Expanding into new markets? Here’s our top tip.

If you are planning to expand your business into new countries or broaden your product range in different markets, you might feel excited by the opportunities that await but a little daunted by the challenges you face. We’d like to share with you a suggestion to ensure your expansion goes well from the start.

The power of conversation (the right one)


We can’t emphasise enough how important it is that you talk to people who may be the future customers, clients, users of your product or service. When you talk to them, really listen. Pick up the nuance of what they say. Follow up with further questions. Dig deep. Depart from the script, be prepared to navigate unchartered territory. Try to learn as much as you can about the environment your customers live in and the context they operate in.

You may have done your demographic studies for your new market, run focus groups, sent out surveys, asked people what they want. You may even have run user research sessions. All of that is all great and absolutely necessary if you are serious about your endeavour.

But can you be sure that you have had the right people asking the right, probing questions, to the right groups, and that they have understood what the insights really mean, for you?

It can be difficult to correctly divine the cultural context in another country and spot how that may impact your planned business. If you have people helping you understand the new environment, are they sufficiently immersed in the culture of your target market and in your business to truly be able to draw out the right inferences? If they are, are they able to help you translate those inferences into action?

“I’m not sure”

If the honest answer to any of those questions is “I’m not sure”, we’d be very happy to chat and share with you how you can correctly evaluate the potential of a new market and unearth opportunities. With experience and understanding of researching user needs and doing business across cultures, you can reveal insights that can become the key drivers of your strategy – one that is on track to succeed because you have based it on real needs.

 Why is this important? As well as helping you get it right at the outset, it can help you avoid getting it wrong.

It bothers us a whole lot when we see companies spent a lot of money in ‘doing 'research’ and not getting the accurate, valuable insights they deserve. We would like to help in anyway we can.

 What does it involve?

It’s tempting to think moving into a new market is as simple as setting up some logistics stuff and maybe translating your marketing copy. But often simply replicating your business in a new country does not work.  Even translating copy can be a minefield unless you are lucky enough to find a translator who truly understands both the cultural context of both countries and your business. This is just the beginning of the journey of surprises that can await the unwary.

To get an idea of the small but important details to be aware of when setting up in another country, download our free Global Design Cheat Sheet. This article covering more operational aspects of localisation may help you spot some contextual factors you might need to consider.  However, these are just the small practical elements to think about. There are bigger strategic decisions that may need to be made. For example, which subscription model would be acceptable in your target market, which product features would customers choose, or which marketing messages would have the most impact.

The cultural factor

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The story goes even deeper. We’re talking about cultural factors and how failure to understand the local culture can cost a business a great deal of money or lead it to abandon the venture completely. (But please don’t be put off by this. Doing your research up front will not only protect you from such pitfalls but can also open up a whole world of exciting opportunities.)

Here is an example, from central Europe. An American company, shortly after the fall of the Berlin wall, took over a Czech manufacturing company. An American manager was sent to run the new Czech operations. He was a popular guy with a great track record so no-one doubted he would take the Czech company from strength to strength.

On arrival, he rolled his sleeves up and set to meeting his new colleagues on the factory floor. Getting down and dirty among the machinery, getting to grips with operations, getting to know the people working on the front line. Sounds like a great start, right?

“Hey Jan!” he’d say, clapping a machinist on the back? “What’s up? How was your weekend?”

Jan shuddered and withdrew into himself. What was this new boss doing here on the factory floor, among the machines?

His place was in the office, shoes shiny, suit ironed, professional, polite, maybe a little hard but definitely aloof.

First name terms? You. Did. Not. Do. That.

This is because of a concept called “power distance”, just one of a range of concepts that psychologists have identified that help explain how different cultures work and which can help you navigate those cultural waters.

The Czech factory employees were so horrified by this brazen display of openness and camaraderie that they started to quit, and soon a trickle turned into an exodus.

We’re not sure if this is a management myth, and if not, what happened to that company. If the story is true, perhaps our friendly manager could have just adjusted his style a little until he had gained the trust of his new colleagues. We’re sure things are different now in the Czech Republic almost three decades after the fall of the Berlin wall, allowing an influx of cultural influences. But nevertheless, despite globalisation each country maintains its own set of rules and it’s worth trying to understand them before embarking on business there.

Culture - the big word

Culture is born of history, geography, economics, faith and many other factors. Culture can vary within national boundaries. Think of different faith groups within nations, of northerners versus southerners, easterners versus westerners. What works in New York may not work in San Francisco. Do not think that because one country borders another or they speak a similar language that they are roughly the same.

So what does it mean?

Do your research. Learn the backstory. Listen carefully to what people say. Make sure your guides to your new environment are sensitive to cultural differences and can pick up on the right signals.

If you need a little help with all of this, we’d love to chat. Contact us here.