When you think about international expansion, do sales and marketing come to mind? They do for most people. However, the work a business undertakes to grow globally isn’t limited just to those functions. We talked with Joshua Zerkel, who leads Global Community, Channels and Training at Evernote. He told us about their community-based Ambassador program and how it helped drive traction for Evernote to expand internationally.
Narrow Your Target
Initially, Evernote’s Ambassador program was created to obtain local and easy access to markets all around the world. Its main mission was to create content on specific topics for Evernote local content channels. An ambitious program, it was launched worldwide from the beginning, and covered a wide array of different topics.
Is going after so many markets at once a wise move? Zerkel issues a word of caution,“If you choose to run a global program, start small, in very targeted markets and grow gradually,” he explains. “Going ‘everywhere’ from the beginning will not be very effective. You won’t be able to understand each market thoroughly, and you won’t have enough resources to cover it all.” He also points out that a more methodical approach gives a company the necessary time and experience to understand local realities. “You have to remember that every market is different, even though you are trying to tell the same story everywhere.”
To provide some concrete examples, Zerkel explains that in the US, webinars are a must-have, but in Asia, physical events are much more valued and deliver a bigger impact. Therefore it’s important to recognize that not everything you do in your country will resonate equally in other countries. You need to rely on local experts to tell you what would work best locally. Rather than force a single type of content on everyone, give your community flexibility and diverse resources, so that they can make the best choices for their audiences. Then, allow them to add ingredients that will have greater traction in the local market.
Focusing on fewer markets at a time doesn’t necessarily mean you need to focus only on traditional ones. Zerkel pointed out that Evernote saw great success with the community-driven Ambassador program in countries that Silicon Valley tends to ignore, either because it is too easy to go into those markets (Australia, Canada, UK) or because it’s too hard to penetrate those markets (Africa, Middle East). Their Ambassador program filled some marketing gaps that they simply wouldn’t have been able to address with internal resources.
Update Your Strategy
With Zerkel taking over the Ambassador program, they decided to change their strategy. This started with semantics. They no longer have ambassadors, but rather Evernote Community Leaders and Evernote Certified Consultants. The idea was to shift the focus from people that would bring content to Evernote to instead empowering advocates that would bring Evernote to their own communities.
Community Leaders are chosen on the basis of network potential and enthusiasm for the product. They are provided with resources to create events, presentations, webinars, and any other kind of marketing efforts that would make sense for their own community. Certified Consultants are more than just advocates, but rather partners and resellers that include Evernote as a solution in their own businesses.
When restructuring any program designed for global growth, it’s important to measure the impact. This is often easier said than done. In Zerkel’s experience, it can actually be easier to have an impact on a userbase of hundreds of millions of users than it is to track the degree of that impact. At first, under the Ambassador program, it was difficult to track many metrics aside from the ambassadors’ contributions to the blog. With the new approach, they can tally up the number of posts each Community Leader posts on their own channel, the numbers of people who attend the events they host, and so on. Referral links make it easy to track metrics.
Structure Your Resources
Under the new program, today Evernote has more than 1,000 partners spanning the globe. Zerkel credits the transformation in great part with the fact that Evernote started to be very clear about their goals and expectations, both internally and with their partners. This led to greater engagement from partners.
To manage this community, Evernote has a dedicated team of two people. Zerkel reports to the marketing lead and works closely with a community coordinator. They also get help from two regional managers, one based in Zurich, the other in Tokyo. Having local partners in the regions is incredibly important. As Zerkel explains, “It’s impossible for one person to understand all cultures, so it’s crucial to work closely with regional managers who understand local needs.”
Engage Global Users
Zerkel explains that his job consists in finding the right balance between two goals. There is a marketing goal, as he is reaching out to an external group to share Evernote’s message. However, this program relies on international partners who all have different backgrounds and market realities. Scaling globally while attending to everyone’s needs is a challenge. He has to be responsive to partners no matter their cultures, time zones, or interests.
To succeed, he implemented various communication channels, including email, Evernote, and a private Facebook group. He also started holding monthly webinars in which he would share the community successes, bring up some product updates and share upcoming Evernote news. These monthly encounters have a great impact on the community, as they feel like part of the company and more valued for the work they do.
In software, it’s important to remember that your users are your most valuable asset. As independent voices of enthusiasm for your product, they are better advocates for your company than even you as an employee can be. Empowering them should be a top priority. If they are spread around the world, they can become your best allies to expand into markets you wouldn’t be able to reach otherwise.
The biggest lesson to take away from Evernote’s experience? If you want your business to be successful in other markets, remember to listen to your users’ own realities, instead of trying to impose your local reality, globally.