How to Drive Global Growth with International Product Strategy

What does an international product manager do exactly, and how can you use your product strategy to drive global growth for your business? To learn more, we sat down with Talia Baruch, a Senior Product Manager who heads up international product strategy at SurveyMonkey, and previously led international product for global growth at LinkedIn and other consumer products over the past 15 years.

The Role of the International Product Manager    

A lot goes into making a product ready for new market entry. Talia explains that there are three main areas of effort:

  • Internationalization (i18n): This refers to making the product global-ready and multilingual-ready, from preparing UI strings for translation, to building a modular platform infrastructure to scale multilingual support across all mobile and desktop devices.
  • Localization (l10n): This refers to language treatment within the product. A comprehensive localization process includes translation, transcreation, transliteration, from UI strings to marketing creative copy, promotional campaigns, brand assets, FAQs, and legal content.
  • International product: This refers to making the product holistically market-ready for target geographies (think geo-first rather than language-first), and ensures that the product fits the local expected behavior and is tied to the local ecosystem to maximize market adoption. The role of the International Product Manager is to build the vision and drive the roadmap for global product strategy in international markets, as the key lever for global growth. This includes defining target markets for remainder headroom growth opportunity, identifying addressable user cohorts in market, repositioning the relevant value proposition, and delivering optimized flows for user acquisition, engagement, and conversion, informed by A/B testing and user studies.

As Baruch explains, when she builds the global product strategy and roadmap, she focuses on three key goals for product optimization:

Make it Work

Make sure your product performance in markets outside of the US is on par with your product performance in the US. It’s not just a matter of translating the UI. Your product functionality needs to work in international geos to gain traction. For example, Talia adds, “To be discovered in non-English, non-US markets, we need multilingual SEO/SEM strategy, scaled ccTLD rollout (country code top level domain), and master sitemap with hreflang to maximize local indexing, traffic and page ranking by the local search engines. We need to resolve latency and site speed gaps to avoid drop-off rate in geos that fall behind. We need to build multilingual NLP (natural language processing) and data standardization to enable auto-fill of user fields, type-ahead functionality, multilingual relevancy algorithm for personalization and recommendation systems, and so on.”

Make it Relevant

Once your product experience works locally, Talia explains, you need to also make sure that it is culturally relevant, fitted to the local ecosystem and user needs and wants. For example, APIs with local mail clients, local social media channels and publishing platforms. These integrations are typically built in address book import, SSO (single sign-on), sign-up entry point to welcome flow, and in engagement features.

Baruch shares an example from her experience at LinkedIn, where the team integrated with local players in China, such as WeChat, Tencent QQ, and Sina Weibo to leverage local market penetration and discoverability for accelerated growth in market. If your sign-up flow includes, for example, sign-up with Twitter in a geo where Twitter is not widespread (or banned, like in China), you lose your vantage point. “At SurveyMonkey,” Baruch says, “we added WhatsApp integration in Europe to leverage its local dominant presence.”

Another example Talia shares is applying the relevant pricing models and payment methods in your Pricing and Checkout experience. For example, in Europe, modular and flexible “pay as you go” and “try before you buy” access to advanced features are commonly expected models vs the “fixed menu” flat rate annual or monthly subscription plans that users are accustomed to in the US.

Make it Native

Creating a native look and feel for your UI/UX is another aspect of geo-customization, Baruch explains. She points out that in the US market, your brand awareness and perception is often already established, but in your late adoption international markets (especially where English proficiency is low), your brand perception is not as mature and recognizable. Late adoption markets are, by default, markets with lower engagement.

“It’s on you to establish brand trust and loyalty in your local markets,” she highlights. “You need to present explicit value-add benefits for why a new user should not only sign up, but also show up and actively engage with your products.” Your stats on daily, weekly, and monthly active users, session duration, and drop off rate are some of the routine success metrics used to measure performance in this area.

Another factor in “Make if Native” is adapting to mobile-first geos. At LinkedIn, the team built “Chitu,” a 100% China-made standalone light-weight app, targeted for young professionals in China, with WeChat integration and fully local UI experience. This “cannibalism” approach was a win in growing local market penetration.

Local content, Baruch adds, is another important component in making your product relevant in the local market. Translation is not enough. You’ll want to take it up a notch for your priority markets and offer content that is created locally for the local market. For example, at SurveyMonkey, Talia drove transcreated marketing pages designed specifically for the UK addressable cohorts.

Ask yourself about the core personas you target within each market.How is, say, a student, or a healthcare provider, different in the UK vs in the US? Both get the same English marketing pages, but their worlds are vastly different. Other local content assets should also be adapted to the local market. Talia’s team at SurveyMonkey launched geo-customized top-of-funnel Home Pages, Survey Endpages, and Marketing Pages that are geo-customized, adding local customer testimonials, local data points, local insights, and so on.

How Culture Influences Customer Behavior

We asked Baruch to share some examples to illustrate the different culture codes and expected behavior in different geos. Here are some use cases she managed:

  • Highlight trust for German customers. In Germany, people care about trust and transparency, and have a high sensitivity to data security and privacy. Therefore, at SurveyMonkey, Talia and her team added explicit user data consent and privacy policy checkboxes in Sign Up flow for user-controlled validation. They also implemented local trust seals (passing the rigorous Trusted Shops audit for DACH), and integrated in these into the global footer and Checkout to gain user trust.
  • Create a different value prop for Japan. In Japan, users expect a more guided product experience. For example, explicit tooltips explaining the action designed for the page, its benefit and implication (for example, who would see a post or comment in a feed). For LinkedIn, Baruch and her team had to re-orient the value proposition for the Japanese addressable segment. If in the US, LinkedIn’s value proposition is to help build the user individual professional identity, in Japan, users often define their individual professional success as the success of their company. The right positioning of the product value-add is critical to getting users to take the action designed for the page.
  • Understand how cultural norms drive product usage. Another example of product geo-adaptation at LinkedIn was the Recommendation feature. Users in Japan are more sensitive to privacy and hierarchy and less inclined to request recommendations publicly, especially from their seniors. Also, the concept of boosting your individual profile may seem like boasting (unlike in the US, where this is the expected behavior). Posting/commenting/sharing in your LinkedIn feed is another differentiator between the US and the Japanese market, where users are more sensitive to who will be viewing their post, and to any downstream implications of that.
  • Adapt design to local preferences. In the US, users relate better to aspirational/inspirational images in the header banner on Home page, whereas in Europe, users relate better to images of “real people like me” in everyday life situations. At SurveyMonkey, Baruch and her team launched refresh redesign native look and feel on key top-of-funnel pages to make them more compelling for action, encompassing CTA copy treatment, image treatments, and use of local persona. Baruch also introduced SurveyMonkey to international-first A/B testing, and has been running A/B tests in their priority markets outside of US to apply the relevant learnings and drive lift in growth, engagement, and conversion performance outside of the US market.

Define Success Differently for Each Market

Baruch explains that being able to customize your product performance locally is one thing, but understanding your local user needs and wants is, by far, the most fundamental effort you need to focus on upfront. As mentioned earlier, your brand perception will differ from one market to another, depending on your market maturity level, among other factors. To establish product-market fit, you first need to define the local value proposition for your target local user-type and how that ties to the local market ecosystem.

The success metric goals and corresponding product optimization efforts vary by geo, Talia explains. For example, for low adoption markets with low brand awareness, Talia and her team optimized top-of-funnel logged-out product experience for engaged new users; whereas for mature markets, their efforts focused on conversion funnels to paid subscription.

To better customize for local adoption, Talia conducts local market research, competitive analysis and user studies (qualitative interviews and quantitative surveys). Talia shares some steps you can implement to do so:

Localize Your Marketing Using Customer Data

Market research provides insights about the unique market landscape gaps, local strategic partnership opportunities (for example, a reseller model for low-adoption markets), local providers, top sectors for the addressable segment and learnings on local comparable cost and expected pricing models.

Baruch explains that it was important, for example, to understand differences between SurveyMonkey’s UK users and US users, since both get the same English product experience (which typically tends to be US-centric). Talia notes that the public sector (Education, Healthcare–NHS, and Government) is one of the key differentiators between UK and US markets. Talia and her team transcreated and launched new marketing pages targeted for their UK customers, with local customer testimonials and customer success story videos, and with relevant content that applies to the needs of the UK public sector.

Think “User-First” and “International-First” When It Comes to Testing

The digital industry has a competitive advantage over other industries, as they can iterate and adapt their product in agile mode to a specific geography or language in order to improve the product experience and hit the success metric goals. Baruch points out that “Traditionally, A/B testing is done in English for the US market, and then learnings are applied to a global user base. However, it is critical to also test in non-English non-US and apply the right learnings to the right audience in the right funnel.” At SurveyMonkey, she introduced an International-first A/B testing approach, which proved that product optimizations have different lift impact in different markets.

Know How End User Behaviors Vary by Geography

Habits related to different aspects in your customer journey (signing up, taking a survey, creating/deploying a survey, triggers for upgrading to paid account, and so on), vary by geography and culture. It is therefore important to understand the local culture and expected behavior for global reach.

For example, in Latin America and in Europe, the long-term subscription model with pre-paid credit card info entered to the site is not as common a model as it is in the US. “Even for payments like MetroCard, people don’t pay monthly or weekly in advance, but rather, they pay per need for what they use,” she points out.

Therefore, monthly or annual subscription models may not be the best fit for such geos, especially in late adoption markets, where new customers haven’t yet had the opportunity to familiarize with the product and establish brand loyalty. At SurveyMonkey, the team built modular payment and pricing platforms to allow them to dynamically generate, by geo, the right Checkout experience and Pricing promotions. The Billing team has also adapted, by geo, the relevant payment methods and added local payment processors and currencies.

Another key differentiator between markets, Baruch explains, is mobile penetration and broadband connectivity/site speed. Countries like Japan, Korea, and Sweden are mobile-first geos with high broadband, where, in some cases, it makes sense to launch an international-first lightweight app before introducing this release in the US, to leverage mobile conversion opportunity.

International Product Manager as Globalization Evangelist

We asked Talia what the biggest challenge is that an international product manager at a digital company faces. She replies without hesitation: “Internal evangelism. Especially when different teams own different code bases. International Product, unlike most other vertical products, is a widely horizontal effort,” Baruch highlights. “It’s not a feature, it’s every feature.”

The solution to overcoming this challenge is to demonstrate the business case and the data-driven value-add in investment and its impact on growing the global corporate goals for the business. She also reinforces that when going global, a company should integrate international upfront in the early phase of product dev/design, investing in a modular, multilingual, multi-geo supportive platform infrastructure upfront to avoid added cost, time, and bottlenecks at the tail-end before global release in product.

Any digital company that targets international markets for their product roadmap should have a dedicated product manager focused on its international agenda. An open-minded international product manager will connect the dots on the big picture vision and help define the company’s global reach strategy, determine the success metrics, provide the upfront guidelines for internationalization, and the requirements and specs for its international product experience. That is the catalyst for your company’s global growth.