Don't Make These 3 International Marketing Mistakes


In today's liberalized global economy, its not uncommon for entrepreneurs to look overseas for extra revenue. It's easier than ever, due to websites like and applications like Shopify. On the other hand, dealing with new cultures and markets can be troublesome. Let us explain. Here are some errors to avoid committing for marketers who are expanding overseas.

1. Translating Poorly

Don't translate poorly. You'll be tempted to think that your Spanish minor is all you need to make a few 10-word advertisements that work in Mexico (as an example). Think again. If you're not a native speaker and you don't have plenty of experience with the Mexican culture, you're at risk of a marketing blunder. You need someone who knows all of the colloquialisms of the regions in which you'll be promoting your products.

There are some hilarious stories about companies that didn't take language seriously enough. For example, when KFC expanded to China, they translated "finger lickin' good" into Chinese; that is, mandarin or cantonese, we're not sure which. Anyway, the locals interpreted the slogan as "eat your fingers off." Not so appetizing, KFC.

2. Being Culturally Insensitive

Don't be insensitive to the culture of your new region. This is especially important in situations where you need to interact face-to-face with the people there. Get familiar with the cultural norms, the etiquette and the body language.


In some countries, the old "thumbs up" is equivalent to what the middle finger means in the United States. A quick Google search for "offensive gestures in _____" should help you avoid problems.


Knowing how to greet people in an area goes a long way. If you're expanding to Japan, for example, forgo the Western hand shake and try a Japanese-style bow. It's a good idea to learn some basic phrases, such as "ohayo gozaimasu" (good morning in Japanese), too. Taking part in local cultural practices will impress your new friends and help to establish your relationship with them.

Taboos and Bans

The subject matter that is generally allowed in public communication varies from region to region. In Thailand, kissing and sexual references are not as accepted as they are in the United States. In some cases, you'll be prohibited by law to mention or show certain things in your advertisements. In Mexico, for example, it's illegal to target children with food advertisements. If you're using AdWords to advertise, you'll probably be denied if your ads are illegal in your target location. However, it's a good idea to look into it and make sure. The same goes for cultural taboos. Make sure your messaging is acceptable to everyone.

3. Using the Same Cookie Cutter

Don't just go somewhere new without a strategy. If you take a campaign and use the same settings in a new country, the odds of it being as successful are slim, even if the new region uses your original language. There may be a number of obstacles to pass before you're ready to enter your next region. Here are a couple of examples.

Brand Name

In most regions of the world, lots of folks know a little bit of English. A brand name like "KFC" is sufficiently applicable just about anywhere because lots of people know how to say it fairly well. A name like "Houghtaling Weiss" would give you trouble in many regions, conversely. Few consumers would be able to pronounce it and; therefore, it would be less memorable and less likely to be shared with other consumers. There goes your word of mouth advertising. You're better off using another brand name in a new region, if yours isn't easy to pronounce there.


In India, consumers use mobile phones for shopping much more than they use personal computers.  There, your web ads need to be mobile-optimized. Likewise, social media should be considered carefully. Facebook isn't allowed in China, for instance. You'll need to look into if you want to go social there. 


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Maxim Kurapatkin