WRITTEN BY YAHEL DEMETER
Global companies used to be revered. They had a huge market, assets, fancy offices in skyscrapers and a lot of people talking about their brand. Entire books were written about their methods, articles explaining how to behave like them, and many dreamed of being part of their workforce or management. Their common denominator was size, and global reach - the ability to influence consumers in all corners of the earth, in different countries and different languages.
I always say that in Israel, where I grew up, educated and established my professional career, people are practically forced to be entrepreneurs. Since we aren’t blessed with the abundant natural resources that other countries have, we use our innovative minds to create something out of nothing. But this is not the only thing that makes Israel what it is, the start-up nation. Israelis has the tendency to think globally, and it happens because many reasons. And that's what sets us apart from everyone else. The desire to conquer the world, not to treat the local market like a case study. Although by profession I’m a strategic consultant who specializes in marketing, branding and business development, I am also a serial entrepreneur with several ventures under my belt. What they all have in common is that they were all global ventures that can all succeed and expand abroad.
This is true for anyone who has a small business or even an idea. Today, the accessibility of the international market is nothing short of amazing. Our ability to market a product to someone on the other side of the world (almost), at the push of a button, compels us to operate in the international arena, whether we are service providers or looking for creative ways to market products abroad.
Here are five stages I have my clients undertake if they want to enter the international market, which might interest you too. I've assembled them here, and I also recommend that you read my article and watch my lecture on building a business plan. Please note - in this article I talk about marketing, branding and business development, and less about Israeli exports or marketing on Amazon - two topics that could easily fill ten articles. In case you are looking for such information, I recommend that you consult with experts in these areas, as there are many nuances and subtleties that you should be aware of.
Various stages for going global with a small business that offers products or services:
1. Understanding the Product
At this point, you determine precisely what you want to sell. Naturally, this can be a service or a product.
If you have a product or product-based service, you need to understand exactly how to package it correctly, both in terms of branding and physical packaging, so that it can stand out in a sea of other products. Here your brand plays a key role, because you’re entering a market that isn’t familiar with you yet, that sees your product in its packaging and thereby infers its opinion about you. Brand values are important in this context, and their implementation and visibility are equally important because you are tasked with bridging cultural gaps. And while you do want to visually distinguish your product, it should also have a "similar" appearance to other products. And if it’s a product, you have to comply with the applicable standards and labeling requirements.
If you offer a knowledge-based service, you need to know how to "package" it. Besides the type of service (i.e., consultation or lecture), you need to understand the format and know whether it’s a tailor-made lecture or ready-made lecture for sale, a workshop, conference, personal consultation or any other format that conveys the knowledge and turns it into a product you can sell. You also need to understand where the product starts and where it ends, that is, where the messaging begins and where it ends, and what you can do with it later to get the customer to buy it again, recommend it or take part in your future business activity.
As stated, the service doesn’t have to be knowledge-based, and in such a case, there are other aspects to consider, such as logistics. In both cases, you must understand exactly what you are selling and how your brand offers it. You must also ask the mother of all questions: should you highlighting or conceal your Israeli experience? Each option has its own advantages and disadvantages, and the decision depends heavily on the product you are marketing.
2. Research and study of the target market
Once you understand what you’re selling, it’s time to understand who you’re selling it to. Besides creating characters and analyzing target audiences, a technique you can read more about in another article I wrote about brand building, you must understand the local culture of the target audience. It’s very important to spend time in the field and go there with your team in order to experience the market for a few days, ask people questions and look for partnerships, as I will expand on in the next point.
However, I must stress the cultural aspect. Our consumption habits as Israelis represent us, those who live in Israel, and don’t apply to most of the world. Not even to Israelis who live abroad, by the way. This stems from differences in mentality, which affect the degree of suspicion/openness towards new brands, economic ability, overall consumer culture and various other aesthetic preferences. There are many other parameters you need to know, but the point is that you can only know them if you go there and meet the target audience face-to-face. Either way, you should meet this audience, be it through random encounters, focus groups, conferences, meet-ups (study and enrichment sessions on a certain topic), and more. Albeit such a trip isn’t cheap, but I never once regretted a trip I made to go meet the target audience. This is critical, both in terms of product design and in terms of understanding the marketing channels, as I’ll elaborate on shortly.
3. Finding Strategic Partnerships
In the last section, I wrote about traveling to meet the target audience. When you initiate such a trip, it’s recommended to find a partnership that can promote your effort to penetrate the desired target market, or at least help you understand it. From my experience, there are three common types of partnerships, either of which is likely to give you added value beyond the initial service or investment they offer. These common types are: marketing, distribution/operations, and investment/connections.
When it comes to marketing abroad, the partnership should help you understand the target audience from a marketing standpoint, such as the preferences, habits and other information gathered over the years that should make life easier for you. Therefore, I almost always advise my clients to hire a marketing firm (digital marketing abroad or public relations abroad), that has been operating in the target country for at least a few years. An Israeli firm, good as it may be (and we have excellent digital firms here in Israel), will usually be unaware of minor yet important nuances.
When it comes to distribution/operations, remember that a proper partnership can instill the local cultural values in the business, thereby providing you access to various aspects of operations, be it packaging, distribution, shipping or sales. Local companies have a logistical advantage, and their operating costs are usually lower than the cost in Israel or the cost of hiring an Israeli company do it for you. This is true for businesses who produce their product abroad, or for people who develop websites, in which case the design is critical and must be adjusted to the local and cultural graphic language. It’s also true when working with a skilled local workforce that knows the language and understands the cultural gaps, which is a major factor.
When it comes to investment and connections, we’re talking about people who put real money to promote your idea. But, and this is a major but, it has to be so-called “smart money”, which promotes you through the investor’s network of connections. After all, the investor wants to get a return on the investment. I always advise my clients to consider carefully whether to accept an investment, and to opt in if it offers them something beyond money, like contacts or business abilities that they lack and might help promote their business.
4. Planning Logistics and Potential Expansion
After forming the right partnerships, it’s time to sit down and figure out how to leverage them to create a business fabric that’s good for your business and product. To be clear, this is true both for huge companies and for people who make jewelry in their basement. Sometimes it’s even worth considering starting a small business in the US, Canada, Europe or whatever target country where you seek to offer your products and services. Everything is accessible and available to everyone, and from my experience,
I can tell you that forming such partnerships is incredibly easy. Once you find the right connection, everyone has a shared interest to make money, even if you’re a small business. Everyone wants to make a profit after all, and if the partnership is apt, financial profit is only the beginning. And in that case, it is indeed a small world after all. At this stage, you sit down and think about how your idea is going to be implemented, and build a graph called “customer journey”, describing what happens in each stage during the marketing, sales, distribution, use and rebuy. The customer journey can be characterized at any stage, be it during the trip
I once characterized an entire customer journey with the customer during a flight), or relaxingly in your office, which will suddenly seem very small to you.
5. Finding marketing channels and launching a pilot
After characterizing the Customer Journey, it’s time to start a pilot and run a small-scale test, to see that everything works properly and that the models you built are well established. Keep in mind that marketing in the US is very different from marketing in Europe, Canada and even in Israel, because it requires much larger budgets. However, there are ways around this by using appropriate marketing strategies to reduce costs and still penetrate into these markets. At this point, after you start the marketing campaign and launch the pilot you outlined, it is very important to listen to the criticism, to look for flaws and see where things work and where they fumble and need improvement. Don’t panic if there are some fumbles, I haven’t yet encountered a perfect pilot that didn’t require improvement. After a good pilot, from which correct and applicable conclusions are drawn, you gradually start to increase the work volume at a measured and fixed rate so as not to burden the logistics chain and customer journey you created, and to foster a growth process that you can learn from in order to ensure better, more efficient and cost-effective logistics, marketing and production.
So what have we learned here?
That every business entity, from a person with a dream to a huge company, can operate in the international market, thanks to the constant improvement in the marketing and distribution channels and the accessibility of the information.
That there are five cornerstones, each requiring concerted work: understanding the product, research, finding strategic partnership, logistical characterization, and planning marketing strategy.
That you must study the market (very) closely and find the right partnerships.
That you have to dare. The international market stopped being the exclusive domain of major players long ago.
That marketing in the United States, Europe, Canada and other countries around the world can be expensive and very different from marketing in Israel, but absolutely possible and even accessible given the right strategy.
That everything is a matter of decision. Today anything is truly possible. And that’s not a cliché.
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