Why Market Intensification Is the New “Market Entry”

Back in the old days of international expansion, it was common business parlance to talk about “entering” a market. This is because companies often had minimal if any customers in a market before actually setting up a physical presence there.

Things have changed.

With more marketing, selling, and purchasing happening online than ever before, it’s no longer a matter of a digital business “entering” a new international market. It’s a matter of making choices about which local markets matter most, and then intensifying efforts there. “Market intensification” is a conscious choice to go deeper into a market, attracting more local customers, selling more effectively and at a bigger scale, via the right channels, and adapting your company’s offerings to truly map to their needs.

Digital Models Offer Faster Access to Local Markets

A digital business operating in the current era no longer has to make a conscious decision to “enter” a market, as such. Instead, they have to make a conscious decision about how to intensify their efforts in markets where they already have customers.

Companies that have a digital business model have more and more access to the world than ever in history. However, that comes with less and less control over the exact whereabouts of the customers they initially attract. It’s not uncommon for companies to create a website and have at least 20% of their traffic immediately come from outside of their home country. Create a website or a blog in a major world language like English, and within a year of steady content creation, you’re likely to have visitors from 50+ countries. It’s what I’ve witnessed with many companies, of various sizes (and even with the reach of this blog).

If what you’re selling is in high demand, either because you’re in a market that is growing quickly, or because your product simply rocks and people love it, you’ll be benefiting from viral networks and word of mouth. When a product is amazing, word of mouth quickly travels across borders.

What’s confusing is that, even though it’s easier today to become “global” faster if you have a digital business model, scaling that and achieving smart international growth has in some ways become more complex. After all, marketers don’t just need to generate any old type of demand from anywhere in the world. Their job suddenly becomes a lot more complex.

Faster Global Access Brings Local Complexity Sooner

Obtaining more of the desired type of traffic from the right countries, converting it into qualified leads, and ensuring that the pipeline into sales is high quality is a tall order, and can be incredibly hard to scale across languages and countries. The degree to which you depend on digital marketing and a digital business model is the degree to which you are likely to be global without really intending to be. Digital marketing, while the primary strategy for many digital-native or digital-savvy companies, is rarely ever the only one when it comes to demand generation. Often, international marketers end up leaning on more locally differentiated strategies and even offline tactics in order to better reach local markets.

Having a bunch of international traffic on your website before you truly have an international strategy can be confusing. It can put companies in a situation where they either tend to focus on their home country and ignore the rest, or at the other end of the spectrum, get overly excited about too many countries hitting their website and marketing funnel at once.

For companies that are eager to grow globally, it can be easy to misinterpret local market signals. Sometimes, metrics may indicate strong “market pull” from a given country that is definitely are hungry for what they are selling, but might not be a perfect fit today due to a lack of a customized local offering.

Local Insights and Data Should Inform Intensification Strategy

Fortunately, digital companies today that are global sooner than their non-digital counterparts of the past also have a distinct advantage: earlier access to local data and local customer insights.

Because they’re already in more markets earlier in their history, digital companies can make use of company-specific data and insights to determine where exactly to intensify their growth efforts. In the olden days of market entry, a company had to make a strong financial commitment to a market to even start capturing any data, usually putting employees on the ground to obtain local customer insights, then iterating and learning from there.

Today, digital companies can analyze performance across a number of areas to determine where to intensify. Business leaders can look at key performance indicators in various areas — not just marketing, but sales and customer success metrics too, in order to determine where to intensify. Looking at data this way requires country-specific reporting, which in and of itself often requires a certain level of operational and analytical sophistication that many companies don’t have until later in their evolution as a business.

The takeaway? If you’re at a digital business going global quickly, and you need to figure out where to intensify your efforts, make sure to invest in data analysis and local insights by country as early as you can. Only then can you truly paint a quantitative and qualitative picture of each local market and the opportunity it represents for your business.

Nataly Kelly

Nataly leads localization at HubSpot and has previously held diverse roles in marketing, international operations and strategy, research, and product development. Her latest book is "Found in Translation" (Penguin). She writes for Harvard Business Review on topics of international marketing and global business. Nataly works remotely from New England, having lived in Quito (Ecuador), Donegal (Ireland) and the rural Midwest where she grew up.

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