Speaker: Think Local in Foreign Lands
DES MOINES, Iowa – Companies seeking to expand overseas should tailor marketing messages and product offerings to specific countries and work closely with local distributors, an industry insider asserted at a conference held here late last month.
Shana McCabe,Ingevity’s global business manager of lubricants, recalled that the company had not tailored messages to the lubricants business before when she arrived in 2012, but it realized the need to do so while researching in preparation for a global expansion.
“Trying to figure out what was important in China versus Japan, or United States versus Germany, for example, was really key for us,” she stated Aug. 22 at ACI’s U.S. Base Oils and Lubricants Summit. She said it’s important to hire a “beachhead” team when entering a new market. “It’s vital to develop a team of knowledgeable people within the region,” McCabe said. “Hiring employees within the industry region who understand and know the customers and market is just the first step.”
Distributors Lend a Hand
Aligning with distributors within the market is another key.
“We had to use and still do use a lot of distributors around the world,” she said. “It’s nearly impossible if you don’t have anybody who knows how to run businesses locally,” she pointed out. For example, “just going in there with a United States focus in Malaysia doesn’t work. Instant recognition within a market through a third party is really one of the key benefits of using a distributor that’s already established.”
She said one thing Ingevity has done and continues to strive for is uniformity in requirements among its distributors. “It depends on the country we’re going into,” she said. “Whenever we bring on a new distributor, there are requirements we put into place.” Examples include reporting structure and how the distributor packages Ingevity’s goods.
McCabe said the company also leaned on its distributors in other countries to determine if localization of products was needed in certain regions by assisting with translations. “To just have somebody who’s a native speaker run through whatever we’re translating is helpful,” she said. “I can’t read Japanese, so having our distributor in Tokyo or Osaka look through a presentation or marketing piece or even labels we put on our products is really a key part of this.”
She emphasized the importance of establishing a go-to-market strategy. “The effective selling and marketing of your products or services requires a comprehensive, cohesive strategy that addresses the following to create clear market differentiators that propel market acceptance and revenue growth: sales strategy and delivery, branding and value proposition, marketing strategy and pricing.
“Having a solid marketing brand associated with what you are doing will carry you throughout – it really brings together what it is you’re trying to accomplish no matter what country you’re in,” she said. “Pricing obviously is going to be different from region to region, and you can have a little bit of differentiation in terms of what your market delivery is and market message is.”
McCabe highlighted the value of storytelling as part of a marketing strategy. “You capitalize on your competitive advantages, and understanding what is important to different regions, and customizing your story based on what those differences are,” she said. “The consistency in your story will increase brand awareness over time within the global market. It does not happen overnight.”
“Showing up” is key to making global brand awareness happen, she said. This means taking actions such as submitting technical papers, attending industry conferences, volunteering for speaking engagements and sponsorships at national and local levels.
During the research process, she said, the company discovered the importance of localized representation for even multinational companies. “When you have multinational companies that also have divisions within each country, what I have found is that most of the time these multinational companies don’t talk to each other,” McCabe noted. “They’re very large and very disparate. And having somebody bring information together with them is a key differentiator when you’re out there.”
Supplying product to a global audience may require tailoring a company’s messages while still ensuring overall consistency, McCabe said. In talking to formulators during travels through China, she said the number one question she received was “how do I formulate with your product?” She explained that although the company isn’t a formulator, some of the formulators in China weren’t necessarily receiving the training they needed and had not been exposed to the type of additives offered by Ingevity.
“Giving them some kind of a formulation guide using products only available in China and showing them how our products are used in relation to some other commonly used products in that particular region has made all the difference in the world,” McCabe said. “This guide we put together simply was to show if you have this kind of end use application you’re trying to put together a formulation for, then here’s an idea of how you can use our products in relation to some of the other additives that you’re commonly using already.”
She noted that many people grow their businesses the most when they learn to optimize so that they offer the right variety of products. “Optimizing your product portfolio is rooted in understanding the market you’re trying to serve,” she said. “You must tailor your products to certain customer needs in different regions.”
Another key aspect of supplying products globally is ensuring quality abroad. This includes educating distribution and warehouse partners so they understand the importance of product quality and process, including the two major components – packaging and the product itself. “We use visual reminders, and we use quarterly business review meeting with distributors and training with our sales reps, logistical teams and customer service teams.”
Charleston, South Carolina-based Ingevity supplies the lubricant and metalworking fluid markets with tall oil fatty acid and distilled tall oil, along with a variety of raw materials and performance additives.