Despite the fact that we now operate in a global economy, for many business owners, trying to break out from a local base into new countries and new regions can feel like passing a proverbial camel through the eye of a proverbial needle affair. (Even in places where there ain’t no camels.)
It’s no secret: marketing a product or service internationally is no walk in the park.
Thankfully, we found someone who knows a whole lot about it.
Meet Michael Mang, the Head of International Business Development and Marketing for Alibaba.com’s B2B division for the Asia Pacific region.
As you probably already know, Alibaba is indisputably the largest online wholesale business in the world, with a market cap of $251 billion, over 300 million active customers worldwide and turns over $8.4 billion per year. Oh, and it also holds the title for the largest IPO ever at $25 billion.
Mang will be sharing his wisdom at Australia’s 3rd Annual eCommerce Conference and Expo, on 11 to 12 March.
In an exclusive interview with Anthill founder James Tuckerman, he revealed the following steps to simplify the art of international marketing.
1. Build a culture of always putting your customer first
When businesses start out, they are usually extremely customer centric – more than glad to cater to their customer’s every whim. However, along the way, as they grow bigger, things often change.
For example, picture a pizza shop that sets out with one simple goal: to serve hot tasty pizza delivered in record time. They are filling a clear gap in the market, solving a problem in their local community so everyone loves them — the cash comes flooding in.
However, as our imaginary pizza shop expands and even opens new locations, they start focusing on maximising profit so they switch to cheaper lower quality cheese and cut back on delivery staff.
Where they started out with hot tasty pizza delivered in record time, they end up with just bearable pizza that arrives cold and finds customers impatiently pacing back and forth on their porches. People stop loving them like they used to – the flood of cash starts drying up.
Don’t be this pizza shop. Don’t get caught up in the fancy numbers (ROI, KPI and what have you) as you expand. Go back to square one and reflect on why you entered this business in the first place.
Stay true to your roots, man. (You gotta read this in your best Jamaican accent!)
Step over to the other side of the counter. What would be important to you?
2. Create an environment that encourages creativity
Creativity is one word that gets thrown around quite a lot in the business world these days but to really infuse it into your company’s culture and DNA, you need to actively involve your employees and influence each and every one of them to come up with creative marketing ideas.
Basically, marketing is something that needs to infect every employee in the business. Yep, like the office flu, but with way better consequences for your business.
That’s not all though; you also have to encourage them to actually bring those ideas they come up with to the table not the employees’ suggestion box, where they will most likely end up in the trash.
Let’s face it: the employees’ suggestions box is often just a formality that eventually plays home to a family of spiders because no one ever even glances at it. And, where people actually use this box, management usually hate it because they often feel it’s just their juniors telling them how to do their jobs.
You are better off spending a whole afternoon away from the office, say on a picnic in the park, sitting together as a team, brainstorming ideas and then thoroughly thinking about and discussing them. Yes, go out and literally think outside the box!
3. Use marketing tactics beyond just hard selling
Once you have built the culture of always putting the customer first and created an environment that encourages creativity, you now need to actually get to the customer and make that dough.
Now here, it is easy and tempting to follow the well-beaten path of hard selling your product by talking about the benefits, how good it is, how affordable it is, blah blah blah… but in doing this, we sometimes end up forgetting what the customer is really into and what it is they really need.
Yes, you want them to know how amazing your product is and how much cheaper it is than your competitor’s but what do your customers really want to know? Have you bothered to find that out?
So it’s back to basics: put the customer first! Create an interesting interaction with the customer that encourages two-way engagement and design your marketing efforts to help you better understand your customer, instead of just bombarding them with information.
For example, Alibaba is currently running the ABC (Alibaba Business Circle) initiative in Sydney where start-up entrepreneurs share experiences (both of failure and of success), lessons and resources.
By providing such a useful and much needed platform for these small businesses to help and learn from each other, Alibaba is creating a great brand reputation for itself!
4. Build marketing into your product/service
Instead of getting fixated on just selling your product, or creating multiple product lines (after all, your attention and resources can only stretch so far), think about what people might need before or after they need it and then create either a referral mechanism or product ecosystem.
How can you make your customer’s life easier before and after the sale? Such efforts go a really long way in building customer loyalty and can even uncover hidden business opportunities.
For example, Michael points out that Alibaba’s mission as a platform is to make it easier to do business anywhere anytime, given how often start-ups and small entrepreneurs face several difficulties and challenges in sourcing, selling, logistics, financing and the like.
So they have built a product ecosystem where these small businesses can find a ready solution or partner to solve any problem they are facing – more or less like a one stop centre for doing business.
5. Understand the culture and the people of your target market
Once you decided to cross the borders, you need to spend time to understand the culture and the people in your target market because it might be really different from what you know and are used to. Head over to Google and Wikipedia and read up about that country.
Don’t use your value system and mindset to judge how people in other countries think and act. Take time to learn and understand why they act the way they do, what the most important thing in their value system is and how all this relates to your business.
Alibaba.com shows you how people communicate and talk in different places and also has a service called AliSourcePro that shows you the price difference and quality level of an identical product in different countries so you can understand what people in a given country look for in a given product.
If you would like to hear more insights from Michael, he will be speaking about how to succeed in online retail at the Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre on 12 March, 2015 as part of the ecommerce Conference & Expo which brings together Aussie businesses and thought leaders in the ecommerce and digital ecosystem.