The following is a post from our co-founder and CEO, Ryan Frankel. It originally appeared in Forbes under the title, “How To Reach The Six Billion Customers You’re Missing.”
Taking your company global can be daunting. The world is changing at a rapid rate and middle-class consumers are constantly cropping up in new markets. What’s the first step in tackling new global markets? Recognizing that there are nuanced cultural differences in every country. Each culture is different and consumers expect you to understand their way of life.
The following is an analysis of two high-growth companies—Livestream, which offers a live online streaming video service, and Spreadshirt, a website for creating and selling t-shirts—that are making the global leap while maintaining breakneck growth.
How Livestream is Reaching International Customers
Livestream, which counts Facebook and The New York Times among its clients, has boosted sales by 613% over the past three years. The company is at the forefront of streaming content via the Internet.
Reaching international customers is a natural extension of Livestream’s business. Its two marquee clients alone allow the company to reach millions of international viewers, which prompts the logical question: Where should they head next?
South America. With widening access to mobile technology and the Internet, along with a rising middle class, South America offers a ripe market. Livestream could, theoretically, localize their product, messaging, and customer services for the region, beginning with translating the service into Portuguese and Spanish. But things aren’t that simple.
To enter South American markets, companies must navigate nation-specific broadcasting rights and get a grasp on each country’s tastes and preferences. Like any well-run company, Livestream prioritizes problems through a product roadmap. The first step is to address geo-blocking (the blocking of IP addresses from one nation to the next) and ensure they that have the foundation to expand into a new nation. This takes an understanding of the local nation’s laws and a concerted effort not to operate in legal grey areas.
After addressing the issue of geo-blocking, Livestream then breaks down the sources of their traffic in each region. Brazil, they found, is most promising. Livestream saw healthy rates of streaming not just on T.V.’s and desktops, but also on mobile. Brazil has more than 75 million smartphone users today, and the number of Android users in the country is greater than that of Japan or Germany. The World Cup and summer Olympics, both full of potential live-streaming events, are also coming up soon. Given these attributes, Livestream is now investing serious resources in the Brazilian market.
How Spreadshirt is Reaching International Customers
If not South America, then Livestream could take a note out of Spreadshirt’s playbook and look to conquer the European market. The company helps regular people design, sell and purchase t-shirts. It’s a simple concept that’s proved popular. Spreadshirt has grown sales by 335% over three years.
Spreadshirt’s approach to entering international markets starts with an edict laid out by CEO Philip Rooke: “Stay hyper-focused on the customer. Find out what the customer wants and expects, and deliver it before somebody else does.” With a customer-centric philosophy at its core, Spreadshirt secured 72,000 active online sellers and publishers around the world in 2013.
They’re supported by the company’s on-the-ground investments in Europe. Spreadshirt maintains a global headquarters in Leipzig, Germany, along with two manufacturing plants in Europe. Rooke continues, “We have invested heavily in our platform and products to become the best global full service partner for e-commerce, print, and fulfillment ideas.” The results are clear: today, Spreadshirt sells t-shirts in 17 countries, in no small part to the localization of their website into 15 languages.
As with any global company, there remains room to grow. In order to enter new markets, Spreadshirt will likely face challenges in currency exchanges, localizing content, and dealing with international shipping logistics. We’ve seen multinational corporations—Starbucks, Nike, etc.—expand their operations globally at impressive rates, but such a feat requires diligence and planning.
Spreadshirt made the international jump by localizing their website, and Livestream is using American content staples like Facebook and the New York Times to reach new audiences. There are many ways to go global and reaching the six billion non-native English speakers can be achieved faster than ever in today’s hyper-connected world. But truly engaging with international customers and building loyalty takes dedication to more than just content—it takes dedication to cultural context.
Ninety-six percent of the world’s consumers live outside the U.S. Download our white paper, How to Take Your Growing Business Global, and learn how to reach the other ninety-six percent of the world.