With the acceleration of the ecommerce industry and shifts in the retail sector driven largely by the pandemic, retailers are becoming increasingly conscious of how important it is to understand their audience. In order to succeed online, brands must be acutely aware of their customers’ needs, wants, habits and expectations. The role of marketing is not only limited to amplifying your audience reach – it can also be a powerful tool to identify territories where there is demand for your product, as well as being crucial in developing a strategic and holistic plan to engage those new markets. How, then, can data and marketing be leveraged to identify the best market for overseas expansion?
Dilyana Gramadarova – Head of Partnerships and host of the RWB Digital Series – was joined by Lynsey Sweales in an exclusive webinar, where she shared her insights into leveraging marketing and data to reveal expansion opportunities. Lynsey joined us from SocialB – an award-winning digital marketing and social media agency, boasting the likes of Visa, Arcadia Group and Boohoo as clients. With over 20 years of experience, CEO Lynsey Sweales uses her expertise to help organisations innovate and grow in international markets. In this session, Lynsey and Dilyana explored several key considerations when it comes to expansion. What are the strategic and analytical tools that a business should deploy when looking at cross-border trade opportunities? How critical is the role of marketing, not only in the assessment phase, but throughout to ensure a successful launch? What does it mean to develop and deliver a holistic marketing strategy across multiple different channels?
Cross-Border Trade Opportunities: Analytical Tools and Techniques
Lynsey began by pointing out the sheer scale of the ecommerce market. In 2020, retail ecommerce sales worldwide were a massive 4.28trillion USD.  In addition, in 2020, over two billion people purchased goods or services online.  With that in mind, Lynsey advises that any brand not considering doing ecommerce sales needs to “take their head out of the sand”, as “it’s not going away”. Although marketplaces are an excellent place to test, learn and gain access to the market very quickly, Lynsey says the biggest mistake brands make is to “list and leave”. Many brands will fall into the trap of simply listing their product on Amazon – for example – but have little to no customer-centric approach. With that in mind, the big takeaway that Lynsey has for businesses is to “take your brand hat off from over your eyes, put your consumer shoes on, and really think like a consumer”.
But how do you use that methodology in order to make decisions when you are considering a new market for cross-border expansion? According to Lynsey, firstly “we need to understand if there’s an opportunity there”. It is very important to know whether your product is in demand within a market, and “there are a number of tools you can use for that.” Lynsey notes that if you sell direct to consumer, Google Analytics is a brilliant tool – and Google Search Console is also very useful. “Not to mention, there are lots of really great tools such as Similarweb and SEMrush. In addition, some marketplaces will actually give you the data so you can carry out keyword research and decide if there is an opportunity there or not.” To summarise, instead of blindly going into all countries and all marketplaces, it’s important to look at where you have seen sales directly, which marketplaces are growing, and looking at trends in the market as a whole.
As Lynsey also mentions, “data gives you knowledge, but you also have to apply some context to that”. It’s absolutely crucial to take into account cultural and language differences. Lynsey advises against using Google Translate, for example, acknowledging that it fails to take into account the cultural differences between regions. Although, as Lynsey pointed out, there are some amazing tools that can help aid your decisions, Lynsey importantly notes that “there is no quick fix magic wand here; it does take some manual processing to understand what the opportunities are in the market.”
The Importance of Marketing
Most people would agree that marketing plays a critical role in the success of a business – particularly in the assessment phase. But how important is marketing to ensure a successful launch, not only in the assessment phase but also throughout a campaign? CEO Lynsey Sweales had some great insights into this too. The primary point that Lynsey stresses is that you have to be iterative online. As mentioned earlier, you cannot just “list and leave”. Even if you have identified markets, you cannot just list your product and expect consumers to turn up and buy it. In order to be successful, you must be constantly, iteratively learning. Lynsey then echoed another important point that Dilyana had raised previously, which is that it is a team effort. Whether you are a large or small brand, everyone is responsible for commerce because everyone (from the fulfilment team to manufacturing to finance/leadership/recruitment), has to be aware of the company plan so that you can tweak your methods accordingly.
So how do you ensure that you can be iteratively successful online? Lynsey has three main takeaways she wants to share. Ultimately, people need to focus on ‘priority retailers’. Of course, ideally you want to be listing on as many places as possible where there is a market share, but the first circle is to prioritise the marketplaces in which you can make the biggest difference. Those are the ones that are more forward-leaning, have partnership relationships, have a bigger ecosystem and are growing. After that, you should then prioritise your investment; focus on the number of products you have. You cannot physically and iteratively look after every SKU, so what Lynsey suggests is picking what she calls a ‘power portfolio’. This is typically the most sold, searched and profitable product. You can then think about what sorts of bundles would work in combination with this – and prioritise based on that, from an investment and priority implementation point of view.
Moving Forward with a Holistic Approach
In summary, we have identified several key factors to keep in mind when it comes to overseas expansion. Firstly, it is absolutely crucial to not fall into the trap of listing and leaving on a marketplace. While marketplaces can be a great opportunity to gain rapid access to a market, you always need to ensure that you have your ‘consumer shoes on’, in order to think like a buyer. Furthermore, we have identified multiple tools that can be leveraged in order to support expansion into a new market, including Google Analytics, Google Search Console, Similarweb, SEMrush and Keyword.io. However, it must be noted that these are not all-encompassing; there is certainly still an element of manual processing which needs to be done in order to take full advantage of their benefits.
To conclude, Lynsey had some very insightful advice for every brand out there. Although we as consumers are now spending more money online, we are also spending more time online searching. As a brand, this means you now need to have a holistic marketing approach – particularly in terms of the common touch points where consumers are going. People are using a combination of search engines, social media, customer reviews and marketplaces as a means of research before they commit to a purchase. Therefore as a brand, you need to be in the right space at the right time. Not only that, but 75% of people have swapped from one brand to another in the last 12 months. As Lynsey describes, this doesn’t have to be because the brand did a “bad job”. In fact, brand loyalty can be switching solely due to a change in an individual’s circumstances. Thus, it’s absolutely crucial to stay front of mind. Going back to what Lynsey said earlier in terms of putting on the consumers’ shoes; think why and how you’ve changed your purchase habits in the past 12 months, then link that to your holistic approach, and that is what you need to apply as an organization in order to win in that space.
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