Thoughts to Consider When Launching a New Product in a Foreign Market

ImageDuring my career, I’ve handled the publicity and media relations for numerous new product launches in Canada and the U.S. for both domestic and European companies.   Anyone who’s ever launched a product in a new country knows there is a lot of preparation and planning involved, from packaging updates to getting a sales team together to financial due diligence in order to be compliant when selling and shipping internationally.  It also holds true that the communications and publicity needed to introduce a new brand and product should be well-planned and deliberate.  Some considerations I believe to be valuable for companies taking the jump across the pond or border include:

Selecting a communications partner who understands and actually works in the new market

Find a partner that has feet on the ground and truly understands not only the domestic consumer, but also the media who reach that consumer.  This partner should have established relationships with the media – both trade and consumer – covering your industry.  Keep in mind that media relations’ practices do vary from country to country.  My experience shows that the U.S. media has stricter provisions of what they can or cannot accept in terms of gifts and meals (even product samples in some instances), compared to their European counterparts.

Your Public relations partner should understand its domestic consumer behavior better than you or your own domestic agency, since buying patterns typically vary from country to country, depending on the product and industry.  This is even true for regions within a single country.  For example, when I worked for a vacuum cleaner manufacturer, we saw that New Englanders bought and used canister vacuum cleaners over uprights because of the prevalence of hardwood floors in that region, so we always made sure we properly targeted that market with messaging and tips geared toward cleaning hardwood floors and canister users.

Having a communications partner on site in the new market can help you better coordinate with your domestic communications agency and ensure that you are targeting the correct regions with the correct messaging. Your new partner will also know the best and most successful translators and will be able to flag any malapropisms when it comes to ensuring that communications and press materials include language that is congruent with the local vernacular (realise vs. realize or tyre vs. tire, etc.).

Make sure the product is available – at least online – in the launch country when you begin promoting it to the public.

In 1997, I helped launch a new automotive aftermarket product from the UK  into the U.S. market. The product was a car security device that fit over a steering wheel to prevent theft.  Of course, my client was eager to get things rolling with the media even though we had no retailers yet committed to sell the product and thus nowhere to direct consumers to buy.

As with any new product launch, there’s always that chicken versus the egg struggle of when to begin the publicity.  Does publicity lead to helping the sales team secure placement at the expense of frustrating consumers who can’t find the product anywhere and become angry and give up?  In many cases, consumers will send nasty-grams and deluge questions of where to buy upon the editors, which renders the latter unhappy as well, and also can go so far as to jeopardize a PR practitioner’s rapport and credibility with that editor.

My mantra is to get some at least some retail traction first and have a separate sales communications strategy that targets retailers directly.  But at the very least, while you are trying to build retail distribution and need to begin publicity, be sure to initially offer the product for purchase online so the above scenario doesn’t occur.  Once you get enough retail distribution and you don’t want to compete with retailers online, you can curb the online availability.

Be Patient and Trust your Communications Partner

In the best scenario, you’ve selected a stellar partner.  We know you have C-Suite folks and possibly shareholders to report your progress to, but be patient in not trying to ram rod your brand and product into the new market.

Establishing awareness for a new brand takes time, so don’t feel you’re behind the 8-ball if you’re not seeing results instantly.  Let your communications partner counsel you on the best approaches with dealing with the domestic media – from determining what trade shows you should attend to whether or not you should consider a media tour or media luncheon to help build awareness and rapport among the media.

I had a few disagreements with my former Scottish client about timing (he wanted to move very fast without any distribution), but I was able to serve as a trusted adviser to him and demonstrated my knowledge of the industry, consumer habits and media interests in that case. We were able to collaborate and ultimately received a great wave of steady media coverage which both increased retailer interest and consumer sales.

Good luck!  Buena suerte! Bonne chance! Viel Glück! Gambatte! 祝你好運   Udachi!

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