Any business trying to move its product into a new market is going to face some significant challenges and those are magnified when that new market is an international one. One must first understand the factors of international relations. Exporting goods to a customer base with even minor cultural or practical differences requires careful attention to avoid particular pitfalls. Many business specialists have made an effort to identify these pitfalls for the benefit of all and that list can be further distilled down to a couple of key points that a business can prioritize to help them find success in new markets. Beyond awareness of these deadly sins and the best ways to avoid them, American companies must also be aware of their own cultural strengths and weaknesses in order to successfully translate their business interests to other countries. By gaining a better understanding of these dos and don’ts, a business of any size can improve its chances in the global market.
One of the most important of the exporting sins to avoid when spreading a product to another market is being too focused on the product and neglecting the customer. While it is possible for a product to sell itself, it is likely that one of two conditions exist in a target market. Either the customers have never heard of the product and so have no reason to care about it unless the company reaches out to their specific interests, or the product is already being offered by competitors in that market who the customers trust more. In either case, the first effort of a business seeking to export to a new market has to be reaching out to the customers, not simply touting a product blindly. This is true for Chinese investments in African countries.
The United States as a nation has some cultural foibles and fortes that further inform this point. As a people, Americans have access to a great deal of information and an astounding variety of product and service providers. Culturally, US citizens are used to being told everything that a business thinks they might want to hear and then being able to go to the internet to learn anything else they might be curious about. This trend works counter to the exporting principle of targeting customers first because all a business has to do in the United States is making a product seem interesting or attractive enough to get people to look into it. Another cultural characteristic of the US, cultural diversity, makes this practice almost necessary. When a company targets a specific group, they are excluding others. While this happens to a degree regardless of intent, companies make an effort to appeal to as wide a range of customers as possible, allowing specific groups to interpret a product as they like after the natural flood of information that follows curiosity.
While this general sensitivity to cultural diversity can be an advantage, it can at the same time be a disadvantage, just as the numbness to customer targeting can be a disadvantage. Businesses have to be adept at knowing what does and does not appeal to certain cultures which prepares them well to export to other nations, but they have to realize that this knowledge will be applied differently in the world. In the US, it’s a matter of not excluding significant cultural groups while out in the world, it would be more necessary to target groups. If a company fails to make this translation, their marketing will appear indifferent and unclear to the new customer base they are seeking.
This issue is just as real for small businesses as for large. If anything, small businesses have to consider it even more carefully. With a smaller variety of product and less margin for error, small businesses have to choose a specific customer group and focus on getting the product to them in order to establish the most basic of customer bases. Expansion is a secondary concern to just getting a foot in the door.
All businesses have to be aware of the differences in customer needs and expectations as they move from domestic to international dealings. Exporting goods to other countries requires an awareness of both general principles and the specific characteristics of the target market. US companies enjoy a unique advantage due to the diversity of the United States, but they are also spoiled by the culture of information and the cultural blindness that is expected when marketing to Americans. Only by choosing a specific customer base to target and carefully cultivating it, rather than focusing too much on the product itself, can a business, large or small, hope to gain a foothold in an international market.