Every company now has the potential to be an international one. It remains important, however, for businesses to not only access international markets but understand them, in order to truly break down global barriers.
As trade is found farther afield than ever before, businesses increasingly need knowledge of the local markets in which they operate or are seeking to enter. However, those who pay lip service to understanding international markets will soon trip themselves up, says Kate McNamee, director of global marketing and communications at Alliance Manchester Business School. “It is essential to build a rapport with target customers and to do that you need to know what makes them tick.” Local understanding is critical, says McNamee: “On a practical level, this could be as simple as cultural nuance about what language resonates with a particular audience – think of how diverse English-speaking nations are just for starters. For us, what attracts an Australian applicant is not the same thing that will attract students from Canada or the US.”
According to research from US tech firm PGI, there are some technical differences cross-culturally. For example, in Japan, the concept of web conferencing is still quite new and audio conferencing is not yet widely adopted, so conducting an in-person meeting is still the preferred way of doing business in Japan. The company also found that only 16% of global workers present business cards when meeting new contacts, yet in Japan, presenting a business card at the start of a meeting is an important part of proceedings.
Keep your eyes wide open, McNamee adds, “become an expert on the country’s regulators and business governance – what new legislation is on the horizon? And ask yourself whether your competitors have tried to enter this market before – what has worked and what hasn’t?” Moreover, she says, “Longevity helps build trust, signals to business leaders and potential customers in the new market that you know them and you’ve taken the time to adapt your approach.”
“An understanding of the subtleties of your target market can mean the difference between success and failure”, says Matthew Easter, managing director at school uniform and sportswear brand Trutex, which has 10 factories in China manufacturing more than 1.5 million garments (35% of its global output). “Whether it’s the custom of presenting a gift at the end of a business meeting in Japan, or scheduling meetings for the morning in Saudi Arabia, it is vital you have someone in place that can navigate these very individual markets and put you in the best possible position to secure or maintain your business relationships.”