The Right Digital Marketing Strategy For International Expansion

Guido Ampollini, Head of Performance & Founder at GA Agency, takes a look at what the right digital marketing strategy is for international expansion. 

The world has become more connected as digitisation efforts ramp up and technology evolves rapidly. Compounded by COVID lockdowns, many businesses are now eying up fortunes outside of their country’s borders, as trade and commerce within stalls due to lower footfall and increased local competition. However, even with all the right structures in place – a good website, reliable supply chain and delivery partners etc. – many business leaders often overlook the importance of digital marketing. Here is some food for thought. In the past 18 months, 

  • Global B2B e-commerce market size expanded at a rate of 18.7%
  • 70% of online buyers purchase from foreign sites
  • Online retail sales’ share of total retail sales increases from 16% to 19% due to COVID-19
  • Digital ad spend accelerated 49%

We know more than 75% of consumers took a new interest in online activities in 2020. And of those, 21% purchased a product online for the first time (Qualtrics, 2022). With local lockdowns and travel restrictions globally in 2021, these figures are expected to have risen even further. As we go into 2022 uncertain about where the pandemic will take us next, one thing we know for sure is that more consumers began shopping online and became selective with their purchases. They also wanted to build connections with the companies they bought from. So, what does all this mean for your expansion plans?

Expanding outside of the country where a company is started is one of the most complicated steps a business can take. In 15 years working in the digital marketing industry, I have seen many companies do well in their own country but then fail when they venture abroad. 

Having consulted more than 100 clients about international expansion I have witnessed the many pitfalls companies have fallen into and devised a best practice guide of what to do to have a real chance at success.

What do you need to consider when expanding internationally? 

 1) Budget – The first point to define is the budget to invest yearly, as it will enable you to define a marketing strategy. In general, a business that is already profitable should re-invest around 10% to 15% in digital marketing to keep growing. When we are talking about a new business or startup, the budget should be based on the money raised – ideally, 30% should be invested. 

2) GEO – Now you have a budget, it is time to choose which countries to target. It is prudent to set realistic targets and numbers as it can go wrong if you spread the budget across too many countries. Concentrate on a few and do them well. The risk with having too many countries for the available budget is not collecting enough data to optimise the investment and understand the correct targeting, creativity, or copy required.  Usually, an international digital agency has the tools and expertise to advise on this. If you want to have success abroad it is essential to have a dedicated strategy and local expertise for each country you want to be active in. 

3) Tracking & Content – The third element to look at is analytics tools for proper tracking and website usability. For international expansion, it is essential to have a Google Analytics and Google Search Console view for each country you want to get into; this will help analyse local data. The second important part is the content on the site; this must be localised in the country’s language. For example, a website in English on the French market will be strongly penalised for conversions, quality scores etc. Still related to the content, it’s essential to review your SEO with SEO specialist native speakers; translations alone won’t hit the spot. A locally optimised website will also positively impact your SEM, conversion rate, brand perception and many other important aspects of eCommerce. Finally, people use Google search in different ways depending on the country and without an ad hoc keyword strategy specific to the country, you can miss many opportunities. 

4) Target – You need to have a clear buyer persona in mind. It could be more than one, as it differs depending on your business function. These are important to define the last step to effective digital marketing – channel selection and targeting. Buyer personas can change from country to country although most of the time there are many similarities.

 5) Marketing channels – Once we have these elements in place, we can define which marketing channels to activate. You need to determine the most appropriate marketing mix according to the different elements in place and to suit a local approach. 

When it comes to SEO/Digital ads it is crucial to work with local native speaker specialists (in house or agency side); tasks like keyword research have to be performed by native speakers, as does writing content, metadata, ads copy and so on. Using translations for these tasks will almost certainly negatively impact performance. 

Social commerce is the same. Copy and creative development natively is a must for a successful investment in this channel and having local specialists enables a business to master suitable ad copy. 

Now Is The Time To Choose

Identifying the right platform to advertise on, for example, for affiliate marketing, will differ from country to country. For example, Rakuten is big in the UK market but small in Italy. While Snapchat is massive in the US, strong in France and the UK, but still really small in Italy and Spain.

Successful international expansion requires businesses to either build an internal international team with local expertise or find a partner (agency) with this local expertise in-house. Whichever way you approach it, it is crucial to adequately invest in your digital marketing strategy because your competition will be. 

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