How to approach a new market

Most businesses start local, but all businesses must grow and expand, to stay alive. And while borders are becoming increasingly porous when it comes to products and services, gaining a foothold in a new market is still a complex task. Many international brands are currently investing in Italy, because of its strategic position at the heart of Europe and the Mediterranean and because of its lively innovation ecosystem, among other things. But what do you need to know, before you approach the Italian market? How do you expand internationally, adapting your message, while retaining your brand identity? We have a few pro tips to share.

You can’t copy and paste

No matter how well you did on your domestic market, trying to replicate your strategy exactly, with a quick stab at translating your payoff, is not going to work. Your product has probably been tested on your original market before launch, and so has your marketing strategy. As loath as you might be to go through that again, and while you might be tempted to think that, regardless of nationality, your target audience has similar demographics, skipping that preparatory phase is not a good idea.

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Technology matters

One aspect that most companies tend to underestimate, when it comes to adapting marketing strategy, is the different level of penetration and popularity of technologies and platforms in different Countries. For instance, if your product depends on online sales, you should be aware of the fact that Italian consumers are less prone than other Europeans to make online purchases via mobile. In the same way, if you are used to a strong Twitter following driving your sales, you might have to look much more at Facebook for your Italian campaign – because we are still more likely to get into long posts with lots of pictures than microblogging.

Lost in translation

You know what works amazingly in marketing campaigns in Italy? Humour. You know what doesn’t work at all? Humour that is based on wordplay in its original language. Many brands have fallen at this hurdle: your brilliant payoff simply won’t work in another language and you are tempted to leave it as it is, hoping audiences will get it? Don’t. Unless your payoff is “Just Do It” or “I’m Loving It” (in which case internationalisation is really not a problem you need to solve), you should try to convey the spirit of your message, rather than its wording. There are instances in which a literal translation will work perfectly (“Polo. Small but tough.”), but in the vast majority of cases, it won’t. You should always work with local professionals to make sure you access all the appropriate cultural references, speaking to your audience on multiple levels.

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Customer service

Another thing that drives Italian customers up the wall is purchasing a product or service and not being able to access customer support in their own language. This is a mistake many brands make when first launching in Italy. They assume English is the Lingua Franca of the western world and therefore because they have already invested in the translation of their marketing material, they can delay the matter of customer service until they get a foothold in the Italian market. We strongly advise against that. Failing to have your customer support protocols ready, with Italian-speaking personnel and Italian-language chatbots, will result in customers getting frustrated and leaving negative reviews, thereby undermining your possibilities of success in Italy. Make your customers feel seen, heard and cherished. Give them attention and be sure you make the effort to communicate in their language. This is the first step to customer loyalty.

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She is a part-time digital nomad. She would go full-time, if only she could stay away from Berlin for long enough without pining for a Pretzel. She was born in Italy and she enjoys life as an expat, but visits home often enough and can still remember how to bake a perfect lasagna. She is passionate about writing, marketing, languages and the systematic demolition of cultural stereotypes.

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