Many business owners believe it is only packaging that has to be adapted in the overseas marketplace. That’s a mistake. Adapting your product to meet the needs of an overseas market is a considerable undertaking and will likely require a substantial investment of time and money.
Case study: One of my past clients manufactured a very successful premium ice cream. Supermarkets throughout the United States could barely keep the decadent treat in their freezers because the demand was so great. The company wanted to build on this success by expanding internationally. It chose Japan as its entry point into the international market. The Japanese are exacting about quality and would appreciate this premium ice cream, it was thought.
The test shipment fell flat.
What happened? My client looked deeper into the Japanese culture and discovered some very important differences betweens Americans and Japanese. First, Americans prefer gallon-sized containers, while the Japanese prefer individual-sized containers, which fit better into their smaller freezers. My client also discovered that the ice cream had too much sugar for Japanese tastes.
The company tried again; this time using a reduced-sugar recipe in individual-sized containers and sending a twenty-foot freezer to Japan monthly. Over time, that one freezer a month grew to ten a month, and the company’s business in Japan was assured.
When it is not possible to sell the standardized products and services, a small business must adapt its product if it wants a global business. And although the changes might involve satisfying foreign countries’ regulatory requirements, the biggest test is always with the end user—the customer—because that’s who ultimately buys your product or service. If customers turn their noses up at your offering, even if you get regulatory approval, there will be no sales. Always keep the customer at the top of your mind and have empathy for others’ point of view; it will lead to ideas for meeting cultural differences.
This article is adapted from Laurel’s book, “Exporting: The Definitive Guide to Selling Abroad Profitably” published by Apress.