You only have one chance to make a good first impression. This is particularly true when entering a foreign market. Moreover, expanding a business internationally is very costly and risky. The recent Southwest Airlines Co. echoes about a potential entry in the Canadian market and the mea culpa of Target are events that bring the topic back to the forefront. This is a good time to reiterate how key communication is in these ventures.
Indeed, communicators can make the difference between a successful expansion and one that becomes a nightmare. Over the years, I've helped many U.S. and European brands enter the Québec and Canadian markets and have learned the best strategies to land smoothly. Here is the list of best practices I've collected along the way:
1. Plan early and partner with a local firm. Starting as soon as you decide, it's important to find the right communications partner that will facilitate your entry, connect you with the right people and inform you about the challenges you may face.
2. Fully acknowledge the difference. Sincerely accept that there are differences and fully engage yourself in identifying them. Do not put your head in the sand thinking that they will go away, it will backfire for sure.
3. Understand the market. You need to understand the market you are entering; consumer trends, cost of living, culture, politics, etc. Do your research and check your assumptions through surveys or focus groups.
4. Adapt your style. Be ready to change a few features. What you offer and the way you do it, needs to be adapted to the local style.
5. Manage issues ahead. Don't shy away from possible problems; identify the issues and deal with them in advance with a joint PR/lawyer team. Of course, make sure you comply with all local laws and regulations.
6. Go the extra mile. Find a way to show your new clientele that you are ready to adapt to please them.
7. Hire local suppliers. This is a concrete way of expressing your support for the local economy and will help you earn positive reviews.
8. Partner with local organizations. Find relevant organizations that will help you build bridges between you and your new clientele.
9. Be represented locally. Having a local spokesperson representing your brand helps create a better relationship between you and the consumer. Consumers tend to follow people from where they live versus an "outsider."
10. Connect with core clientele. By organizing activities that reinforce your relationship with your customers, you will create a positive domino effect that will reach larger audiences.
Now that I have shared some of my best practices, what are some of yours?
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