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?
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
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.