inventory of marketing questions abroad

When marketing a product or service internationally, a host of marketing issues come to mind. These issues are separate from staff, legal, technology, and product issues
Let’s look at the categories of marketing issues a firm may encounter when marketing and selling abroad.

Market Research: Understanding Buyers/Competitors/Market Forces

Is the market organized, can you find information? Where are the written sources located and how can they be obtained?

What is the size of the potential market, and is there an expressed market need?

What languages does the market speak?

What are some of the available sources of information on potential buyers, written and personal, public and private? Is this information reliable?

How might an organization which is a potential buyer be structured?

Where in the organization will the decision be made to buy?

What is the best mode of entry into this market, and are you comfortable with it? (e.g. licensing, co-production, co-branding, direct export).


Is advertising generally an acceptable means of company and brand promotion? Is there an image of your business or industry that is expected?

What characterizes a tarnished business image–one that would not make it through the front door? For example: KFC sounded too military when they opened up in Germany.

Is there a point at which the amount of advertising becomes offensive, or so ostentatious that it is self-defeating?

Are there any cultural taboos regarding message content, including choice of words, colors, and graphics? For example, yellow is the color of pornography in China.

Are there advertising/promotional media that are considered essential for the participant’s particular industry? (For example, if European publishers are not represented at the Frankfurt Book Fair they lose prestige, reputation and orders).

Can you re-purpose any existing advertising?

Do you need local advertising, websites, business cards, or addresses?

Networking and Contacts

Are introductions essential?

What are expected networking methods?

What is the attitude toward mixing business with pleasure? For example, in Asia, business IS pleasure.

Is club membership important in meeting key business people?

How involved does your family need to be? For example, Thais often work family to family.


Are connections necessary in this market, and if so, is your firm connected? Can you purchase these connections?

Does this market require local sales talent?

Is the sales person held to a different ethical standard than is the population in general?

What traits or qualities are considered admirable for a sales person to display?

What behavior is considered to be offensive?

Sales people in any culture must be assertive to a degree. At what point does assertiveness become interpreted as aggressiveness in this culture?

Are there specific selling techniques in this industry that are particularly effective in this culture?

How widespread is the use of American English in commerce?

How serious is a lack of fluency in the customer’s language or dialect?

The Purchase Decision

Is this an individual or collective decision? For example, Japanese work in consensus. There is rarely a single decision maker.

What is the pace and timelines of decisions? Americans will find that most countries take much longer to decide.
What behavior might be interpreted as “American impatience,” and what would the reaction be?
What priority might be assigned to:
o reputation of the vendor
o perceived quality of the product/service
o perseverance
o dependability of the vendor, e.g. timely delivery
o kickbacks, bribes
o personal qualities of the representative
-responsiveness to requests, complaints
o interest in the customer’s personal life
Are contracts used? Even in markets that use them, they may also be ignored, violated, or changed continuously.

Customer Relations

Other than consistent timely delivery of quality products or services, what are acceptable means of maintaining good customer relations?

Should marketers expect to:

Give gifts? And if so, would they be personal or with a business logo? When should gift giving take place? And if so, how does a firm balance gift exchanges with personal and company ethics?

Engage in business entertainment? And if so, what kind?

Do favors asked by the client?

Spend extended time together?

In other words, what kind of relationship does your customer expect to develop with you?
What are the limits of the relationship? This can be a tricky area. Many years ago, a Chinese CEO asked me to teach his daughter English (and this can take years)!
How frequent is on-going customer/vendor contact for the purpose of maintaining the relationship?

How much information of a proprietary nature does your customer expect and want? For example, to build cars for the Chinese market, marketers often have to give away all of the IP associated with the project.

The answers to these questions industry market, and company specific. Yet having a grasp of most of these issues will lead to very animated discussions, and hopefully, put you ahead of the competition. And competition can be outside or inside the country at hand.