March 1, 2016

Small Business Advice: International Marketing

Four Considerations
When Marketing Your
Business Internationally

By Sean Claes
You’ve got a great company and product. You’re ready to grow larger than your shadow. You’ve been marketing locally or stateside but you have an untapped client base in the International market. All you need to do is translate your current marketing materials into the language of your new audience, ship them off, fly over there and nab some new clients, right?

Not so fast. There are a few things to learn when entering into a campaign to an International audience. Below we will discuss four things you definitely want to consider before making the leap across the pond. It could mean the difference between getting a new client and offending a nation.

Learn the Culture
You should already be aware of this on a small scale as America is a melting pot of cultural diversity. But, when you are entering into someone else’s culture you should be deeply aware of customs and business practices. You can easily lose a potential customer by not adhering to the differences in the cultures.

Did you know that in Japan, dressing in a dark colored suit and bowing (not hands) will make the best impression? How about the fact that in China, a gift is usually refused three times before being accepted?

Learning about someone’s culture is a great way to get to that next level and potentially gain their business.

Same word – Different Meaning
How you speak in your marketing materials can change depending on the audience you are attempting to reach. Different cultures, many times, will require different language. Sometimes the same word had different meanings.

Examples? The term “gift” when translated into German means “poison.” Using the word “enjoy” is fantastic, unless you’re translating it to Portuguese, where it is similar to the word “enjoar” which means to make sick.

So, before you ask someone to “enjoy this free gift with your offer” you should think again.

Oh, and if you do bring a gift to a potential client in China, don’t bring a clock… it is representative of death.

Meeting Etiquette
So, you landed a face to face meeting with an international client. Now more than ever you should assure that you know how to carry yourself in this social situation. You should walk in understanding their customs.

Canadians are very time conscious, so make sure you’re not late. In Japan, the most senior member in the room (for both sides) has the floor and others seldom (if at all) speak. If you are having a business dinner in China, be aware that there are many “toasts” so monitor your alcoholic intake closely.

Each culture has their own etiquette so do some brushing up before you make a blunder.

Non-Verbal Communication:
Did you know, if you flash the “peace sign” to someone with the back of your hand facing them in many countries you just flipped them the bird?

How great of a relationship ender would THAT be for an International client?

The “OK” hand gesture in the US usually means… well… OK. In France it means “zero.” In Japan a request for payment. In Turkey it is a sign of homosexuality.

But there’s more.
In Russia it’s deemed odd and impolite to smile at strangers. In Bulgeria the American head shake for “no” is their gesture for “yes.” In Asian countries, prolonged eye contact is considered offensive.

The gist is, make sure you learn what non-verbals mean in that culture.


There are many other things to consider when delving into the International space with your marketing. These are just a few examples to help you along your way on the journey. 

 About The Author:
Sean Claes has worked with Mom and Pop shops, International Corporations and the Music Industry on their branding, marketing, events and communications for more than 15 years. This article is just a sample of the observations he's made over the course of that time. For more information or to see how he might be able to help grow your business, contact him at seanclaesATseanclaesDOTcom.

Read more Small Business Advice via his Small Business Marketing page - link.

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