12 Tips for Selling to a Global Audience

image of vintage world map

Time for a quick pop quiz …

What percentage of online shoppers are from the United States?

Better yet, what percentage of online shoppers speak English?

90%? 80%?

Surely at least 75%, right? Nope.

This might shock you, but according to J.P. Morgan — reporting for the Department of Commerce — only 27% of online shoppers speak English.

By neglecting to communicate with the rest of the non English-speaking world, you’re costing yourself a mountain of money.

In South Korea, 99 percent of individuals with internet access shop online.

97 percent of British, Germans, and Japanese are shopping online, too.

The United States can boast only 94 percent of internet users willing to shop online. Not a bad number, but certainly not as good as it gets.

Bottom line: it’s time to take your business global.

Yes, consumerism is global

Americans do spend the most money online.

They may shop with slightly less regularity than their British and Korean friends, but when Americans shop online, they do it in a splendid fashion.

But if you’re selling strictly to the old red, white and blue — regardless of where you’re located, you’re missing out on a huge percent of convertible traffic — especially if you haven’t maximized all of the markets in your own country.

The Swiss and the Koreans are ready to buy. Are you selling to them?

With huge purchases in everything from airline tickets to books, the global market is exploding every year and studies can’t seem to keep up with the growth.

You should be earning more if you have the cultural insight necessary to make the sale work. And that’s a big IF. You have to know how to make other cultures and groups buy what you’re selling.

Some of the biggest buyers of books on the internet are from developing countries — China, Brazil, Vietnam and Egypt — indicating massive growth potential for online retailers that can specifically target these fast-growing markets.
~ Jonathan Carson, President, International, Nielsen Online

If your content has worldwide relevance, it’s time to ditch your laser focus on a single country.

But how can you properly sell to, say, Brazil or China?

Specifically targeting foreign markets is more than finding a native Portuguese speaker to write up some brilliant Brazilian web copy. After all, how will you know if it’s actually brilliant copy or a bunch of keyword stuffed auto-translated garbage?

In all countries, there are intangible elements to cultures that can make or break a sale, and it’s your job to learn those elements, and make them work for you.

Here are some tips to help you get going on your international sales journey …

12 tips for selling effectively to a global audience

Looking beyond your borders? Proceed with caution!

Cultural differences can be subtle. It’s your job as a marketer to figure out the nuances and preferences of the culture you’re going for.

1. Do your research

Read as if you’re moving to the country you’re selling to.

The more you know about South Korean lifestyle, slang, favorites, celebrities, and cultural elements, the easier it will be to make your website a natural fit for the market.

2. Visit the land you’re marketing to

Nothing will help you like a trip to Brazil if you’re trying to sell to Brazilians. Spend a few weeks soaking up the sun and as much of the culture as possible. You might even end up moving to your target country for a period of time. That kind of freedom is one of the great things about owning an internet-based business, after all.

Consider it a reconnaissance mission to gain information on the target. Build up a team of local professionals, and if you have time, sample the night life. It can be one of the perks of business.

3. Learn what’s offensive

If your entire knowledge of U.S. culture came from Two and a Half Men and Howard Stern, you’d have a pretty shaky sense of what is and isn’t appropriate to say to customers.

Slang expressions can be as offensive as they are common. Stay with classy or at least moderately professional speech to stay above the fray.

4. Check out the competition

Don’t give up what you already know works. Do your marketing basics regardless of country.

What’s the competition up to? What slices of the market are they not serving? How can you set yourself apart or make yourself shine by comparison?

5. Learn the language

Obviously if you can pick up fluent Korean (or if you’re already there), you’re going to have an easier time selling to Koreans. Likewise Italians, Egyptians, and Portuguese.

Fortunately you don’t have to become truly fluent — you just need enough to be able to read your own website and check that it makes sense. Keep learning, however, and you’ll enrich your life and your business.

6. Find people to trust

You’re working outside your comfort zone, so find trustworthy freelancers or full-fledged business partners who can help you navigate these new waters.

You can find work associates through referrals, websites, and online communities. The right contacts can help you break into the market as well.

7. Seek out the niches

Jump in with both feet, but don’t plunge into the deep end right away — the wading pool is a better place to start when you’re learning to swim in a new way.

Flex your foreign creative muscle first in a small pond trying to catch a few fish before you start trying to reel in millions. Better to make a tiny mistake noticed by a hundred readers than a huge glaring error in front of ten thousand.

8. Scale your knowledge

As you learn the language and find elements of success within a new culture, use that knowledge to build additional niche sites for that country or population.

Immerse yourself in the new culture there or at home, and build from there. You may build a network of related niche sites, or build your own authoritative hub like Copyblogger.

9. Don’t get overwhelmed

The world is a big place and it’s easy to spread yourself too thin. As you scale, keep honing your focus.

It’s far better to hit just one or a few geographical areas well than to waste time creating shallow, poorly executed sites everywhere that don’t work.

10. Develop a master plan

Build a global plan ahead of time.

What countries should you target? Why? Which niches? How? Edit your plan as you go, but keep your blueprint visible at all times to keep you on track.

11. Stay aware of global trends

We whip through trends at blazing speeds. It’s hard to get ahead of the trends in your hometown, much less in a new country.

Keep your ear to the ground and watch trends so that you can make adjustments to your master plan as necessary.

12. Take advantage of stable markets

If the fast-moving trends make you nervous, skip them.

There’s no rule saying you have to jump into a fast moving river. Stick with something a bit more timeless like fitness, business, or travel. It’s always a great idea to find a unique corner of a well-established market.

Making global work

You don’t need to start from scratch when you’re constructing your master plan for global sales.

Nielsen and other research firms like JP Morgan have already done a lot of the legwork for you:

  • Internet consumers from around the globe are buying everything from books to sports memorabilia
  • The most popular items sold online include books, clothing, shoes, accessories, videos, DVDs, games, travel, music, electronics, cosmetics, and nutrition items
  • Global e-commerce revenues are expected to grow by 19 percent in 2012
  • $681 billion was spent globally in 2011 — how much of that did you take home?
  • Of that, only $187 billion was spent in the United States, leaving $493 billion for the rest of the global market
  • It’s anticipated that global ecommerce spending will grow to $963 billion by 2013
  • High-income families shop online most frequently

Inspiring, right?

You’re probably feeling the urge to act quickly. The online world moves fast, and timing is important.

Fortunately, the world is a big place. And there’s still plenty of room for those looking to expand into new markets.

A great time to start an international business

Online shoppers prefer to buy from familiar sites.

60 percent buy from the same site repeatedly. Kudos to you if it’s your site they like.

As Bruce Paul explained,

This shows the importance of capturing the tens of millions of new online shoppers as they make their first purchases on the internet. If shopping sites can capture them early, and create a positive shopping experience, they will likely capture their loyalty and their money.

JP Morgan forecasts that the global ecommerce market will grow at 12.4 percent from 2010 to 2013.

The opportunity is huge, even with new recession fears looming.

If you ask famous economists and business experts, most will tell you that a recession is a great time to start a business. The current global market conditions are making the internet an even more attractive market than ever for consumers looking to save and shop around for the best deal.

Online advertising has grown at 14.5 percent since 2008. In 2011, it shot up by 20.9 percent according to PriceWaterHouseCooper. More companies are joining the party, and this offers more opportunities to marketers and bloggers all over the world.

Stores are looking to be the first and only shop buyers are looking for. If you can position yourself as the ecommerce store they reach first, you’re in a prime position to profit over time. Build an authoritative website through content marketing, dedicated to the interests and culture of a specific country.

It’s time to go global

The global economy is hungry for content, trust, and value.

If you can deliver, you’ll surely profit. Leverage your previous successes by taking those first baby steps out of your comfort zone.

Cultures and perceptions shift in new countries, but the rules of marketing are always the same.

Build an audience, earn their trust, learn what they most want, then sell that to them.

It works every time, regardless of language or location.

About the Author: Uttoran Sen is a travel blogger writing from around the world, inspiring readers to discover new places. Follow him on twitter or join his facebook page to stay connected.

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Reader Comments (39)

  1. says

    I am freaking blown away by those numbers. I honestly would have answered at least 60% of online shopping came from the US, let alone all English speakers. You make a damn compelling case, too. You have got me seriously thinking about some things. Consider this post Tweeted and Shared.

    • says

      I agree Daniel, I sort of assumed my work was global, but after reading Uttoran’s post I realise my idea of “global” is States and UK..how small minded is that! Thanks Uttoran for expanding my world view – on my to-do list!

    • manny says

      60% ?

      yes, i thought the same thing too some years ago.

      This just shows how many people in the US live ina sort of Bubble.

      You might also be shocked of how many actually have passports or learn a second language. Lots of articles recently about that.

      But thank God i decided to become bilengual at young age, so i believe my reach has broaden potentialy by at least 20+ %

  2. says

    I have already started trying to do this some for a blog I’ve started in Korean. I think it is essential to start thinking of things like that when it’s time to start going global with our online ventures.

  3. says

    This is a great article and very true! I think the important thing to consider here is not so much language but culture- if we want to market to international clients, we need cultural competence. We need an awareness of the ways that problems are solved in different cultures, what is really valued and how that contrasts with our own native culture. Essentially, we need to realize the perspectives of others. Your point about traveling to your target country is very good advice. It’s a great idea to find a way to actually live with the locals and really get to know them and what they value. Cultural competence is the key to global business success and better communication and we are just starting to realize this!

    • says

      hi Lindsay McMahon,
      thanks for your comments,

      Yes, it is essentially about culture. Language does matters as well, one does seem to feel more comfortable if the website is written in their native tongue. However, the bottom line is that – “Culture does matters in Copy writing”.

      Traveling to the target place or hiring a local guy and asking for his perspective can be helpful.

  4. says

    Your case may be strong, but you weaken it, when you come up with numbers like “97% of Germans are shopping online”. Where did you get that information from? Do you really believe it? Your argumentation should do without in accurate and exaggerated numbers like these.

    • says

      The information comes from the J.P. Morgan report for the Department of Commerce, cited a couple paragraphs before as the source for the statistics. Sorry if that wasn’t clear.

    • Bill says

      Joachim. The number doesn’t matter. Uttoran’s article is accurate and meant to reveal information that many of us are not aware of. Great post Uttoran. Pura Vida!

  5. says

    You do need to know your market and I would love to share my experience with the Latinamerican market with you.
    I have an aromatherapy line in the United States, 99.9% of my clients are English speaking people in this country. A couple of year ago I created my Facebook Fan Page in English and I have around 2300 fans. A year later I created a Facebook Fan Page in Spanish and I have around 9600 fans.
    When I post an article, a quote, an aromatherapy tip in my Fan Page in English, I get 1, 2, maybe 3 likes. The same quote, tip or article, in Spanish: 34, 40 likes! And lots of wonderful comments,
    Now, what is the ROI on both sites? Those fewer fans on my English site do know how to buy online, have no problem writing down their credit cards because they know how to recognize a secure website and in general they do trust more, if they like my tips or my articles, they will buy my products.
    On the other hand, we Spanish speaking people, are so used to be scammed, taken advantage that we do not trust. The ROI of my efforts in the Spanish community is around 0.5% with some exceptions. People in Latin America use more cash than credit cards, if they have a credit card it may not be international, and finally, they don’t trust and they are afraid of purchasing online.
    Something else you have to find out is what are the customs rules for importing goods in those countries. If you for instance send a package with a declared value of more than $50 your package may stay in customs forever.
    As a Latinamerican, I do know my way around it, I do know how to send a package and how to declare it, but those are thing you only know as a native, by experience.
    I’m finding that the more I share my knowledge, my free tips with my Spanish speaking audience, the more they start to trust my honesty and integrity and little by little they start to make small purchases. It takes time, but I do hope that I will eventually reap the results.

  6. says

    I really like this article. I am involved in marketing to international markets. However, I do it from the other perspective. I live in Turkey and I help local businesses get customers from abroad by helping them to rank in English language search engines. For me , the biggest thing to understand is the actual trends that are happening in the country not so much the differences in culture. In my case, it means knowing what they want to export or market to foreigners. I love this market because, in terms of getting good rankings and SEO competition, foreign markets have a lot of potential. The problem is that there is a low level of awareness of techniques to be used such as content marketing (This may not be true everywhere but I find it to be true where I am). But this is where you as the expert steps in.

    Actually, I have just accepted a joint venture with a local businessman to market luxury business travel on a profit-share basis. I can let you guys know how it goes.

    My point is that the internet is global, so if you are not taking advantage of joining businesses with markets outside of their local area, you could be leaving a lot of money on the table.

    In fact, I would like to write an article about this sometime if copyblogger is interested.



  7. says

    I Never think about selling…For this one should have good status and contents should be targeted. Niche blog can generate do well job in this field.

  8. says

    One thing I’ve noticed recently is a lot of my customers from outside the US prefer using PayPal over traditional credit cards and debit cards. The reason why is many US-based credit card processors either don’t have the appropriate form fields for people in other countries, or if they do, they tend to reject the orders a lot more often. As a result, PayPal is essential if you have any intention of selling globally.

    • says

      That’s a nice tip Jon. I guess its not just about people of a particular profile or kind of business if you are doing business on the internet you better accept these insights….
      Another quick thought that comes is does it makes sense to then dub your info products to other language to leverage the max???

    • says

      hi Jon,
      thanks for your reply,

      Paypal has it’s share of problems too, like in India it is one way. You can receive money but can not pay using balance funds. Many countries like pakistan, bangladesh etc. does not have paypal coverage. Still most asians try to find an alternative to paypal, or get connected with a paypal guy from the US rather than use their credit cards. Here are a few reasons to that.

      1) Difficult to get – When I asked my bank for credit card, they told me that i must be 27+ years old, or be married, or have a huge life-insurence plan to get a credit card. With time, rules are changing and getting softer but even now, it is not that easy compared to the west. Private banks does provide credit cards without such requirements, but the question remains that can you trust them?

      2) Credit card fraud – The problem with solving a fraud case in India can be difficult. A lot of Other asian countries have this problem as well. It is even difficult to register a case.

      3) The Off line mindset – Most off line people from under-developed/developing nations have a different mindset about how the Internet works. They will think about frauds, taxes, fees, hassles, and much more when they think about using their credit cards. I have personally seen my friends having credit cards but not using them online, but when i told them about paypal, moneybookers, 2co, Google checkout and other alternatives, they thought it to be much more safe.

      4) Occasional buyers – For people who rarely buy online, they find it hard to keep the credit card in a working state. The upkeep of the credit card can be costly in more than one way. I have seen people cancel credit cards due to marketing calls from the bank. No one wants to get 20 calls from the bank every week asking for a loan offer.

      Paypal or other transaction processors are safe, and if it gets hacked, one can try to get it resolved online or perhaps just move on to another processor. One never bothers to register a case for it.

  9. says

    I think there are huge opportunities in the non-English speaking countries.

    If you can find an info product that’s already selling in English-speaking countries, and it would work equally well in non English-speaking countries, all you really have to do is translate it into other languages and you’ve got yourself instant products in tiny niches with proven track records (without plagiarizing, of course)

    I’m sure these products could be created very quickly and cheaply by using a couple of freelancers.

  10. says

    When we started selling abroad an easy way to start is to see which countries are visiting your site (use your stats to check). Then we started getting purchases from people who spoke English from those countries. This tells you two things – 1 if there is a market there for your stuff and 2 whether there are people who already speak English in that market.
    So if you want to start selling there, you *could* start with those products and using a mainly English language website and links to Google Translate.
    This give you the “paddling pool” option of not wading in too far.

    Following up Jon Morrow’s point, I also find it very important to publish a phone number and skype id. Then people who want to check you out can call up and ensure you are a real business. Many choose to give their credit card numbers over the phone in preference to using the web shop on our site. It builds confidence.

  11. says

    In December I went to the Asia Pacific Blog Awards as a finalist for the travel blog category. It was seriously like an Oscar style event. I was blown away! Red carpet, black tie formal event, media were present, celebrities hosted the event and entertained us.

    Bloggers in Asia are treated like celebrities and are paid a lot of money by brands and companies. One personal blogger has over half a million fans on his fan page!!!

    It really opened my eyes to start tapping into the Asian market which is absolutely huge and has so much potential. This article has opened my eyes more. Thanks Uttoren

    • says

      hi Caz, thanks for your comments,
      good to see you here,

      wow, half a million fans, that will be great to have, imagine the kind of Facebook reach he can leverage on his blog.

      The Asian market is good, it is like selling to a non-tech, low-net-savvy users. They use internet and are ready to buy, but can not differentiate between adsense ads and blog content… in other words, much easier to sell.

      Uttoran Sen,

  12. says

    Totally surprised to see those numbers, too!
    Running a multi-lingual online business, we face the challenge of meeting each country’s audience ideally on a daily basis and we are only in the early phases of identifying and applying local marketing strategies. I suppose this is only goes to show that good online copy doesn’ translate, but really needs to be localized. Or just not used at all.
    Thanks for making me think – and rethink.

    • says

      I agree with Inger. Good online copy doesn’t translate. Different languages have different ways of using language to sell and persuade. To respond to Alex Taylor, it’s not just as simple as translating so if you are thinking of doing this think again. I would not let a translator anywhere near my copy, as they simply are not writers and do a very average job at copywriting.

      If you cannot source someone like this, it is best to simply do it in English just not use so many idioms. I know the above statistic said that only 27% of the world speaks English but does this mean as a first language and not include the large number of the world’s population who speak and understand English competently as a second language? I know where I live, a hell of a lot of people use English in their daily business lives (to quite a high level) and I find that, despite the above statisitics, using English still works best for me.

      I am working on getting someone to write good copy for me in Turkish but until then, marketing to foreigners in English is still my best option.

  13. says

    I’m very surprised by those numbers as well ! I always assumed that a majority of visitors at least understand enough english to feel comfortable buying online. As a startup founder in a small, already stretched team, the question of whether we should translate our product sooner or later often comes up and is a true headache. On one hand, it’s that much more people you can reach out to – and this article makes a great case for going global. On the other, it’s a time consuming process, and it’s also a risk of spreading ourselves too thin instead of focussing on a core – broadly uniform – target.
    So any thoughts on the timing of going global ? When should one choose to start focusing on global vs local?

    • says

      hi Alexis Dufétel,
      thanks for your comments,

      The timing for “Going Global” depends on a lot of factors. Take Rebecca Caroe’s suggestion (a few comments above), check your stats. Make a list of countries that sends you the most traffic. Everything is in the stats, you can check your sales stats, find out the countries that are resulting in the sales. If your product is already bought from different parts of the world, you can be more confident about going global.

  14. says

    How can we provide content in all languages ? Except using a google translate tool that will try to translate the page. However, anyone who use chrome can do this on browser side. But the chrome users usually know basic english so they can shop online. I think the focus matters.

    • says

      I recommend using local language copywriters with a good sense of the country’s online marketing strategies, target audience as well as the appropriate area of business. Hard to find, but with the right training, worth every penny. I have a background in translation myself and I firmly believe that online copy doesn’t translate. Source copy may work as a basis for the target copy, but I find that localization is required – sometimes to the extent that the source copy isn’t traceable. Google Translate is great for getting an overview of what a foreign language page is about, but for you – not for your reader :)

  15. Archan Mehta says

    This is a great post. I think we need similar posts. We need to have an open mind and broaden our horizons.

    In India, a well-known American franchise made the mistake of selling burgers. The burgers were made of beef. A right wing group opposed it, because cow is sacred. They demonstrated outside and the police had to be asked to intervene and it turned into a media event. The beef was replaced by other patties and then the show was over.

    This is just one example of cultural differences; there are many more. What is needed is cultural immersion and cross-cultural sensitivity training. We need to develop an empathy for other cultures and civilizations and gain in understanding those who are different from us. We need to have a dialogue, so we can create a win-win situation.
    Otherwise, your marketing will fail when it is transplanted into another country or nation. Even the way English is understood and spoken varies from place to place. Other countries also put far more of an emphasis on the mother tongue. Americans live in a bubble and are not intellectually curious, but that also applies to people in other parts of the world. Rather than play the blame game, it is better to have exchange programs and international/foreign visitors.
    We can grow only if we are prepared to learn about and from each other; the rest is none of our business. Cheers.

  16. says

    Thanks for the incredible figures revealed in the article.
    Always thought how could BAIDU or Alibaba be so successful when I see internet marketeers looking only for clients from developed countries such as US, UK, Canada, Australia and few others so to say. Its now clear what with only 27% English speakers – a startling figure indeed.
    Maybe, companies should now put very hard effort to reach out to the rest of 70% !

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