5 mistakes businesses make when marketing to international companies

Are you marketing to an international customer? If you operate a business in the Netherlands, chances are the answer is yes.

Thanks to the high percentage of expats in the Randstad and the accessibility of other European markets, most businesses will reach customers with diverse backgrounds.

Knowing how to appropriately market to an international audience can mean the difference between success and failure. In this article I will examine the top five mistakes businesses make when marketing to international (or culturally-diverse) customers.

Speaking to all customers the same

If everyone gets the same information in the exact same way no one will complain, right? Wrong!

Making everything the same seems like it would be the easiest route when marketing to a diverse customer base, but it is one of the worst mistakes you can make. Just because people speak the same language and / or live in the same country, doesn’t make them carbon copies of another.

Take a native resident of the Netherlands and an expat with a medium-level of fluency as an example. They might both speak the language, but the way they will go about choosing a supplier or business partner is likely to be very different. One might be swayed by testimonials from familiar companies while the other might value your flexibility and customer support more.

Not considering the local norms

Cultural values play a huge role in marketing campaigns. If you don’t take local values into consideration, you run a high risk of alienating your customers or putting yourself into a bad position.

My favourite example of this is an ad for bottled water. In Italy it would be normal to show the water pouring over the chest of a half-dressed woman. That same ad, if run in the United States, would likely result in indecency fines. You must consider tone of voice, language norms, morality and attitudes towards businesses when creating a marketing piece.

Assuming the customers can speak the local language

Assuming that all residents can speak the local language is a classic mistake I see in the Netherlands. Think of how many Dutch language schools advertise and market strictly in Dutch, or how many expat-friendly Gemeente’s lack basic resident information in a language other than Dutch.

If you want to attract a non-local audience, you need to speak to them in their language.

Starting a language conversation you can’t finish

There is an opposite to keeping everything in the local language, and that is starting a conversation you can’t finish. I see this most often in companies that want to market abroad but don’t have the structure in place to support it.

If you create an ad or a webpage in a foreign language, the recipient will expect you to have customer service, instructions and information available in that language.

In that case, it would be better to keep everything in a language you can support (and recognise the potential for lost business) or to wait until you can hire appropriate support.

Not recognising that the decision-maker might be different

The last mistake I see businesses making is not recognising that the decision-makers may vary widely from culture to culture.

This is even true in business-to-business sales. In one country you might find that the assistants are the gate-keepers while in others you can walk directly in to the senior executives.

A thorough knowledge of the role of each person in the decision-making process is needed to make sure you are a success.

If you can avoid these five mistakes, you have a much higher likelihood of connecting with international customers!

Lynn Morrison


Lynn Morrison

Lynn is one of the primary contributors at The Marketing Salon, a blog with marketing advice for SME's. She has over 10 years of experience in marketing and sales, most...

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