International Marketing Requires More Than Just Translating Content

Episode #021: Katarina Hakansson, International Marketing Expert

Marketing and wine. Talk about two of my favorite subjects…in the same podcast episode. But we’re not just talking about any type of marketing, we’re talking about international marketing and why it’s foolish for marketers to assume what works in one country will work in another.

In this episode, we chat with international marketing expert, Katarina Hakansson. She has more than 15 years of international marketing experience and previously worked at Taxback International, Design Council, University of Westminster, HBK Consulting, South Thames College, London College Wimbledon, and more.

We’re talking about the definition of international marketing, why so many companies don’t really get what it means to market internationally, how you can gain experience in the subject, the importance of cultural differences, and so much more.

Stephanie's Strong Opinions

  1. Translating pre-existing content for your international marketing efforts is not a strategy.
  2. Even if another country speaks the same language as you, the message should still be tailored to them.
  3. Research is your best friend if your organization doesn’t have a location in a market you’re trying to enter.

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Episode Transcription

Stephanie Cox: Welcome to Real Marketers, where we hear from marketers who move fast, ask forgiveness, not permission, obsess about driving results, and are filled to the brim with crazy ideas and the guts to implement them. This is not a fireside chat and there’s absolutely no bullsh*t allowed here. And I’m your host, Stephanie Cox. I have more than 15 years of marketing experience and I’ve pretty much done about everything in my career. I believe speed is better than perfection, I use the Oxford comma, I love Coca- Cola, I have exceptionally high standards, and surround myself with people who get sh*t done. On this show, my guest and I will push boundaries, share the real truth about marketing, and empower you to become a real marketer. One of my biggest pet peeves is when marketers talk about launching their product or service or maybe even brand in another country, and the only thing they really seem to talk about is where to get their content translated, like,” Oh, do you know a good content translation firm I can use?” But real international marketing is so much more than just translating content from one language to another. You really have to understand the nuances of each country where you’re marketing and you can’t assume a one size fits all approach. And that’s exactly what I’m talking about with today’s guest. In this episode, we chat with international marketing expert, Katerina Hankinson. She has more than 15 years of international marketing experience and previously worked at Tax Back International, Design Council, University of Westminster, HBK Consulting, and more. We’re talking about the definition of international marketing, why so many companies don’t really get it, how you can gain experience in the subject, the importance of cultural differences, and so much more. So everyone knows the first question I always ask is tell me something about yourself that few people know.

Katerina Hankinson: I would say that I’m actually an extreme wine and sports buff. I have a huge interest in wine tasting and the whole, you could say, the science about wine. And that led me also to write my MSE dissertation on the international marketing strategies of international wine marketing, specifically New Zealand wine. And sports stuff, I just love sports. It’s really exciting, and I especially love American football. Go Pats. And we’re not going to talk about this season. And yeah, no, I quite enjoy it and watching sports. It’s really fun.

Stephanie Cox: Oh, I’m a diehard Indianapolis Colts fan here. So this is hate Pats territory.

Katerina Hankinson: No! Man, that’s not good. That’s not good. Let’s just park that one for now.

Stephanie Cox: We’ll just, yeah, parking lot that and move on-

Katerina Hankinson: Yes.

Stephanie Cox: -and talk more about marketing. Well, I guess first question maybe, favorite wine?

Katerina Hankinson: Yes. Oh, I would say a lovely from South Africa, and this goes, again, with what I wrote about… it’s just the flavor. It’s just a big hug, if that makes sense.

Stephanie Cox: Sounds good. It does.

Katerina Hankinson: Yeah.

Stephanie Cox: So I’m so excited to have you on the show, because you have a tremendous background in international marketing experience. And I actually haven’t had someone on the show to talk about this topic with, so I’m super excited to hear your perspective. So I think one of the things that I’d love to start with is the concept of international marketing and what that really means to you, because I think sometimes marketers, especially if you’re not experienced in it, are naive and think that it just means, well, I just market in a different country. And they don’t realize everything that really goes into it. So I’d love to hear your perspective on how would you define international marketing or good international marketing?

Katerina Hankinson: Oh, how much time do I have? Yes, it’s quite complex and it’s very… I define, especially international marketing, as a mix of science and art with a strong emphasis on science, because a lot of people have the notion that marketing is, “Oh, it’s all that nice, cool stuff.” Yes, it is. But that’s about 10% of what marketing is. Marketing has a strong focus on research, and especially in international marketing, because a lot of people think, like you said, that you can market the same across the globe. That’s not possible. Think about international marketing as a bit of different languages. In Brazil you speak Portuguese, Brazilian Portuguese even, and in the UK you have English, but in France, French, then you have Thailand, where it’s Thai. And that’s the same logic when it comes to marketing, because you need to speak the local language. And I don’t mean only the actual language, but also speak to them so they will understand why they should pick up your product or service and how that would meet your needs. Someone in, for example, South Africa, what they want to do, they don’t necessarily want to have the cheapest product, but they want the product that can give them that little extra bit. So it could be an extended warranty, it could be an extra software package when you buy a new computer. And with international marketing, you need to understand these parts that makes the customer tick in the various countries. And that is a major part when you’re designing a marketing strategy to go international, it’s research this. You also have to look at the different cultures. You need to look at how they interact between each other and how they interact with foreign products. And you could define international marketing, again, as a very localized marketing strategy. You can have an overarching strategy thinking,” Okay, I will use digital, I will use social media, then I will use inferences” That’s great, but you need to understand that maybe in some countries, and won’t make a difference. It might be just a thing that will work in the UK and, for example, the US, because… and that happened to me when I was marketing, for example, in Nigeria. I thought I would do printed brochures, printed ads, but what I forgot… this was in the beginning of my career… was that they are actually quite… at that time, they were quite focused on Facebook. So in that, I have to add Facebook ads, but these are things that you only find out when you really go deep, go through the research and find out about the people and what makes them tick. This research is far more important than any research you do for the marketing in your own country, because you know fairly well that in my country, for example, Instagram influencers are really popular or you can’t put, I don’t know, an image of a horse or whatever, and that will make them buy the product, but you don’t necessarily know that with these countries. So you actually, when starting off with a new country, you have to go and do so much research and you need to segment and you need to understand the peoples’ income, the different social levels, status, and also educational background. It is that comprehensive when you start off doing international marketing. And as you rightly said, it is quite… there is that notion that, yeah, you just throw it out and it works, but there is so much more to it. And I have found, because I’ve marketed in the UK as well, I have found that actually it’s easier to market in the UK because you already have all of this information, while with these other countries, you have to do thorough research and look into every part of society. And I’m talking the economy, looking at what happened previously, why might they not have the funds to invest in say an expensive or luxury item? And the research is the key to succeed when you go international, otherwise you would waste money.

Stephanie Cox: One of the things I love that you just said was about research, because I think sometimes marketers, unfortunately, think,” Oh, I’ll just take the content I wrote in English and translate it.” And it’s such a huge miss, because the way that people speak, let’s say in the United States and English is very different, and just in terms of the words that they use, than they might speak in Australia or in Germany or China or Japan, which have very different cultures. So how do you explain to someone that it’s more than just translations, that it’s really about thinking about maybe the same concept resonates, but the way you need to deliver it has to be different?

Katerina Hankinson: You’re so right. It comes down to the messaging, because often how it is is that the company, they have decided this is the messaging we’re going to use, and we’re going to use it across the world. Yes, that’s great, but you have based the messaging on your own country. Again, you need to look at what resonates with the target audience in your specific country. So if we take, for example, China, as you mentioned, yes, you need to see, okay, what makes them tick? What will get them to take a purchase decision? Is it that you have different colors that they can choose from? Is it that you have an additional feature? Is it that it’s a low cost, that the price is lower? And then what you can do is use, integrate that into the corporate messaging. So instead of saying, for example,” Our product is the best because you will get a bouquet of flowers when you buy the product,” you can now say… but then in China, they actually don’t want flowers with it. They actually want the possibility of getting a specifically red bouquet of flowers. So you say,” Buy our product because you will then get the red bouquet of flowers with it.” It is these small nuances that are crucial to the messaging. And it is great that there is the corporate messaging, but it has to be flexible and adjustable to each region. And this messaging then has to be localized by, for example, translating it into the local language. Because for example, when I worked in Brazil, only 5% of people spoke English. How would they understand what the organization I worked for could bring to them if I wrote to them in English? That would be a waste of money. So I had to then change the messaging, and it was quite the strong focus on value for money, and then put it in Brazilian Portuguese. And that helped. But also, for example, in one of those instances, I was liaising with students and parents. So the student might understand English, but the parents who, let’s face it, was the ultimate decision maker, needed that information in Portuguese because they might not have spoken English or their English might have been weak. So again, it’s a several pronged approach. For me, it’s so important that you acknowledge these cultural differences. And there are some countries… for example, in South Africa, even though everything was done in English, they wanted to have, first of all, a strong personal relationship. So it was a lot with relationship marketing, speaking with the people, giving them their time. But then also it was a focus on what extra would I get? I might not choose the cheapest product, but I’m looking at the extras, the value for money. And when you know that, then you can tailor the messaging and integrate it into the corporate messaging as well. So again, it might be a longer messaging than the corporate messaging, but again, it will be a tailored messaging to that market, which is so important, because you are talking to the customer and they are the one who will make the purchase decision for the product or the service.

Stephanie Cox: So what do you tell companies when they think,” Oh, I can just have someone let’s say, in wherever our headquarters is, manage international marketing?” Do you think that can work, or would you recommend that companies really think about having a local presence wherever they’re trying to drive demand and build a brand?

Katerina Hankinson: Yes and no. Obviously there is a cost aspect to it. And if you can’t afford to have local offices, then what I would say is focus on hiring someone for your headquarter that knows international marketing specifically, has the education, and understands it. But not only that, have worked on the ground in various countries, because it is that way you learn what makes people tick. You can read all the blogs, all the textbooks and what have you in the world, but until you are on the ground, having to roll your sleeves up and speak with the people, you will not get this information that you can use in the marketing. So I would say, I think… and if you have local offices… I’ve worked with local offices as well. You then have to have someone in the headquarter that thoroughly understands international marketing and is specialized in it, who then can manage the people in the local offices, because it is such a complex, specialists within marketing, that unless you have a degree in it and thorough underground experience, it won’t succeed. It is that simple.

Stephanie Cox: So if someone were to come to you and say,” Hey, we’re based in, let’s say, the UK, and we’re looking to expand into APAC and potentially maybe North America,” what would you recommend that they do? What do you think that they need to have in place before they can really, one, make that decision, and two, go to market in a different area?

Katerina Hankinson: You need to have a marketer who understands international marketing and has the experience, but then also you need to allow this person… I’m just going to focus on Thailand and Indonesia, just for argument’s sake. You need to allow this person to actually thoroughly research what needs to be done to put in the right processes and procedures to succeed and make them show you, not go and tell them,” This is what you need to do because this is the corporate policy,” because it is a whole different ball game with international marketing than normal marketing. And you actually need to have everything you do thoroughly tailor to that market. Let that person research, speak with potential partners, because there will be partners or business advisors on the ground and get their information, let them pick their brain, and then build a strategy. Because if you don’t have this information and don’t have a very thorough strategy that drills into every part of it, it will not succeed. When it comes to international marketing, the research is the most important part in the equation. If you have the research, the tactical aspect of it, that will be so easy, but you need to understand the people, the market, the culture, the financial status and situation of the country as well, because that influences people.

Stephanie Cox: So when you look at other companies that are doing international marketing, what’s the biggest mistake that you’ve seen that you think could be avoided?

Katerina Hankinson: It is, again, the same approach across countries. And that was one of the reasons why I did my research into international wine marketing for my MSE dissertation, because again, they think that a one way approach or a one fits all approach will suit every market, and it won’t. And it’s a huge mistake, because I think somehow there is the notion that,” Oh, let’s go international and we will make lots of money on revenue will increase a lot.” Yes, it will. If you do it the right way, then it will. But if you don’t take these aspects into consideration, it will actually backfire completely. So there have been so many times where I have seen the same messaging and strategy, and I’m just sitting there and thinking,” No, this is so wrong.” And then also that it is not written in the local language. That’s another aspect. And honestly, it kind of breaks my heart, because companies are wasting money doing it, not taking the local details and aspects into consideration. They might as well flush the money in the toilet.

Stephanie Cox: I love that analogy, because it’s true. And I’ve seen it happen so many times.

Katerina Hankinson: Exactly, it is. And we are sitting there as spectators and we just… I mean it hurts. It hurts.

Stephanie Cox: So let’s talk cultural awareness. I know that’s something that’s really important to you, and part of it goes into the research aspect of it. But how do you explain to maybe a C level team around the importance of understanding a culture, and that part of that is research- driven, but also part of it is having people on the ground there, whether that’s permanent or traveling there, and really understanding what it’s like to be a consumer in that market. And you can’t always assume what works in another region will work in even another one. How do you explain that culture is really so important, when a lot of times I think people just want to say,” Oh, well they also speak the same language.” Maybe it’s Spanish, maybe it’s English.” So we can just use the same content.” How do you help people understand the importance of culture?

Katerina Hankinson: Oh, that’s a good question. Yeah, that is not the easiest path you can have. I have to admit to that. And I have at times wondered if I was talking Swedish to the English speaking people so that they wouldn’t… because sometimes I got the looks of,” What is she on about?” But it’s basically what I’m doing… I don’t know if this is the right approach, but it has worked for me, is I explain to them that just because, again, for example, we can do… a real life example I can do is, again, South Africa and the UK. They speak the same language. South Africa has a lot of Europeans inside, so you would assume that everything works. But then when you go into the detail, there are differences. And I try and give these real life examples of these instances, because even if, for example, the C level, they won’t take it on board. At least I have gotten my message across and saying,” You need to tailor it and you need to do it, because this is what the customer in South Africa will listen to and this is what makes them tick and will buy the product, the services.” But if they don’t want to listen to it, well, there is only so much I can do, but I try and explain it with a lot of real- life examples that I’m bringing from my experience. And it’s even better if it’s focused on countries where I’ve actually been on the ground and worked and had to roll up my sleeves, but it’s not an easy task, I would say. But then I also try and bring in the financial aspect, and basically saying that, you want return on your investment and this is the best way for you to do it, to research and drill into it. If not, your money will be wasted. And then it’s up to them if they will listen, I can only do so much. There are certain aspects in life where you have no control, really.

Stephanie Cox: No, I completely get where you’re coming from. So thinking about… let’s say I am a marketer who has been tasked with launching a product internationally. Obviously, research is super important, but what if I’ve never done this before? How do I even think about how to do the research? What would you recommend that I get started? Or are there places or content I can read to help me better understand that? Because I think one of the challenges, like you mentioned, is you really want to find marketers who’ve done international marketing before, but if you haven’t, how do you get the experience? And what happens when you’re just kind of thrust into it, like so many of us are sometimes, where your boss says,” Hey, we’re going to go into this country, go ahead and do a marketing plan for that,” and you’re like,” I don’t speak that language. I’ve never done this.” How do I figure out what to do or where to get started? And what misconceptions do you think marketers might have when they are doing something like that?

Katerina Hankinson: I would say go back to basics. And I’m talking doing a swap analysis, doing a competitor analysis, doing a four piece analysis. I think they’re up to seven or eight now. And do a pricing analysis of the competitors, but then, more importantly, do a proper analysis of the country. What I’m trying to say is go back to the basics and the fundamental principles of marketing, because we do have a lot of principles, what have you, that we can apply and use those to the maximum, but not only do it for the company and their competitors. Do it on the country as well. Read up about the country and see, okay, I would say, read up about 10 years and then read what the future, what they’re looking for. Because if they’re saying,” Oh, country X, they might go into recession in two years time,” then there might not even be any point to start investing in that country. Then it might be better to wait five years or what have you until they’re out of the recession, but then give yourself a proper picture. And also often, if an organization takes a decision to move into country and start operating there, they usually have contacts on the ground. Speak with them. Say,” Look, I have been tasked with setting up marketing strategy for country X, but can you help me? What do I need to think about? What does people like? What do they like? What will make them tick? What will get them to buy our product? Is it that we have an extended warranty? Is it that we give something extra? Is it that we have beautiful packaging? Is it that we offer them an initial discount of 20%?” Find that out, because… and this is where a lot of people, as well as organizations, forget that people on the ground, it could be partners, it could be agents, it could be business associates, any external stakeholder that is involved with the company, they have so much information that you can get. Use them, because they are the best source. I have spoken with business associates in various countries, and I’ve had in my head an idea and a strategy that I thought was going to work. And they said,” Nope, Katerina, that works, but you need to always do X, Y, Z, because that will also help you get the demand and increased ROI.” Had I thought of those parts that they might have recommended? No. Would I have implemented the initial strategy that I had in mind and then maybe lost out on a bit of… not size of revenue, because that’s why you , revenue for the organization. Yes, I would have. So you thought… because it’s the most up- to- date knowledge. Yes, we have Google, we have all these websites where we can research and find that information, but the people on the ground, they are worth so much when it comes to design of strategy and tweaking a strategy or whatever information you need. So I would say to use the foundations of marketing as well as foundational marketing strategy, such as swap competitor analysis and the four Ps, but then also use the people on the ground. And that will help you so much, that will build such a good foundation to start off from. And then also it could be helpful in making the decision that, yeah, we should go ahead now, or maybe we should wait five years to go ahead, or maybe we’ll forget about it completely because there was not a big enough market. Because that is something you need to take into consideration as well. And it is a scary thing to do all the research and then go and say,” No, actually, you know what? There is not a big enough market for us here. Let’s forget about this market, because it won’t generate the return on investment that we’re looking for.”

Stephanie Cox: So if I don’t have anyone in my company that works on the ground there, how would you suggest I connect with other marketers in a country? Do I just start reaching out to people on social or are there avenues, whether there’s special groups or something like that, that can help me find other marketers that can give me that insight, like you just explained, that could really help me better understand the tactics and strategies that would work?

Katerina Hankinson: I mean, obviously reach out on social media. That’s one option as well. I mean you have LinkedIn and you have Twitter, of course. And there are many of these marketing networks, but then I would also say, because generally companies have business associates, and from my experience, I don’t know if I’ve been lucky or what, but I have actually picked up the phone and called them and said,” Look, what do you think about this?” Because also, keep that in mind, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a marketer to give current updates on what’s going on in the country, such as the current financial status, the political awareness, these types of information, because everyone knows that. When it comes down to the marketing part, yes, definitely speak with marketers. But I would also then… I have also asked associates of mine or contacts of mine,” Oh, do you know someone in country X that you could recommend to pick their brain?” And I would say I haven’t had a no yet, where I’ve asked and said,” Oh, would you mind half an hour, an hour? Let’s have you in, because I need to pick your brain and find out more about the market itself, not necessarily the marketing, but the current state of the country, employment, financial, those parts.” If we call those the demographic side of everything, because that’s something everyone knows. But yes, I mean, definitely, social media is a good option as well, if you want the more specific marketing information as well, but the first time I would actually go and try and find whichever context that might be in the country. So it could be that the organization, they have, I don’t know, some distributor or what have you in that country, and then call them up and set up a meeting and say,” Look, we’re thinking about marketing properly in this country or what have you,” and get that information there as well.

Stephanie Cox: This is my favorite kind of episode. We talked marketing and we talked wine, two of my favorite things. But to get serious for a second, can we all make a promise to each that we’ll stop assuming that marketing into one region of the world only requires content to be translated and politely remind all other marketers about it? I want to see all of you guys on Twitter, LinkedIn, et cetera, when someone says,” Oh, I need to translate my content,” to push back and ask them,” Well, have you thought about whether or not that messaging is appropriate, whether or not your tactics are appropriate for that channel, and what research have you done?” There’s a really polite way for us to start challenging other marketers on this topic, as well as ourselves. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s going to take time for you to learn about what’s going to work best in each country, especially if you don’t have an on the ground presence, but you can do it and it’s going to be worth it in the long run. You’ve been listening to Real Marketers. If you love what you’ve heard, make sure to subscribe, rate, and review her podcast. And don’t forget to tell a friend. All of this marketing goodness shouldn’t be kept a secret.