“Many SMEs think if they are successful domestically, they will be successful internationally, but they need to work on the target market, that is, culture, language, branding, pricing, competitive positioning, product life cycle, climate conditions and local marketing regulations,” says Mohammad Khan, Australia Post’s international business development manager (NSW/ACT). “One key factor for succeeding in a new market is understanding the local requirements and marketing it to the right audience.”
The fundamental difference between SMEs and multinationals is that SMEs generally seek a market that already exists because it is expensive to create and educate a market from scratch. Therefore, the existence of competitors is actually a good sign, because it means there is a market for your product; you just have to be wary of where your business might position itself in that competitive environment.
“Essentially SMEs are market takers rather than market makers,” says Nick Scott, lecturer in international business at the University of Western Sydney. “Foreign consumers are very different from Australian consumers in where they see value, so you have to look at your product and what triggers their purchasing behaviour.”
Language and culture
Exporters should tailor their marketing campaign to accommodate language and cultural differences that may affect the acceptability of marketing material. The first thing you should check is whether your brand or business name has any unexpected connotations, which may occur even in English-speaking countries due to local slang.
Also be aware that in non-English-speaking countries, or in countries where there is more than one official language, the law may require that any information about your product or service, including your brand name, be in the local language/s, even if English is widely spoken and understood.
“If your market is in a foreign language, there’s no alternative but to find some partner or agency that can localise the message,” Scott advises. “Language is not just literal translation, it’s the tone and the references.”
He recommends exporters keep advertising visual to prevent lost nuance and mistranslation in spoken and written languages, and avoid trying to translate humour. “Humour is something that seldom crosses borders.
Americans are irony-deficient; they don’t get the self-deprecating humour of Australians. What the Swedes find side-splitting, we don’t get and so forth,” he says. “Humour just doesn’t translate.”
In countries where religion dominates culture, you need to consider the style of advertising you might employ; for example, Boost Juice found they had to replace the midriff of the ‘Boost girl’ on their store design in some countries. Countries with a sophisticated media environment will often have an advertising code of conduct you can follow to avoid controversy.
For countries where marketing isn’t as well developed, Scott says exporters may have to rethink their campaign. “Promotion usually has to be expressed in simpler terms and sometimes the media you’d expect in Australia aren’t there, for example, print advertising would be largely distributed in urban areas and may be affected by illiteracy,” he notes. “On the other hand, studies have shown that in developing countries, consumers haven’t yet been bombarded by advertising and tend to be a lot more believing of it.”
Market preferences may also play a role in your presentation. Elements such as colour scheme, and the kinds of models you choose to represent your product or service may affect the way potential customers perceive your offering. However, this is more applicable to marketing consumer products rather than promoting business-to-business, says Scott: “There’s a big distinction between consumer products and industrial products where you don’t have to worry about the cultural acceptability of the product and its promotion.”
One thing both B2C and B2B exporters can do is use Australian-ness as a branding tool. “The country of origin effect is a powerful form of cross-cultural advertising that SMEs can use very effectively,” says Scott.
“Incorporating Australian symbols and references is a way to gain the country of origin benefits because we’re seen as clean and green and so forth.”
Food products benefit from the perception of Australia as clean, eco-friendly and safe, and manufactured goods carry the inference of quality and innovation, which is something the Australian Made, Australian Grown campaign has worked hard to promote in various markets around the world.
The ‘Australia’ brand is very powerful and has positive connotations, says Ian Harrison, CEO of Australian Made, Australian Grown. “We did an international survey a few years ago and it showed that people leant towards their own products and produce, but Australia ranks really well behind the lead country, and that’s what we were keen to see.”
The Australian Made, Australian Grown symbol is one way that SMEs can leverage brand Australia. “As an SME it’s almost impossible to get your brand name recognised overseas, so the one thing to attract that first point of interest is the fact that it’s Australian,” says Harrison. “Ultimately the role of the logo is to assist companies in establishing the fact that their product or produce is Australian and that then forms part of the marketing strategy for that company. Don’t underplay that position, be aggressive about that fact. It does an important part of the job and it’s recognised.”
Even without the symbol, exporters can use positive associations with Australia as a selling point, or even a point of difference. Service exporters could focus on Australian qualities such as being easygoing, flexible and hard working in their marketing. Exporters could also take advantage of existing stereotypes in the marketplace by using certain ambassadors, for example using cricketer Brett Lee to market an energy drink in India because of his renowned athleticism and connection with that country.