. (This is true for many B2B opportunities.) Or you might reach customers through mobile even though they have no computers at home. Research your specific target market in the country that you are considering.
But don’t stop your research at Internet access. Use the Internet to understand what your customers’ problems are in your new targeted market. Because you can’t afford expensive focus groups and traditional market research techniques, use Web 2.0 conversations to see what customers are talking about. What complaints do they post on message boards? Who are the bloggers for that industry in that country? What ratings and reviews do existing competitors get? This customer feedback is all available for free and will help you learn how to position your product to meet needs your competitors don’t. That helps you specialize even more.
You also need to have a business that can handle being marketed from a remote country. Your Web site must be your marketing and sales vehicle to do things really cheaply. If not, you are back into the more expensive sales rep/distribution network models that have been out of reach for many businesses.
If your business fits the above criteria, then the hard work begins. You must craft a Web site that can sell in the target language and currency. You must ship direct. You must have customer service to handle problems. And, most of all, you must make your site persuasive and trustworthy.
If you can do all of that, you have a chance to expand overseas for very little money. Try it in one country and see how it works. You might find your way to new markets that fatten your bottom line.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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