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International marketing: Why it makes sense to focus on the 7 Ps

5-minute read

International marketing is crucial to successfully exporting your products or services. This means taking time to prepare a marketing plan before you launch.

A good marketing plan should be an integral part of your market entry strategy and broader strategy for the entire business.

“Canada is a small market, compared to one billion people in the rest of the Americas alone,” says Patrick Grenier, a Senior Business Advisor with BDC Advisory Services who advises entrepreneurs on market expansion.

“But to sell your products or services outside Canada, you need to create a solid marketing plan. Many businesses do it the cowboy way and try to cut corners, then fail to see a payback for their efforts. You are more likely to meet your objectives if you do your homework.”

Grenier advises entrepreneurs to focus on the seven Ps of marketing to promote your exports abroad.

1. Product

You may have an excellent product that sells well in Canada, but that doesn’t guarantee success in other markets. Many exporting plans stumble because a company failed to properly adapt its products to the target market.

Product adaptations may be needed for various reasons, such as labelling and safety regulations, electrical system differences, cultural and quality preferences, measurement-unit differences and customer tastes. You may also have to rename and resize your product to fit local consumer expectations. Carefully research the target market and competing products to identify how to adapt.

Many businesses do it the cowboy way and try to cut corners, then fail to see a payback for their efforts. You are more likely to meet your objectives if you do your homework.

2. Price

Setting the right price for your products abroad is usually more than a matter of simply converting your Canadian price into the target market’s currency. You should generally set a price that is competitive with comparable products already in your target market. Keep in mind that the competitive landscape could be very different from what you face in your home market.

Your price may also need to account for other costs of exporting. These may include:

  • increased production and overhead
  • product, labelling, packaging and branding adaptations
  • market research
  • freight forwarding, customs duties, brokerage and warehousing
  • distribution
  • customer service and returns
  • insurance
  • sales commissions
  • marketing and promotion
  • trade shows and business travel
  • currency volatility
  • financing

Many businesses run into trouble when they set a price while underestimating or failing to consider all the costs of exporting. That said, some businesses deliberately opt to set a lower price in order to win market share. And exporters may also adopt a strategy of simply charging the same price to all customers in every market.

3. Promotion

Think about how you will promote your exports in the target country. Ads, media kits, brochures, business cards, testimonials and your overall promotion strategy should reflect local consumer tastes and language.

This includes your website and social media presence, which are crucial for promotional efforts.

“People’s first instinct is to check your website,” Grenier says. “My message to all Canadian companies is your website needs to be bilingual and even trilingual. If you want to sell to the U.S. and your customers are in Texas or California, there’s a good chance they are Spanish-speaking.”

4. Place

Exporting success depends heavily on getting to know the place you are targeting. Failing to do so is a common reason many international expansion efforts go awry. “You need to adapt depending on the place,” Grenier says. “This is very, very important.”

For example, two Spanish-speaking countries may have different dialects, expressions and tastes. Many countries also have important regional differences that you will have to consider. “You may not be able to sell your product the same way in California as in Florida, or in Mexico versus the rest of Latin America,” Grenier says.

5. Packaging

It’s important to think about how your packaging may need to change for the target market. This includes not only translation by a native speaker, but also adapting packaging to local tastes, labelling requirements and other rules.

As well, you may need to change packaging to suit local retailers and consider how to pack items to maintain good conditions during international shipping (known as export or transport packaging).

6. Positioning

Consider how to best position yourself in the target market. Will you emphasize high quality, low price, great service, or some combination of the three? You should consistently reflect your approach in your product choice, pricing, promotion and other export efforts.

The positioning that works best in Canada may not be the right one abroad. “If your approach at home focuses on the lowest price, this may not be the most important thing for consumers in another market. It may just be a nice-to-have somewhere else,” Grenier says.

Also benchmark yourself against the local competition, and continuously watch your metrics after market entry. “Monitor whether you’re gaining or losing customers and what you can improve,” Grenier says. “Go back and validate. You may need to adjust your efforts.”

7. People

“People are probably your most important P,” Grenier says. “Having talented people who know the local market is crucial for exporting. People want to trust the company they’re buying from. If you have a local person who knows them and the language, they are going to be more comfortable buying from you.”

This could include having a person on staff who is originally from the target market, engaging an in-country advisor or salesperson, or opening a local office. “These people will know the local language and culture and help you adapt your product, packaging and other details properly to the local market,” Grenier says.