There have been many headlines of late proclaiming that China’s economy is about to “overtake” ours. As a proud American, that makes me a bit uncomfortable. You? This is still the greatest country in the world, right? (I mean no disrespect to my ancestral homeland and its kin, but Greece’s economy isn’t exactly killing it these days. But keep sending those irresistible Kalamata olives, please!) The headlines about China got me thinking – how do we continue to compete? What can I do to help? Can I ask you another question?
Are Your Ready?
Is your company ready to compete on the world stage? I’m guessing this in on your to do list, but perhaps you’re not exactly sure where to start. And you don’t want to pay a consultant a king’s ransom to get on the path to world domination.
For starters, remember my golden digital rule: in order to be successful, you need a balanced plan that utilizes several digital marketing methods. Website, SEO/SEM, display, email and social are the key components. So, where to begin?
STEP 1: Chart Your Course
Start by choosing the countries that you want to do business in. Think about the basics – demand, local economic conditions, your ability to ship there, and of course, speak their language (or partner with someone that does). Most US-based companies I’ve worked with start with Canada and Mexico, then continue into South America. Those that can get their products and services to the other side of the globe – typically sell into Europe and Asia.
STEP 2: Build Your Global Empire
Once you’ve mapped out your battle plan, next step is to build your real estate, aka your websites! Here’s the process:
Get your website translated. While it’s tempting to use free translation services such as Google Translate, be careful! While these solutions work well for common speak, they tend to fall apart when it comes to translating more technically oriented industrial and commercial language. My advice would be to pay a translation service that specializes in this. Or, if you are lucky enough to have sales representation that speaks the local language, have them do it for you. This is probably the best way to go – cost will be minimal if at all, and they understand the nuances of your business and markets better than you do. If the budget isn’t there, as an absolute last resort, use a free service. Expect that you will have errors/miscommunications in there that will tarnish your image and cost you some business.
Build out a replica of your site in that language. You have no choice. If you are on a limited budget, then only do your primary pages – home, about us, contact page, and a line card for products or brief summary page for capabilities. Give enough to describe what you do, differentiate yourself from competitors, and make it easy for them to reach out to you. Then include strong calls to action and a form, so you can get that request to your rep asap. If you are fortunate to have the budget to build out the entire site, go for it. This will benefit search engine exposure, sales cycle time, and credibility – it shows that you are serious about doing business in that market. Be conscious of the local culture and tastes (a recurring theme throughout this article). For instance, if the locals find the color magenta offensive, and your logo is magenta – you’ll want to reconsider.
Pay attention to the critical technical stuff that is often overlooked. The strategy I’ve bulleted here is primarily written around Google’s rules for indexing. Since Google is the predominant search engine across much of the world, this really matters. (There are a few exceptions to Google’s world domination, discussed further down.) Here are the key tech tips:
- Register your URL in the local extension/top level domain (TLD) – a key indicator to both search engines and visitor is the extension itself. While .com is the standard in US, and is respected internationally, it’s important to use the local extension if you really mean business. For instance, for Canada, you need to use yourcompanyname.ca, and Mexico, yourcompanyname.mx. It’s typically not that expensive to register the additional names. I would recommend using a well know company such as GoDaddy.
- Host the site in that country – if you are targeting Mexico, then you’ll want to host your Spanish version of yourcompany.mx at a hosting facility that’s physically in Mexico. You are primarily doing this to show search engines such as Google that you are more than a paper tiger. How does Google know? It looks at the IP address of the host server, and knows where it’s located. Do some research to find a reputable hosting company in each country. True, you can host your .mx on a US server, but Google is smarter than that (are you surprised?), and will consider your exposure accordingly.
- Display Your Local Address – another major clue for Google and visitors is the physical address that appears on the site. If you don’t have an address in Mexico to display, then use the one of your distributor/sales representation there. Ideally, put this at the footer of each page. At the very least, include it in your contact us page. For some search international search engines such as Baidu, a local address is mandatory to be listed in results.
Step 3: Target Your Global Prospects
Now that you have your website out there, of course, you’ll want to drive traffic via SEO and SEM. Google is the largest in all of North America (number one in the US, Canada and Mexico), and much of Europe and most of the world for that matter. But if you are pointing your periscope toward Russia and China/Asian-Pacific markets, please consider:
Yandex – this is the largest search engine in Russia. Initially launched in 1997, it has a strong presence in neighboring countries such as Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus. If you are looking to break into the Russian market (if not, I totally get it), this would be the place to start. Google can’t be neglected either, since it receives a lot of usage, just not as much as Yandex.
Baidu – is the most popular search engine in China with a majority of market share. One key requirement for advertising (or even show up in organic search results), is that you must have a physical address in China posted on your site. Also, the language requirement is important – the site should be in simplified Chinese (over Traditional). “Licensing” your site with them will help boost your organic results.
In addition to the technical tips, make sure you follow the general rules of any good strategy. Be informative, avoid duplicate content, organize your information logically, in narrow slices. There are additional considerations that you need to make. Make sure you are using the local language – a simple translation of a word might mean something completely different there. This could get expensive if you are paying-per-click for the wrong words. Be aware of cultural differences and incorporate those as well. You don’t want to have a website or ad that’s offering a handshake when you’re supposed to be bowing! Be careful with humor too, what’s funny to us might be extremely insulting elsewhere.
As for directories, you’ll want to go with well established, credible ones. My favorite, of course, is ThomasNet.com, (never mind that they sign my paychecks). While ThomasNet maintains its focus on American manufacturers, its millions of monthly visits include plenty of global ones. In fact, at a recent annual meeting, one supplier took the stage and proudly proclaimed that “ThomasNet saved my business!” by attracting global buyers through the platform. Can you put a price on that?
Thomas International Publishing has global advertising and promotional opportunities as well. These include World Industrial Reporter – both website and newsletter, IEN Europe, and other solutions aimed at Europe, Japan, India and Brazil. You can learn more about those here.
As you explore the world, consider supplementing with other outlets such as Chinese-run Alibaba. Started in 1999, it was originally built to help Chinese suppliers market their products globally. I know, the exact opposite of what you want. It does allow for other companies to have a presence now. A note of caution though: it’s flooded with suppliers, and it might be difficult for many US-based companies to compete here, due to pricing and other factors.
Step 4: Nurture the Universe, Carefully
You’ll need to nurture your international leads and customers. You probably already know that email is the best way to do this. Since you’ll need to be really personal in this format, language and cultural differences will present further challenges. I strongly recommend that you work with your local representation or a translator/agency to help you with email content. Don’t forget the power of strong, appropriate graphics and photos as well. When designing your email, be conscious of local tastes, preferences and traditions. As with US email campaigns, you need to be super-careful about email spam regulations. For instance, rules in Canada are much stricter than those in our CAN-SPAM act. Email can be an extremely effective tool at getting more business from your customers, and garnering new ones. But if you’re not cautious, can end up costing you significant amounts of money. I don’t want to scare you, just warn you to do your due diligence. Please be careful.
Step 5: Become A World Citizen
The last piece is also the toughest one: mastering a global social media strategy. Why? In order to succeed socially, you need to follow my rules for social – be human, helpful, genuine, consistent, etc. It’s very difficult to do that and appear “natural” when dealing with different cultures and expectations. My recommendation again would be to work with local people such as your distributors and manufacturer’s reps to help with this task. Make sure they focus on becoming valuable members of a community, and not international snake-oil hucksters. The world has enough of them. If you don’t have these types of partnerships in place, I have one more thought. Focus on social selling by placing targeted display and text ads that link to your local websites. While it’s not the most authentic way to break into the social sphere, it will get you some social exposure and site traffic.
The future of your company and our economy is now in your hands. Go forth and conquer!
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