There’s an international flavour at the moment.  The holiday season is still a fresh memory,  global political tensions are simmering and the world economy is diverging into three streams – ever expanding emerging markets led by China, countries such as Germany just breaking out of recession and countries like the UK where growth remains subdued.

For a B2B business international expansion has always been attractive as it compensates for the limited number of buyers in any one country.  This is now the case more than ever.  The economy may remain depressed at home, but abroad it seems to be on the up.  Caution is key though; the rewards may be great but so are the risks.

At home you’re immersed in the culture, know the lay of the land and have a sense of what will work.  By osmosis you’re aware of what matters most to buyers, how value is defined and the tone needed in marcoms.  Many international expansion strategies fail to deliver as expected however because there is an assumption that the same received wisdom holds true abroad (in his book ‘Brand Failures’ Matt Haig provides some excellent examples of this).

Before entering a new market then thorough research is essential.

The real nature of the opportunity first needs to be explored.  The good news is that only a relatively small budget, an internet connection and some curiosity is needed.  Economic, trade and population statistics can be found free of charge from sources such as the CIA World Factbook, the WTO and the European Commission.  Analysis of specific opportunities in a particular industry sector or product category can often be bought off-the-shelf (see marketresearch.com for a comprehensive listing).

If expansion still seems attractive then possibly the second most important research investment is to get on the ground and explore how, if at all, the product or service needs to be tailored.  Does it fully meet the needs peculiar to businesses in this market?  How does it stack up against local competition and substitutes?  Could it potentially serve a customer group different to that targetted in your home market?

Perhaps most importantly marcoms need to be tailored and tested thoroughly.  The positioning, messages and language may resonate in your home market but abroad could easily miss the mark.

Set sail then…but take a map.

Read more about our approach to business-to-business (B2B) marcoms research.

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About Andrew

Andrew has specialised in B2B research for over a decade and co-founded Circle Research in 2006. He is a columnist for B2B Marketing Magazine, a regular contributor to Research Live and frequent speaker at leading events such as the B2B Leaders Forum, Customer Experience Live and the Social Media World Forum. Andrew is a Chartered Member of the MRS, teaches the MRS B2B research course and holds an MA in Psychology from Aberdeen University alongside an MSc in Marketing from Strathclyde University.

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