Brands can be obnoxious tourists, too, if they aren't careful
When you fly in the United States, your trips are mostly no-brainers. Thanks to e-tickets, you really don't have to carry anything except your wallet, and barring bad weather, rotten luck and overzealous TSA agents, air travel in the 48 contiguous states is essentially easy.
This simplicity goes away, though, once you cross an ocean or the invisible lines at America's utmost north and south. You need a passport. And perhaps a visa. And agricultural declaration statements. If you're traveling with a child, it gets even more complicated. You can't just assume that global travel is as easy as a trip to the store. Similarly, when you're taking an online ad campaign abroad, there are several key differences you can't take for granted. Luckily, with solid planning and a bit of research, your international campaign will be more like a trip to Disneyland, rather than a frantic call to the embassy. For a successful international expansion effort, here are some essentials to keep in mind:
Know Your Basics: The biggest mistake advertisers make is they assume they can run the exact same campaign they run in the United States in other countries. Unfortunately, it's that mentality that leads to wasted money and poor results. Make sure you have a firm understanding and a solid process in place for dealing with basics like language translations, localized language use (more on this later), currency conversion, differences in trademark laws (this is a big one), etc.
Know the Language: Is it shoes, boots, footwear or trainers? Soccer, football or futbol? Pirate pants or capris? Are we talking about localized languages or localised languages? The truth is, each is correct in one country or another, but not knowing when or where to use them is inexcusable. Errors in vernacular in your international campaigns are akin to using misspelled words in your domestic marketing. Sure, you can use search engines for translations and local insider knowledge, but you may also need to find a more creative solution. Try going to the language department of a nearby college and leveraging their expertise to gain valuable market insight. There is bound to be a learning curve, but doing the legwork up-front to ensure correct usage will be a huge influence on in-country adoption.
Know the Engines: Although we may sometimes feel that it is inevitable for Google to have world domination and be the only option for search advertising across the globe, the fact is that the engine leadership is much more diverse overseas. To create a successful campaign, make sure you know the players in the markets you are targeting. Google may be your best bet in the UK, but Yahoo still owns Japan. China is still up in the air but Baidu is beginning to establish itself as a major player. At the same time, MSN and Ask have important toeholds throughout Europe that you shouldn't overlook. While it's not quite as easy as it is in the United States, it is definitely doable.
Know This Isn't the United States: It's easy to fall into the trap of saying "In the United States we did ..." or "In America our results are ..." The first time you find yourself or any of your team slipping into that mindset, change it posthaste. The markets are not the same, consumers' behaviors are different, the currencies are diverse, the engines' abilities are not on a par and, in many cases, the products are even quite different. Be sure to set up different checkpoints for success and goals specific to your international campaigns to ensure you are truly successful - not just successful when compared to your U.S. results.
Every trip has its own potential for hiccups and hassles, and so does every campaign. The best you can do is cover the essentials, be prepared and learn to adapt. After all, you can't plan for mechanical delays or lost luggage, but bringing and applying sunscreen will always keep you from getting burned. Similarly, by employing these basics of an international campaign, you'll have a sound campaign built to adjust to any roughs seas you encounter.
Vic Drabicky is head of client development at Range Online Media. (firstname.lastname@example.org)