November 2015
Anticipating Exports

Jeffrey Spear - President, Studio Spear

Jeff Spear

There are lots of producers who view foreign markets as ideal for increasing sales and promoting organizational growth. While this may be true, and before you can implement a global branding endeavor, it is wise to invest in research and advance planning.


“Toto - I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” Dorothy Gale, 1939 (The Wizard of Oz)

Keep in mind that, even in countries where the native tongue is the same as yours, there will be significantly different cultural influences and unique business dynamics that will affect the level of success you can achieve. It is prudent, therefore, to identify, understand and anticipate these differences as early as possible. When your initial efforts are appropriate, tailored and resonate with key buyers in your target export market, the likelihood of success is improved exponentially.

The first thing I recommend is to visit the country and the specific markets in which you wish to sell your products. While you could easily seek out brokers, importers and distributors and blindly hand over export sales responsibilities to them, I’ve rarely seen these produce meaningful results. When you’ve taken the time to see for yourself, meet with retailers, evaluate trading practices, identify influential media, develop local contacts and get a first hand understanding of the competitive landscape, you’ll be able to better align your offer, implement meaningful sales and marketing programs, generate interest from key audiences and position your brand well ahead of its nearest rival.

In many cases, trade shows represent one of your best opportunities to introduce your brand, attract buyers and penetrate new markets. As such, plan on walking as many of them as possible (those appropriate to your target markets) at least one year in advance. I’ve seen far too many first-time exhibitors disappointed with results simply because they failed to do their homework and understand what they were getting themselves into. This is especially true in larger markets such as Germany, United States and Japan where trade events are exceptionally large, noisy and competitive affairs. Unlike smaller (regional) shows, getting your brand noticed and generating sales at the international level may require significantly larger investments and levels of effort.

Don’t forget to anticipate needs and set appropriate budgets before you get in too deep. The last thing you want to discover is that you really can’t afford an export program after initial investments have been made.

For manufacturers of specialty, small-batch, products with tight margins (typically operating with gross revenues under $2 million), resources may already be stretched quite thin. If you consider the costs of global travel and logistical support alone, the scope of your export program may need to be restricted from the very start.

Assuming resources are available, and preliminary research is underway, it is important to identify specific quirks, idiosyncrasies and colloquialisms that may impact upon your communications strategy.

As part of a program to help Serbian fruit producers export their juices, jams and frozen products to America, I learned that certain fruits (peaches, apricot, tomatoes) are described as “mushy fruit.” While this may be acceptable throughout the Balkans, this terminology will imply “rotten” or “spoiled” in the United States and Australia (and probably many other English speaking countries as well). Since occurrences of these sorts of inappropriate messages are frequent, and translating services may overlook or misunderstand nuance, having a “local” copywriter or marketing specialist (someone who is native to your target market) as part of your team is essential.

If the market you are entering relies on a language different from your own, and if you are not fluent in that language, having someone on the ground who can engage in conversation and present your brand in the best possible way will be one of the best investments you can make. No matter how big or small your operation, there are enough barriers to trade without having simple language skills diminish perceptions of credibility and/or value.

There are many other factors that will influence the success of your brand in foreign markets. As with domestic audiences, pricing, product availability, demographics, psychographics, consumer preferences, trends and levels of service are all important.

The key to launching a global brand and export program, as with any marketing effort, is taking the time to thoroughly understand, and communicate appropriately with, your key audiences. Establishing realistic budgets, engaging in research and planning in advance, and culturally aligning your sales and marketing messages is essential and will contribute to your success in both the short- and long-term.


If the time has come to overhaul, update and re-invigorate your brand image, or you'd like to change up your marketing program, please call 904 685 2135 - ask for Jeff Spear. You can also contact Jeff via email:

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