What is international marketing?

Night city sky with superimposed transparent globe and skyscrapers

Going global can be one of the best ways to futureproof your business and springboard your growth. Selling overseas can also help safeguard your business in times of difficult local economic climates. For example, sales could be down in your home country due to a cost-of-living crisis, but thriving overseas in a more buoyant economy where consumer spending isn’t declining as people tighten their belts.

In 2023, 81% of UK businesses who sell overseas reported that exporting has made their business stronger, according to the Institute of Export.

However, expansion can be challenging if not managed in the right way, and many businesses fail due to lack of planning and preparation. Choosing the wrong market, insufficient research, and a lack of robust post-launch marketing can often lead to failure when businesses begin their international expansion journey. Furthermore, businesses that fail to meet their goals usually didn’t have a carefully planned out international marketing strategy. Perhaps those businesses assumed incorrectly that the standard marketing approach they apply to their home country would suffice. The need to adapt their approach for the local market and audience is often overlooked.

How can you avoid these pitfalls when going global? Our guide will walk you through the foundations of international marketing to help you plan a robust international marketing strategy to maximise your growth potential in new markets. You’ll learn about the advantages of international marketing and gain essential insight on cultural differences in international marketing and how International SEO plays an important role in your overall plan.

Here's what we'll cover to help you fully understand the intricacies of international marketing with tips to help you build a robust international marketing strategy: 

What is International marketing?

The 4 Ps of the traditional marketing mix

Why is international marketing important?

12 benefits of international marketing

International vs global marketing

11 core differences between international and global marketing

8 key aspects of international marketing

What is international marketing?

International marketing refers to the process of planning and implementing marketing strategies – involving the pricing, promotion, and distribution of goods and services across the world. It involves aspects of finance, production, communications, and sales.

The key objective of international marketing is to create a global brand presence while tailoring marketing strategies to each market’s culture, demographics, and consumer behaviour. It considers the diverse needs, preferences, and regulations of each market.

Domestic marketing, however, focuses on one single market, tailoring marketing strategies to fit the needs of consumers within a company’s home country. It’s much less complex in terms of cultural adaptation, legal compliance and logistics compared to international marketing.

When considering international marketing, you need to adapt your domestic strategy to reach customers or users in other countries.

online marketing illustration on screen showing world map

The 4 Ps of the traditional marketing mix

Product: Does the product design, features, quality, packaging, and aftersales meet the needs of the new audience? How does it differ from national competitors’ products? You may need to adapt your product to meet local tastes, preferences, cultural norms and regulatory requirements.

Price: You will need to be mindful of currency exchange rates and economic conditions, which can affect pricing in different markets. You should also analyse local competition to determine an appropriate pricing strategy for that market – your domestic pricing may need to increase or decrease to be competitive. You will also need to factor in taxes, duties, and shipping costs to your final price.

Place: This refers to the distribution channel for each market, ranging from eCommerce platforms to local distribution channels or retail partnerships. You may need to adapt your logistics and supply chain strategies to deal with local infrastructure, transportation, and regulatory requirements. You may also need to consider your market entry strategy options – direct or indirect exporting, licensing, franchising, joint ventures or subsidiaries - depending on the market characteristics.

Promotion: It’s crucial to consider cultural differences in international marketing, especially cultural sensitivity when developing promotional materials and campaigns. What works in one country could be ineffective or even offensive in another. Always translate and localise your marketing communications to suit the local language and communication style.

NEVER solely rely on machine translation – always have any translations proofed by a native speaker to avoid faux pas and ensure your messaging resonates with the local market naturally. Use locally popular social media and platforms to reach your target audience effectively. Ensure your promotional activities comply with local advertising laws and regulations.

In addition to these adaptations, it's important to conduct continuous market research and gather feedback to fine-tune the 4 Ps to suit evolving market dynamics and consumer preferences. The success of international marketing lies in striking the right balance between maintaining a consistent global brand image and localising your approach to fit each market.

4 Ps of the marketing mix hand drawn diagram on blackboard

Why is international marketing important?

In today’s connected world, thanks to technology and infrastructure, global Commerce has never been easier. International growth is much more accessible for businesses irrespective of size or sector. Businesses can gain many significant advantages from global expansion, which we will explain in this section.

It’s no coincidence that Herd’s platform of choice for international eCommerce is Shopify. Shopify are continuously developing features and functionality to help merchants break down barriers to selling internationally, enter and test out new markets with ease and with minimal financial risk to the business. Their ‘Shopify Markets’ release in 2021 is testament to their commitment to helping merchants to boost sales globally, as are their equally powerful 'expansion stores'. Dive deeper into Shopify’s solutions for going global in our Shopify Markets article.

International marketing is important for several reasons, reflecting the advantages and opportunities it brings to businesses in terms of brand awareness and sales and revenue. That’s alongside broader economic and cultural benefits. Let's explore these benefits a little deeper. 

12 benefits of international marketing

1. Market expansion and growth

International marketing allows businesses to expand beyond their domestic markets, offering new opportunities for growth and increased sales. By entering international markets, companies can tap into larger customer bases, increase their overall market share, and strengthen their stability and resilience.

2. Diversification

Selling only in your home market can be risky, especially during difficult economic periods. Operating in multiple countries helps businesses diversify markets, spreading the risk by reducing dependence on any single market. This diversification can safeguard against economic downturns or market saturation in the home country – if one market is struggling, you can still reap the rewards from your marketing efforts in other global markets.

3. Economies of scale

By expanding internationally, companies can achieve economies of scale in production and marketing. This happens as they spread fixed costs over a larger number of units, leading to reduced costs per unit and potentially higher profit margins.

4. Competitive advantage

Being active in international markets can give companies a competitive edge. You can gain exposure to new ideas, marketing techniques, and consumer needs, which can foster innovation and improve offerings in all markets. It can also help you to compete and overtake with your non-exporting competitors to stay a step ahead and win more sales.

Shopping trolley with lines of country flags representing UK, USA, Germany and France

5. Longevity and sustainability

Markets can reach a saturation point domestically. International marketing opens new areas for continued growth, ensuring the longevity and sustainability of a business in the long term. Although we live in a global economy, not all markets mature at the same rate. A hotly contested market in the UK may be still developing in another part of the world. By diversifying resources and energy into less competitive international markets instead of an oversaturated domestic one, businesses can find more growth opportunities.

6. Enhanced brand recognition

International marketing (if done well) increases a brand's visibility and recognition across the globe - which can also lead to an increase in market share, even in highly competitive markets. This can also enhance the brand's reputation and prestige, even in its home market. The perception of being an international brand often attracts a wider audience. A brand with a strong domestic image already can, with the right strategy, extend this on an international scale, fostering trust and reliability in new markets.

7. Global networking and relationships

Operating in multiple countries allows companies to build global networks, forge new partnerships, and learn from international counterparts, all of which can enhance their business practices and strategies.

8. Cultural exchange and understanding

Culture refers to the collective mindset and behaviours that distinguish one group of people to another. International marketing fosters cultural exchange. Companies that understand the values and cultures of the markets they operate in can really help them to target and communicate better with international audiences - ultimately driving more sales.

9. Speak your customer's language

The EU alone has 24 official languages and according to Google, there are over 7000 spoken worldwide. It may come as no surprise that an independent survey conducted by CSA Research found that 76% of consumers in 29 countries prefer to buy from a store when information is provided in their native language. Even more stark is that 40% of consumers will not buy from websites in other languages.

By establishing the right international domain structure and localising your store into the most important language/s spoken by your international markets, you have much better chance of a sales conversion. It will also improve your search engine organic visibility in those markets.

keyboard with French flag in speech bubble

10. Adaptability and learning

Navigating different markets with varying consumer behaviours, laws, and languages can make a company more adaptable and responsive to change. This first-hand experience also offers valuable insights into consumer behaviour and market trends in the rapidly evolving global market, better equipping your business for further global expansion.

11. Seasonal market variations

International marketing offers a strategic solution to the challenges of seasonal market variations. Businesses that experience fluctuating sales due to season-specific demand can leverage global markets to stabilise their revenue stream. This approach capitalises on the differing seasonal cycles in various parts of the world.

Consider a brand specialising in summer fashion. With international marketing, this store can target the Northern Hemisphere during its summer months and then pivot to the Southern Hemisphere when summer arrives there. This strategy effectively extends the selling period for summer clothing, transforming a traditionally seasonal product into a year-round revenue generator.

This method of using international markets to counteract seasonal sales dips not only boosts business resilience but also leads to more predictable and steady income throughout the year. It represents a proactive approach to addressing the challenges of season-dependent demand.

12. Economic benefits

At a macroeconomic level, international marketing can lead to increased trade between nations, contributing to global economic growth and development.

In summary, international marketing is crucial for businesses seeking growth, diversification, and competitive advantage in the global marketplace. It not only benefits the companies involved but also contributes to economic and cultural exchanges between nations. Your international marketing strategy shouldn’t be an afterthought, but rather the driver of your international expansion efforts.

baskets on a seesaw and flags representing trade between EU and USA

International vs global marketing

It's often misunderstood that international marketing and global marketing are the same concepts. Both strategies involve marketing across national borders, but they fundamentally differ in how they adapt to various markets.

International Marketing focuses on tailoring the marketing mix to each specific local market. This involves altering product features, customising advertising in terms of language and visuals, and revising pricing strategies to align with local economic conditions. The objective is to connect with the local consumer base, while still preserving the core identity of the brand.

Global Marketing follows a standardised approach, applying the same product offerings and marketing strategies uniformly across different markets with little alteration. This strategy aims to establish a uniform brand image globally, leveraging economies of scale and scope. While this might be effective for products with a universal appeal, it often overlooks local cultural nuances, consumer behaviour, and market-specific conditions.

11 core differences between international and global marketing

  1. Approach: International marketing is adaptive and localised, whereas global marketing is standardised and uniform
  1. Target Market: International marketing requires specific adaptations for multiple markets, while global marketing uses a one-size-fits-all strategy
  1. Product: In international marketing, products are adapted to local preferences and needs, while in global marketing, the same product is offered in all markets
  1. Price: Pricing in international marketing varies based on local economies, but it is generally consistent across markets in global marketing
  1. Place: Distribution channels in international marketing are tailored, whereas global marketing uses a uniform distribution strategy
  1. Promotion: Marketing campaigns in international marketing are adapted to local cultures, compared to a single marketing campaign for all markets in global marketing
  1. Cultural Sensitivity: There's a high focus on local customs and behaviors in international marketing, whereas global marketing focuses on maintaining a uniform brand image
  1. Legal Compliance: International marketing must comply with local laws and regulations, while global marketing focuses on international laws and standards
  1. Risk: International marketing has lower risk due to market diversification, but global marketing has higher risk due to its uniform approach
  1. Cost: Localisation efforts in international marketing typically incur higher costs, whereas global marketing benefits from lower costs due to economies of scale
  1. Consumer Engagement: International marketing often sees higher consumer engagement due to its localised approach, but this may vary in global marketing as the strategy might not resonate locally

For instance, under a global marketing strategy, a technology firm might roll out the same smartphone model worldwide, relying on its broad appeal and technological functionality. However, this strategy might not be effective for a fashion retailer whose clothing lines need to cater to diverse regional style preferences, climates, and cultural dress codes, highlighting the need for and importance of tailored approaches offered by an international marketing strategy.

Globe with floating currency symbols in the palm of a hand

8 key aspects of international marketing

As we’ve explained, it’s essential to adapt the standard 4 Ps of the traditional marketing mix to work with local market dynamics. Let’s dive a little deeper into these to maximise your potential when creating your international marketing strategy. If you ensure you carefully consider and incorporate these 8 key aspects into your plan, you will soon be on the road to a robust international marketing strategy:

1. Global market research

Global market research refers to the process of gathering, analysing, and interpreting information about a market on an international scale. It involves understanding and evaluating the dynamics of global markets, including consumer preferences, buying behaviours, cultural nuances, economic conditions, and competitive landscapes across different countries and regions.

2. Cultural sensitivity

Recognising and respecting cultural differences in values, customs, and communication styles is essential when crafting campaigns that connect with local audiences. This includes a deep understanding and consideration for language, traditions, religion and societal norms. You may need to adapt colour schemes, cultural symbolism, adapt brand names, and transcreate slogans to prevent unintended meanings or connotations.

3. Product adaptation

Products may need to be modified to fit local tastes, legal requirements, or environmental conditions. This can range from simple packaging changes to complete redesigns including changes in design, size, or even functionality. You may also need to consider the extent to which your product will be standardised globally versus customised for each market. It’s essential to look at local trends and needs when developing products for international markets.

4. Pricing strategies

Prices might be adjusted based on local market conditions, competition, production costs, and currency values. Be mindful of currency fluctuations and economic conditions that can affect pricing in different markets. Purchasing power should also be considered – this means adjusting prices to reflect local market purchasing power and typical spending habits. Cost considerations are key here – consider additional costs such as tariffs, shipping, taxes, and other logistical expenses. Competitive pricing is also key – analyse local competition to determine an appropriate pricing strategy, whether that means penetration pricing, premium pricing, or something different.  

laptop screen with credit cards and mini shopping trolley with parcels

5. Distribution Channels

The way products are distributed can vary greatly, depending on infrastructure, retail landscapes, and consumer preferences in different countries. Consider the most effective route to market, which could include a combination of both eCommerce and local distribution channels, or retail partnerships.

6. Promotional mix adaptation

Marketing communications must be tailored to each market. This involves adapting advertising campaigns, public relations, sales promotions, and digital marketing strategies. Businesses should consider:

  • Which media channels are most popular in the local market
  • Local laws and regulations
  • Consumer behaviour
  • Economic factors which can determine the best promotional strategy (e.g. discount vouchers could be more effective in price-sensitive markets)
  • Level of technology adoption
  • Local competition

7. Legal and ethical considerations

Companies must comply with the laws and regulations of each country they operate in and can govern product standards, advertising ethics, and consumer rights. Ethical considerations also play a key role in maintaining a positive global image. Businesses must fully understand the laws of each market they enter, which can mean collaboration with local experts to avoid fines or legal action.

8. Market entry & exit strategies

Deciding how to enter a market (e.g. exporting, licensing, joint ventures, direct investment) is a critical strategic decision. It’s also wise to consider having a contingency plan or exit strategy in place in case the market doesn’t go as planned.

desktop with person typing on laptop demonstrating strategy planning

In summary, international marketing requires a balance between global consistency in brand image and local adaptation to meet the specific needs of each market. It's a complex field that demands a deep understanding of global dynamics and the ability to adapt to a rapidly changing global environment.

Implementing these tips can help you create a robust international e-commerce marketing strategy that resonates with diverse audiences and drives global sales.

Learn more about some of our favourite successful global marketing campaigns and how to create the perfect international marketing strategy.

Are you looking to begin a fresh international expansion journey or enhance your existing international marketing strategy?  

Kickstart your progress towards global growth today - get in touch with our international marketing team.

About the author

Jo Silverwood

Jo Silverwood, Head of International

Our Head of International is a Hull University graduate with a BA in Hispanic Studies and lived in Spain for a year. Jo speaks Spanish, Italian, French and is currently learning German.
She has 20+ years combined experience in Communications, Marketing and export sales, combined with a passion for languages, exploring other cultures and worldwide travel.

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