Localization is about more than just translating your media and product into the appropriate languages for each region. Every new market has its particular quirks and nuances, and it’s a founder’s job to make the integration as seamless as possible by immersing themselves in the culture and surrounding themselves with local experts who can help cover any blind spots your company might have.
These seven basics are a great starting point:
1. Learn the culture
Customers want to interact with businesses that take the time to learn about their unique cultural needs and preferences, and they are much more willing to trust you when you have established roots in their country.
For instance, when my company expanded to the Middle East, we realized that the workweek was Sunday to Thursday, so we needed support available on Sundays. While this adjustment required extra effort and capital, understanding each region’s specific needs is always worth the investment.
Another example is Airbnb’s commitment to providing a culturally respectful experience for guests and hosts in every location. They tailor their UX to each region they operate in by incorporating local reviews and photos and highlighting the features that matter most to each demographic, such as offering flash deals to North Americans who value that or group-friendly travel experiences for Asian customers who prefer this vacation.
Related: 15 Strategies for Quickly Expanding Your Business
2. Tailor the product-market fit
Every market has its own expectations about how your product can serve them, so a crucial part of your localization strategy should focus on meeting those unique needs for a better market fit. Small changes like this establish better connections with stakeholders, customers and partners.
Netflix has mastered this, and startups can learn from them, even if they lack the same resources. Whenever they enter a new market, they source local partners to gain insight into what that demographic wants, and they work to create localized, culturally relevant curations in addition to giving that audience access to popular international content.
3. Tackle language barriers head-on
Harvard Business Review notes that language discrepancies make it harder to operate in international markets, which we experienced personally because several of our team members (including myself) struggled with English fluency. This issue also creates barriers between team members, making putting down roots in new markets more complicated.
This is one reason why hiring locals is important whenever you enter a new market. Our local managers helped us manage this hurdle with less frustration and fewer setbacks than if we had tried to deal with it alone.
Related: Considering Global Expansion? Now Might Be Your Best Opportunity.
4. Leverage technology for scaling, customer acquisition and performance metrics
Limited time and resources mean startups must utilize all available tech tools for preliminary market analyses and customer segmentation. This data provides a clear picture of the most promising regional inroads and gives the most “bang for your buck” when it comes to successful expansion.
The right metrics are essential and will vary based on your industry and specific goals. We tracked potential customers, and proof of concepts (PoCs), which helped us identify which markets had the most traction maximizing resources and ROI, but compiling your own dashboard of the most impactful financial, sales, marketing and human resources measurements is the best way to effectively fast-track your company’s expansion efforts.
Another tip is to embrace cloud technology early for unparalleled flexibility and scalability to facilitate future expansion. Companies across all sectors are moving to digital-first, cloud-based operations, so leveraging cloud technology from the beginning can give you a head start on staying agile during expansion.
5. Offer free proof of concept and utilize it for business development
An entrepreneur’s mantra emphasizes the need for a minimally viable product (MVP) in consumers’ hands. It enables actionable feedback and raises brand awareness, plus it helps your company focus on developing the features that matter most to your audience.
This is how Instagram got its start. It was originally just a location-based check-in app called Burbn that allowed users to share a photo of where they were or what they were doing, a unique feature at the time. Launching the free MVP showed investors its immense popularity and allowed them to guide the company into the photo-based social media behemoth it is today.
Related: 3 Steps to a Successful International Expansion
6. Prioritize networking and building your presence in every region
From 2014-15, I took at least 200 flights so that I could support our expansion efforts and stay in close contact with each team. Wherever our expansion efforts are focused, I regularly travel there to be physically present for meetings, conferences and trade shows. This might sound daunting to new founders, but it’s critical to put in this time and effort to establish roots in every new market, and it pays off tremendously in the long run. It’s an excellent low-cost marketing tactic that also broadens your network and shows you’re serious about becoming an integral part of your new market’s community.
As a leader, it’s your responsibility to demonstrate commitment to connecting with potential partners and customers rather than delegating relationship-building tasks to regional subordinates. After cultivating relationships with customers and partners, I only delegated day-to-day regional management to a handpicked local director.
7. Assemble cross-market teams driven to succeed
Every team member in every region is a key part of a long-term expansion project. You can’t be everywhere at once, so you need employees who are hungry for success and just as severe and passionate about the work as you are.
Effective team hiring and management also means you’re willing to build strong relationships with employees and partners, set clear expectations, and foster a supportive, empowering culture that drives them to succeed. When every person understands their role, feels invested in the company’s success and is supported by colleagues and team members, it creates a positive, productive environment that keeps everyone happy, motivated and eager to grow.
My company has had its share of roadblocks and challenges on the path of expansion and growth, but we never gave up on our idea. Even after the ruble collapsed in the company’s early days, freezing all of our contracts and setting us back substantially, we persevered and kept networking until we landed our first big contract in the Middle East that kicked off our expansion plans.
Expansion takes hard work, time, effort and resources, but gaining traction and seeing success with the right mindset and strategies from the outset is possible.
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