Planning key to digital campaigns in export markets

Digital marketing – from pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns to email marketing – is a proven way for exporters to land leads and sales in a target market. However, many exporters make the mistake of launching campaigns in new overseas markets without fully understanding what is involved and then are disappointed when the campaigns fail to deliver a return on investment.

Usually, export marketing campaigns fail because of an absence of detailed planning and a lack of understanding about the importance of localisation. This guide covers planning, fulfilment and marketing. It should be read in conjunction with the guide to localising your website.

Your export plan

You may have built up great relationships with your current customers in Ireland, but have you considered how this will translate when you enter an overseas market where you have few contacts and no reputation? Is your existing marketing strategy strong enough to support entry to a new market?

Consider the practical aspects for your business of entering a new market where you may have no history or brand recognition. Think about how you will handle the following:

  • Relationships with agents and distributors
  • International sales and invoicing processes
  • Handling foreign language phone calls, emails and time zones
  • Training, recruitment and working with export staff
  • Press releases, promotional materials, catalogues and packaging
  • Technical documentation and manuals
  • Preparation for presentations and trade shows
  • Social media campaigns
  • Promotion of your website in overseas markets
  • Selling online

The Enterprise Ireland ‘Export Ready’ Guide will help you understand what you need to do to prepare your export plan and address these different areas.

Customer service and logistics

Having a localised website may win you sales in an overseas market, but only delivering what you promised will grow your reputation and sales. Processing international orders is not the same as processing domestic orders. There are different VAT rules, prohibited items, customs documents, shipping options and payment methods.

Dealing with returns can be difficult for seller and buyer alike, and perhaps more risky when this is done at a distance. Your new customers will expect the same level of customer service that they get from a local supplier. In fact, they may not even realise you are not local. Consider how you can compete with the quality of service offered by local competitors and still make a profit.

If returns are not handled correctly, it may turn a buyer off your business forever and result in negative social media and word of mouth. However, handling returns correctly can boost customer satisfaction and win you repeat business and recommendations.

Perhaps outsourcing fulfillment may be an option. It adds to the cost of each order but may save on storage space for stock and the labour-intensive activity of processing orders. Consider refunding the cost of low price returned items before they are returned.

Planning and budgets

How you spend your digital marketing budget will depend on the country you are targeting, the maturity of your web presence in that market and the type of customers you are targeting.

When launching a new website in a market, make sure that you focus on:

  • Refining your messaging and content
  • Building an understanding of your new customers and
  • Establishing an acceptable conversion rate for your website.

Remember, driving traffic with a PPC or an email campaign to a website that doesn’t have a proven, acceptable conversion rate is a waste of time and money. As with your domestic website, focus your Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) effort on a small number of important pages until you understand what works before you invest in optimising all the pages on the website.

For most markets, it may not be practical for smaller businesses to host their website in the target market. An alternative to local hosting is to use a country code top-level domain (ccTLD) or geotarget your website to a particular market using Google and Bing Webmaster Tools.

UK market

The UK is a key export market for Ireland. We share a common language and share a lot of cultural similarities. Entering the UK market with a small number of products is a relatively simple first exporting step for any smaller business.

Remember, some UK regions or cities are larger than the whole Irish market. Focusing slender resources on a UK region or city using a local PPC or other geo-targeted campaign may provide better results than targeting a country of 70 million people.

Online marketplaces such as Amazon, eBay and Etsy provide a ready-made reputation with consumers and web platform for promoting your product in overseas markets, including the UK.

Getting help

There are a number of supports available for first-time exporters or for existing exporters who want to expand into further markets.

The Enterprise Ireland Going Global Fund provides funding to examine the possibilities for growing businesses to access export markets. The fund helps businesses to identify opportunities, develop plans and marketing entry strategies, conduct overseas research and examine the possibility of web-enabling its service.

Local Enterprise Offices around the country have an Online Trading Voucher available for businesses. The aim of this is to get thousands more businesses trading online, and the application process is a competitive one, targeting businesses with fewer than ten employees and turnover of less than €2 million.

3 Action Points

  • Make sure you are ready to export. Having a localised website will get you exposure in local search engines, which may result in enquiries. Can you answer the phone in another language, deliver products overseas, and accept payments from overseas countries? Can you do all this at a profit?
  • Get a partner. Using an online marketplace or a local distributor is a powerful way of dealing with local enquiries, sales, marketing and deliveries. The responsibility of dealing with the local market is outsourced, and put in the hands of someone who already has an established reputation in the local market. But you may learn less about your customers, have less control over your products and earn a lower profit margin.
  • Retain an in-house market expert. Having someone in-house who can speak the language and knows the market can help with everything from local marketing to online content creation, and answer the telephone and emails. This may give you the responsiveness and local insights you need to move your business to the next level.
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