Think globally, act locally and stay focused in your international marketing

busuu’s mission is to empower everyone in the world to learn a new language. We connect a community of 60 million language learners in over 190 countries to learn together. For us as a company this means we develop a product for and communicate with a truly global and diverse audience.

In our marketing strategy, we think a lot about how we can serve our customers’ local needs whilst managing scale on a global level. For everyone who works in international marketing, this is surely a very familiar “dilemma”.

So, how do we solve this dilemma at busuu?

Finding focus

First of all, it is impossible to spend the same amount of time and focus on all countries in the world. On the other hand, you don’t just want to focus on one or two markets as it might slow down your growth. So pick your most important countries first and think what you want to achieve in them, research your consumer needs and competitive landscape and decide what (unique) product or service you want to sell.

Let’s get a bit more strategic and also utilise some data to inform our decisions. At busuu, we’ve come up with a framework, a scoring model and a playbook to determine where our focus should lie.

The framework is fairly simple: we have markets we localise for and markets we service in English with our global product. Of the markets we localise for, there are a few select tier 1 markets where we spend most of our time and tier 2 markets where we run localised marketing.

We use a scoring model in which we look at our current footprint in the market (revenue, LTV, market share, …) as well as the market opportunity (addressable market, competition, …)

We define initiatives for the markets in our playbook. There are quite a few initiatives we run globally, e.g. our PPC or our CRM activities. Others are solely focused on tier 1. The main thing is to be clear on what kind of support each market gets in order not to dilute focus. We have come up with a matrix of initiatives for each tier:

Setting up the team

The first principle for us is hiring people from all over the world who have a keen interest in language learning. This is a great start to building a truly international team and we proudly unite 15 nationalities in our office (of which 70% speak 2 or more languages).

Beyond that, we have set up an organisation that enables us to localise at scale:

  • A team of translators who localise our product interface and all marketing communication
  • A dedicated country team within marketing who own consumer insights, brand positioning and initiatives for our key markets
  • A global marketing team who optimise campaigns on a country by country basis

Whilst building the team, we found that constant iteration on the way we do things was a must. If run inefficiently, localisation can be very painful and the time invested may not warrant the output. There is also the struggle between speed of delivery and quality. A few tips:

  • Streamline and automate your translation process as much as possible. Ensure high quality output by hiring great translators who understand your product and by building in checks.
  • Hire native speakers for your core markets. They don’t only speak the language, they also understand the customer.
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel. Spend some time documenting what has been done and provide new team members with a checklist of what they should do first. Keep adding to the checklist.

Adapting to customer needs

Finally, the biggest piece of advice on international marketing is to focus on customer needs in your core markets.

Let’s go through the checklist:

  • Can people access your product? Is your product fast enough to use?
  • Have you localised for the language(s) spoken so people can understand what the product is offering and can use it?
  • Is your product relevant to the market? Does it need local adaptation?
  • Do you have a clear USP in the market? Do you differentiate sufficiently from local competition?
  • Is your pricing reasonable and competitive?
  • Are you advertising your brand in the right places? Can consumers buy your product or service easily?
  • Do you tailor your offering enough so that consumers feel it is for them in their market and not an international product that happens to be in their country?

Conclusion

If you want to grow as an international company you need to think carefully about your expansion strategy. It’s not something you do on the side as it is complex and when done badly can destroy your reputation in a market. When done well, it can be an extremely rewarding experience that helps you to enhance your offering for wider international audiences. Plan ahead, think about your priorities and create a framework that helps you to manage complexity. Beyond that go the extra mile to understand the consumer, localise, be creative and keep testing and learning :)