Greig Holbrook: 10 international digital marketing insights for 2022
As Oban celebrates its 20th birthday this year, we asked our founder, Greig Holbrook, for his top ten observations about the international marketing landscape in 2022. Here’s what he told us.
#1: If your business doesn’t plan for international expansion, you’re missing out
According to the UK government, around 20% of UK businesses are trading internationally. Although that figure is growing, and, post Brexit, is set to grow substantially as businesses seek new paths to growth, it shows there are still a large number not yet taking advantage of the possibilities for international expansion.
The majority of the world’s consumers live outside the UK and 80% of the world’s population does not speak English, even as a second language. By restricting yourself to the UK, you are missing out on a vast international opportunity. Numerous studies show that businesses which operate internationally grow faster and fail less than those which do not.
#2: The world is a global digital marketplace like never before
It’s estimated that the pandemic accelerated digital transformation by seven years. Globally, 58% of customer transactions are digital. In the US, it’s 65%. In a world of remote workers, digital nomads and virtual everything — including currency — doing business internationally is no longer just for large corporate giants. Businesses of all sizes have access to international markets and their benefits.
#3: China is desired by many but understood by few
China is by far the biggest e-commerce market in the world – worth $1.3 trillion in 2020, compared to $588 billion for the US and $460 billion for Europe. Many analysts expect China to be the world’s biggest economy by the end of this decade, overtaking the US. Overall, the growth potential across categories is huge, which is why so many brands are keen to enter and expand within China. But it’s not an easy market – it has its own unique digital ecosystem, its own ways of understanding and searching for products, and a culture and language very different from anywhere else. And it’s vast – there are over 60 Chinese cities with populations of over 1 million, with big regional variations across the country. In Oban’s experience, China is one of the hardest markets for our clients to enter.
#4: Each country has its own digital and consumer preferences
It’s easy to adapt an Anglocentric mindset and assume that globalisation means the world is converging around the same set of digital and consumer behaviours. And it’s true that there is some convergence. But each country has its own unique landscape of platforms, preferences, and linguistic and cultural norms. These are often subtle – such as payment preferences or expectations around deliveries – or they might be more fundamental, such as how consumers conceptualise and search for your product in their language/country. Cumulatively, understanding and responding to these cultural differences can add up to a sizeable competitive advantage for your business. That’s why we created Oban’s LIME network – LIME stands for Local In-Market Experts – and why we believe nothing can replace the value of authentic, local, on-the-ground expertise.
#5: Translation is not an international marketing strategy
‘Localise don’t translate’ has become a marketing cliché, but like many clichés, it’s true. Translation is the process of rendering text from one language to another so its meaning is equivalent. Localisation is a more comprehensive process which involves taking your existing content and ensuring it’s fit for purpose for your target audience in different countries. This goes beyond translation because it takes account of cultural and non-textual factors – such as values, beliefs, lifestyles, religion and consumer behaviours. Brands which localise – as opposed to merely translate – capitalise on the biggest international marketing opportunities and avoid the costliest mistakes.
#6: Local holidays or milestones are significant international marketing opportunities
The reason why Oban publishes an annual international e-commerce and travel marketing calendar – and has done for years – is because understanding the key cultural dates and milestones in each market unlocks so much opportunity. Events like Singles Day (11/11) in China or White Day in Japan are important e-commerce opportunities with their own set of search behaviours. Brands which really understand the key dates and accompanying search behaviours in their target markets will capitalise. A Local In-Market Expert can help you identify and navigate these dates.
#7: English is the global lingua franca but there isn’t one version of English
We all know there are subtle but significant differences between British English, American English and Australian English (and New Zealand English and Canadian English too). But perhaps more significant are the differences between British English and Asian English. There are over 800 million English speakers in Asia, and how Indian or Pakistani English speakers (for example) use English is different to British English. UK businesses which think marketing materials in British English will serve the rest of the English-speaking world are being complacent – as well as missing out on sizeable commercial opportunities. Again, localisation is the key to international digital marketing success – including from one English-speaking market to another.
#8: Social shopping will boom across the world
China has led the way in social shopping but the West is catching up. In China, just under two thirds (61%) of consumers regularly watch live stream social shopping content, where the market is worth around $6 billion a year. A recent report suggested that over half (52%) of UK retailers think social commerce is a key emerging trend. Younger consumers in particular are willing to buy from a brand through its social media channels but a lot of businesses haven’t optimised payment methods or security measures. The social media landscape varies internationally – not just with different platforms but with different consumption habits and preferences. We expect to see businesses increasingly embrace social shopping in the years ahead.
#9: Third party platforms can accelerate international expansion
E-commerce platforms like Shopify and others have been expanding their cross-border sales tools in the last few years because they recognise the scale of the international opportunity. These tools enable retailers to encompass local currencies and payment methods, price conversions and local website domains in local languages. They offer B2B as well as B2C functionality. E-commerce platforms – as well as globalisation platforms like Pitney Bowes and others – have important roles to play in helping businesses scale across borders. However, the whole process can’t simply be automated – you still need local in-market expertise to guide you.
#10: There is more data than ever to help identify international opportunities
With customer journeys becoming rollercoasters, and more tools at our disposal than ever, businesses are sitting on top of mountains of data. Hidden within this data are valuable insights about where the international opportunity for your business lies. One of the essential skills for businesses to master is the ability to define with accuracy what level of effort will deliver an acceptable level of impact as they expand internationally. With the use of technology and data growing, marketers are better off optimising for continuous marginal gains than striving for the next big win.
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Greig founded Oban in 2002 and in the twenty years since, the number of digital channels has exploded. There are more opportunities for international expansion than ever but knowing where to start can be daunting. Oban can help: we have a proven track record of helping businesses succeed internationally. Get in touch to find out how we can help your business.
Oban International is the digital marketing agency specialising in international expansion. Our LIME (Local In-Market Expert) Network provides up to date cultural input and insights from over 80 markets around the world, helping clients realise the best marketing opportunities and avoid the costliest mistakes.