Going Global – How to Adapt Your Product and Services for an International Market


Expansion is one of the main goals for business owners, and often that expansion means moving into foreign markets. For some business owners, this can be an intimidating prospect, even limiting to scalability as the challenges represent massive costs and other barriers to market entry that appear untenable.

However, eCommerce is an opportunity. Global expansion has been made possible through an internet connection. Online marketplaces and marketing are thriving and for most businesses, expansion is as simple as researching the online market and creating a strategy using the resources available.

So why are so many businesses restricting themselves to local markets when the possibilities of online expansion are so readily available? Lack of knowledge and lack of awareness are holding some businesses back, while for others it is a simple need to adapt that would see growth into new areas take shape.

Some of the most common concerns for businesses include:

  • Communication barriers
  • Product or service acceptance
  • Marketplace saturation
  • Brand awareness

While market research and local connections are one way to approach entry into a new, foreign market, one of the most successful strategies for market longevity is globalization. This means that while you promote your product or service in a new market, you are sensitive to the context or needs of the market that you enter. Large brands, such as KFC and Starbucks have paved the way for understanding what glocalization looks like.

When KFC entered the Asian market, it quickly determined that the traditional coleslaw and potatoes and gravy served as side dishes in western markets were not to the taste of the new market. So instead, when ordering at the fast-food giant in China, you are given options such as congee, matcha ice-cream, soy chicken wings and seaweed soup. The menu is far more extensive and catered to local tastes. As a result, KFC is the largest and most successful fast-food chain store in China.

This also applies online. It’s as simple as professionally translating your website and ensuring that the language options available are relevant to the market you want to enter. Spending the time and money to have your website professionally translated, with any marketing or advertising vetted and adjusted to ensure that it meets with the expectations of the market that you are entering into. More than one international brand has made this mistake.

In the 1970s, American motors named its new midsize car, the ‘matador’. The name was intended to suggest that the car was robust and a fearless competitor. However, in the Puerto Rican market, the car did not attract many sales. When researchers examined the possible reasons for the failure of the car sales in the region, it was discovered that ‘matador’ translates as ‘killer’ in Spanish, which might not be the message to reach the target buyer – family-car shoppers.

Adapting products and services, and taking the time to research the market, speak with locals and understand the culture that you want to work in is key to successful market entry. The idea is to offer your product or service with local adaptations and cultural sensitivity.

What needs to remain the same no matter what market you enter is your values. The communication of those values needs to be adapted, however, the essence of those values should remain the same and be communicated via your brand voice and brand awareness. Your marketing team should do a SWOT analysis and define your unique sales proposition.

You need to be clear about what you can offer in the market, why your product or service has entered the market and why people should choose your product or service, doing all this while having an awareness of the linguistic and cultural expectations of the market.

4 tips to adapt products to a foreign market

Translate your content

You need to translate your website and ensure that your products and services are clearly explained in the language of the market that you are entering. This needs to be done by a professional translator and not just a plug-in. If you have mistakes or miscommunication, it can destroy your legitimacy and turn customers away.

Customers want to buy from brands that they trust. One way to develop trust is to show customers that you are committed to working for sales in their marketplace by investing in translation services for your website content, as well as any other supplementary materials that support your business.

Analyse your sales funnel

  • How will you reach your target market?
  • Is it worth investing in online ads?
  • Will you attend any events or trade fairs in that particular market?
  • Are you using a website to promote your products/services?
  • Do you need a local language call centre or customer service contact?
  • How are you accepting payments and what payment methods are mostly used in the market?

Adapting your approach to sales within each foreign region that you enter is important. The approach to sales is different in different cultures, particularly in B2B interactions. An understanding of those differences and changing your approach will ensure a smooth and successful entrance into a new marketplace.

Choose your tone

When entering an unfamiliar foreign market, it is important that you consider not only your product or services but your business model. In some regions, B2B sales take on a different tone to B2C sales. You might need to understand the nuances of business language and the appropriate way to interact with potential customers.

In some regions, the use of honorifics and titles is hugely important, as is an understanding of the hierarchy of sales, while in others it is more important to ‘connect’ with business people on a ‘friendly’ level to generate trust and secure sales.

You cannot approach each market with the same strategy, and this includes how you approach customers.

Be sensitive to culture

There is more to language than straight translation of words. Your images and content also need to be sensitive to cultural differences. In some cultures, your brand or logo might not convey the same meaning it does in your home market.

For example, a stork delivering a baby is a very North American story. While it is understood in Europe, it means nothing in Japan. You need to adapt, or even consider using an adapted brand or logo to communicate in a market that is different from your home market.

To do that, you need to hire a local professional who will research your brand, how it is received in the local market and what other options you might have if your brand does not translate well in that market.


Adapting your products and services for an international marketplace is the key to successful expansion. An awareness of the linguistic and cultural differences between your home market and your global market is required to successfully integrate your brand. Even if you choose to have a single website aimed at catering to all your clients worldwide, you need to ensure that you use professional translators and researchers to ensure that your brand connects with your intended customers.


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