A strategic approach to global digital marketing

I’m currently working on a paper regarding how to create effective global digital marketing strategies, and over the next few weeks I am going to share best practice and approach on each of the key areas to give you more of an insight into what is involved and what you need to consider when creating a global strategy.

This is a tricky subject area, which is evident when you consider how few global companies are actually doing a good job with their digital efforts across more than one country! It’s difficult to find decent case studies of organisations that are managing to do everything well, and that’s probably because in order to do so you need to invest a lot of time, resource and money, and therefore need to convince the leadership teams that there will be a decent ROI – not always the easiest thing to prove with digital when you consider branding and PR as elements of the overall plan and not just counting up the direct online sales (if relevent).

So, most companies usually prioritize and rather than do it all, select a few key areas which will bring the best return.

Should you centralise or localise? How much resource is needed and where?  How do you keep your brand consistent across multiple regions but still allow for cultural differences? All relevent questions and just a few of the ones I will be addressing over the coming weeks.

The first area I’m going to look at:

1. Understand your Global Customers

Everyone in marketing knows the importance of understanding your customers. In a way, this becomes an even more important issue when faced with a global digital strategy, as you not only need to understand them, you also need to look at their regional differences and similarities.

1. Confirm your global business customers

You should already have a clear idea of who your overall target customer groups are as a business. If not, then you need to confirm this with the global business leadership team to make sure that you are working with a list that also ties in with the overall business and sales goals.

Ask the following questions:

  1. Which of these groups will make the most impact on the business goals and strategy? (This could be sales, brand development etc.)
  2. Are there any customer groups unique to certain countries which should also be added to the list? (For example, the sales process in one country may include a ‘middle man’ such as a dealer or distributor because you don’t have a direct sales presence in that area yet, or have established it is more viable to do business there in this way)
  3. Do you have plans to expand your product and/or service offer in the future which will bring in any new customer groups which also need to be included?

Tip: Once you have confirmed your full list with the business, get them to prioritize it for you in-line with their ‘thinking’, and then sign it off officially. A handy document to have if you ever need evidence to back up any of your decisions!

2. Add your digital customers to the mix

In most cases you will have additional customers to consider when looking at your digital strategy. These often include:

  • Employees
  • Media
  • Future Employees
  • Investors & Shareholders
  • Professional organisations

Make sure that they are included in your overall list, and prioritize them also. You need to understand how much of your time, effort and budget should be spent on the various groups, and prioritising the list will help you to keep tabs on this during planning and in the future.

3. Confirm your key regions

Which are your target markets? Do you have plans to break into new regions in the future? Confirm these with your leadership team and (again!) you need to prioritize the list.

4. Match the Global priorities with the local realities

Check your list of target customers against each of the countries you will be including in your strategy. If there is a regional or country business ‘owner’, then this would be your best contact. It may also be worth chatting to people ‘on the ground’ to find out the reality of how the business works in this area. Is the order of customer priority the same? Are the sales teams targeting one particular customer group in order to build that market within their country, and if so, is this a long-term sales goal which should be included in your plans?

5. Start digging!

So, now is the time to really find out about your customers in each region. You may want to get the help of your regional teams with this, and if language is a barrier it could be worth investing in some local research organisations to help with the process.

Start with the people in your company closest to the customers – this is usually your sales team (if you have one!) or marketing department. As well as putting together a general persona, you’ll need to look at:

  • their key drivers – what inspires them to action?
  • their desires – what would they like ‘in an ideal World’?
  • their pet hates – what really bugs them, and why?
  • their personal aspirations – how do they want to develop & how can your business help them get there?
  • their daily grind – what does their schedule usually involve? How do they spend their time?
  • their guilty secrets – what do they really love (but probably shouldn’t!)
  • their thoughts on your business – what do they really think about your business (brand) and your products/services?
  • their influencers & mentors – who and where do they look for advice and guidance?
  • their educational and ongoing training requirements – do they need any CPD’s? What qualifications or experience is needed for their role (if you are targeting based on profession)

Although the sales teams can help you greatly with this research, if possible, you will gain much more of an insight by actually talking to your target customers directly. Informal focus groups (with drink and food!) usually work well. Make sure that you look at the best time of day for them (such as a lunchtime session somewhere central and easy to get to) and a location which will get them interested enough to turn up!

It goes without saying that you need to invest more time finding out about the top few prioritized customer groups ,and less on the ones lower down on your list.

You may also want to consider telephone interviews and online surveys as part of this process. It all helps!

6. Look at the sales hurdles

Is there anything which is stopping your target customers from buying your product or service, or engaging with your brand? This could include:

  • competitors – better products in the market
  • price – cheaper competition/better perceived value for money elsewhere
  • no need – lack of understanding of the product/service benefits
  • reputation – negative brand or product association
  • environmental – articles or research which shed a negative light on your products or services (for example, I worked with a company once whose flooring product category was said to be unhygienic in some countries and linked to asthma. A claim which was untrue but which the wider audience believed due to the authority behind the research)
  • knowledge – not aware that your product or service even exists!
  • macro-economic – regional markets and economy (such as recessions)

These are REALLY important. With these answers you will be able to develop your key messages and communication strategies later on in the process. Work with your PR and Communications team, both globally and local – they may already have looked into this and have some of the answers you are looking for.

7. Digital  habits

As well as behavioural and sales research, you will obviously need to better understand your target customers online habits. You’ll need to find out the following information:

  • how often do they use digital platforms?
  • which platforms do they use (e.g. mobile)
  • where do they go – which are their favourite sites/apps/social networks, and how do they use them?
  • at what part of the ‘process’ are they most likely to find your product, service or first engage with your brand? – e.g. research phase
  • who are the key online influencers in your region? – use a tool such as Radian6 to find out who are the most vocal online sources for your industry/topic/product group/customers

At the end of this process you should have a country specific list of relevant websites, blogs etc. with which to work when you start to look at the more detailed marketing and communication plans for each region, but you will also notice any global influencers and trends.

8. Compare findings across regions

You should have a much better understanding by now of who your digital strategy will be targeting and what issues you may face in communicating with them.  Now you need to compare your findings from each country in order to establish the similarities and regional differences.

  • are your customers the same across multiple countries?
  • are the issues and sales hurdles the same?
  • are there any regional differences and how important are they in relation to your business goals?

9. Develop a layered global customer view

You will probably have TONS of information now, and a much better understanding of who you are trying to communicate with. To make your life easier you should put this into an easy document or format which can be referred to when needed and used when presenting your findings back to the business and any stakeholders.

Pull out the following as key points:

  • A list of global customer groups – prioritized
  • Common global customer traits
  • Common global customer ‘hurdles’
  • Common global customer digital use & trends (inc. digital destinations)

Next, create an overview for each of the regions/countries you are targeting:

  • localised unique customer traits
  • localised unique customer ‘hurdles’
  • localised digital use & trends
  • localised digital influencers and environments

Never underestimate the importance of understanding your customers. Now more than ever, you need to do this if you truly want to create a digital strategy which will not only help you to target them, but will also give you the customer engagement and retention which is often needed in order to meet your business goals.

Consumer expectations are high these days, and they will likely only engage with brands who talk the same language, and understand their needs. By taking the above steps to find out more about them, you will be a lot closer to ‘learning’ that language.

Next topic in this series:

2. What have you done so far?: Conducting a Global Digital Review – Analyse your digital activity to date around the world. What has worked and why? Looking at the stats and using that knowledge in your new digital strategy.

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6 thoughts on “A strategic approach to global digital marketing

  1. Ian Curran says:

    Hi Emma,

    A good start but you need to include a section on search engine optimisation – suggest you talk to Oliver.tennant@firstlinesearch.co.uk, he is MD of first group and understand this area very well, he had won a lot of business and may help with case studies.

    You also need to include mobile marketing, this covers mobile advertising, mobile CRM, coupons, vouchers ticketing etc. Mobile marketing has started using blast SMS for promotions, but now you can use targeted sms and back channel responces, there is an excellent case study about BMW who used it for their winter type promotion in Germany… The conversion rate was over 35% because it was targeted and very specific,, this is exceptional, but very cost effective. From my engagemnet with major brands, and digital marketing agencies they do not understand the value of mobile marketing, the key barriers are, education, and understanding of what it is the components and the technologies/enablers and how to integrate with existing marketing capabilities… A real skills shortage and lack of understanding so great opportunity for you to address this…

    All the banks are active in mobile banking/CRM and are developing mobile payment solutions, so if you are a marketing agency and do not have plans then you will miss the boat…..

    Transport for London and other regional organisations aim to introduce mobile ticketing this is the next step for Oyster card in London. So I have shared the Future, but it is just around the corner.

    If you need help the Trakware solutions newco can help you, we have built mobile marketing applications and services, mobile web site builder, device deployable apps etc. This has been done cost effectivly using open source within a cloud environment.

    If you need help contact me on +44 (0) 78890 55644, curran.ian@virgin.net


    Ian Curran
    Council Member
    Yorkshire & Humberside Innovation Council

    • Hi Ian, thanks for your feedback and suggestions. This is part 1 of a series of posts concerning Global Digital Strategy which is just purely aimed at understanding your global customer. The series will run over the net few weeks and will look at all aspects of developing a digital strategy for multiple countries, including the areas you mentioned of both SEO and Mobile. Keep checking in! Would welcome your views and feedback on future posts also 🙂

  2. Nick Hilditch says:

    Hi Emma

    An interesting and useful article, and I look forward to reading more. I admit I grimaced at your first point on ‘global customers’ though – while of course accepting the benefits of segmentation, from a customer’s perspective the accent should be on individual customers and businesses. Unless you are aiming to acquire a global business customer such as IBM or Ford, I would have liked to see a heading such as ‘Understand your local customers’.

  3. Hi Nick

    Good point! Perhaps I should have said ‘understanding your various customer groups around the Globe’ or ‘understanding your GLOCAL customer’? As you will have probably gathered after reading the full post, I too am a keen believer in the need to understand the differences between local customers so that you can market to the individual.

    Thanks for your comment, and glad that you found it interesting!

  4. This is a great article and perfect timing – I am currently helping a customer with their online marketing strategy for their international markets so this will be extremely useful for them and me. Looking forward to the next installment.

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