Business Insights

Business Insights

World Cup Special: Marketing as the catalyst for international growth

England’s performances in Russia have spurred a new wave of optimism. It’s indicative of the invigorating effect that international competition can have.

For business owners watching the game, the tournament might also inspire them to think bigger. With the UK’s exit of the EU set for March next year and rocky economic times ahead, ambitious businesses hoping to grow or improve might need to look abroad.

And marketing can be the catalyst for that growth. It’s not just about communications or reaction. Marketing plays numerous, crucial roles in establishing, exploring, nurturing and closing opportunities, as this article explains.

Strategic planning

Great marketing should explore growth opportunities for the business. These growth opportunities could be in the local market, or they could be international.

Whatever the case may be, one of marketing’s core functions is to think laterally and find gaps for the business to fill. Your business might not be thinking internationally, but a savvy marketing director might uncover a perfect product-market fit abroad.

International expansion requires numerous steps like detailed market analysis, market entry strategies, feasibility analyses, finding and selecting partners, and potentially determining production facility location.

The marketing function within a business can suss out these opportunities for the business.

Market Research

In a recent blog for The Marketing Centre, one of our South African marketing directors, Pedro Casimiro, wrote about demystifying the African market. The continent - populated by 1.2bn diverse residents - is often exoticised and packaged as a whole.

Africa also has its negative stereotypes and misconceptions, and it’s here where marketing can help. You can’t sell into a market you don’t understand. “Marketers keen to reach African consumers need to look beyond the obvious and explore innovative and persuasive ways to resonate with niche and mass audiences”, writes Casimiro.

“Try that 3 star hotel, eat the street food, visit formal and informal markets, have a beer at a local tavern and make friends with a taxi driver (car or boda boda). That’s where you’ll be in touch with your potential customer base and you’ll learn a great deal from just listening.”

Market research helps with crisis planning, retail choices, brand messaging. It all comes together through careful listening and planning.

Product and service development

This is another area in which marketing is often forgotten but shouldn’t be. Thoughtful marketing analysis can help define the right products and services for the right market.

One of the most commonly used tools for this type of analysis is the Ansoff Matrix. Basically, the matrix shows it is easier to sell a product you know to a market you don’t know. This is hyper relevant when you expand internationally.Ansoff Matrix-3

Instead of developing new products, marketing helps position your existing product in a new, relevant way. Your marketing needs to define a positioning statement which provides direction and focus. It is a no-nonsense statement of how your company is perceived by your target market, within the context of competitive alternatives.

This might mean exploring new opportunities at home - but a high level marketing director might think bigger. Wherever the opportunity is, that’s where you should look. A recent example is Iceland’s rapidly opening retail market. There are always new opportunities to seize on, and looking abroad expands your options.

Brand messaging

When Coca-Cola set its sights on the Chinese market, it was faced with a peculiar challenge. The name Coca-Cola was often rendered as Ke-kou-ke-la. Unfortunately, the phrase means "bite the wax tadpole" or "female horse fastened with wax", depending on the dialect.

But through clever tinkering, and active brand messaging, Coca-Cola’s transliteration into Mandarin characters reads as “Let the mouth rejoice”. A stroke of luck, certainly, but it was a result achieved through careful analysis of over 200 characters.

A brand or product’s central message rests squarely with your marketing operation. And marketing expertise can save you significant embarrassment - or it can uncover a unique opportunity. Marketing expertise can be the difference between a customer liking your small car - or thinking about “tiny male genitals”, as with the Ford Pinto’s expansion into Brazil.

Based on the research and the product/service development, marketing also defines the way the product is sold (and described via brand stories). Individual markets have individual ways of speaking, marketing will help define those.


The Marketing Centre’s Robert Stead likes to compare a business’s international proposition to a fried egg. The yolk is your core proposition, the white is the means by which the product is delivered.

In Robert’s analogy, your international comms strategy is definitely the white of the egg. But that doesn’t mean that the execution of your comms strategy it has to follow the launch of the product. Marketing comms can start before a product or service has been launched, if marketing judges that building your audience first is the priority.

There are countless examples of international expansion ending in humiliation because the new market was unfamiliar with it - even for the biggest brands.
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Starbucks famously left Australia with its tail between its legs after an expensive attempt to capture the country’s valuable coffee market. Its corporate momentum couldn’t usurp the thousands of independent coffee houses that dominated the market.

A giant like Starbucks can cope with the financial sting of store closures and withdrawing from the market. For a smaller business with less resource and no toe hold in the market, it’s a crippling failure.

It’s here where marketing can create more sustainable expansion. Business development is nearly impossible if no one has heard of you.

Through effective communication and building the brand, you can foam the runway for your expansion plans. Doing this in a few locations, and monitoring the results, can also help you identify which places to focus on.


Marketing is widely perceived as a communications or advertising tool. But that’s just one tiny part of the marketing function in a business.

Especially when moving into new markets, it’s a way to identify opportunities, position your product, understand new environments. In other words, it’s a strategic whole, not just a final flourish.New Call-to-action

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