How Do You Choose an International Market

Well, when you help a company set a strategy, you do what no company wants you to do: lock key executives in a room for 3 to 10 days (they don’t want to give up the time or spend the money on a facilitator). So, while this strategic planning process is being developed, the company is starting to get smarter about what will work and what won’t work in various markets. And you ask “What does the company offer?” That’s the first thing that companies think of. And then they ask, “What does the customer need?” Or, as the French say, “Cherchez le creneau…find the hole.” Of course, they should be asking these questions in re-verse.

So, while I’m helping them build their strategy, we’re looking at the company and we’re looking at the world, and we’re trying to rate one country ver- sus another using criteria that are specific to the company. For example, people will say, “Let’s go to China, it’s the biggest market.” That’s a horrible way to rate a country, because the obvious question is, “The biggest market for what?” I always use the example that Greece, with seven million people, eats more cheese—not just per capita, but raw tonnage—than all of China. So, if you’re selling cheese, then China is not the biggest market, even though it’s got a billion and a half people.

If you’re looking at social media, you may say, “China is the biggest market.” Well, 600 million people in China never saw a toothbrush, so they don’t have a computer and they don’t have a cell phone. So knock about a billion people off of that billion and a half population. Now we have about 500 mil- lion people. Market size is what Americans often go with, but there are other things like product adaptability, and whether or not there are a mix and a com- plement of cultures. And do our executives even want to go to these markets (because it’s going to take a lot of time)? How is the American stigma perceived? Are we loved, are we hated? All of these kinds of factors—and I’ve come up with about 70 of them—go into a matrix, so we can actually grade a country and an opportunity, one versus another.

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