A single-page blog post can’t realistically do justice for everything you need to know about introducing a product to a foreign market. However, as UX researchers, we can certainly point out the value of international UX research to vastly improve your chances of success.
When launching a new product in a foreign market, any complete plan utilises both market and UX research; the first is to verify the likelihood of success, and the latter is to ensure you operate correctly throughout all foreign and cultural differences.
Market research reveals whether potential locations need your product, its value, and the size of the market you’ll operate in.
UX research reveals the behavioural differences between your local and international users, flagging up the problem areas throughout various areas, allowing you to deliver a product free of technical and social operational issues.
The basics of introducing a product into a foreign market
Where, when, how, how much, and who to
As world trade laws bring global markets ever closer and easier to facilitate, you’ll have your own ideas, which would constitute prime new targets. But, again, market research will dictate your best-performing options instead of risky assumptions and best guesses. Even with those your performers categorically listed, making the most of those opportunities relies on understanding how users in those markets differ from your local customers.
Detailed research requires a complete understanding of potential foreign users (or working with an agency that does).
- Foreign customer characteristics
- Local, regional, and national trends
- Local, regional, and national needs
- Local, regional, and national cultural differences
- Language barriers, complications, and regional differences
- Communication avenues and issues
- Technical (and tech-stack) requirements
- National regulation and certification requirements
- Design and media differences, alternative meanings, and expectations
- Time differences, seasons, and critical days in the national calendar
- Using metric or imperial measurement systems
- Currency options
- Time and date and other formatting expectations
It isn’t just your product that needs adapting for international customers but advertising, media kits, promotions, stationery, onboarding, branding, documentation, and your business practices. As you’ll soon learn, there’s so much more to introducing products to a foreign market than first meets the eye.
Taking an established product and providing mirror copies of its successful elements that have been translated into destination languages is more likely to create issues than answer them. For optimum success, each location requires local expertise and partners to navigate the major and minor differences you will encounter, providing opportunities to deliver a seamlessly operating product.
Consider a fresh start on a successful platform
The language will seem like the most obvious difference when a product is offered in a foreign market, with translations readily available using automated or native-speaking user services. However, the words we use are only half the battle; how we use them is the other.
Western and European phrases aren’t likely to translate well into Asian and other eastern cultures in the same way that behaviours and practices don’t. Religions and personal values are worlds apart, and what conveys a harmless message in one country could be offensive or plain baffling in another.
Take the Western hand gesture for ‘okay’, created by pinching the thumb and forefinger together. We see it as okay, but in Japan, it represents money, suggesting a coin. Do the same thing in Brazil, and you’ll cause offence because, to the Brazilians, it’s a rude gesture.
Another typical example is the thumbs-up gesture associated with approval in many cultures and locations. Yet, it has a negative meaning in Greece, Iran, and a handful of other countries. Again, it seems almost impossible to imagine, but it proves how crucial local research and UX testing is.
The next best thing to being there is working with those who are
Of course, budget is relevant in every expansion, so flying to various points of the globe could prove a stretch for even the most generous allowances. Fortunately, creating control groups with local users and connecting using digital means makes the world a smaller and more cost-effective place.
Your international participants will pinpoint the errors in your journey. We suggest starting with research to ensure you get off on the right foot.
Building an international product based on your local version can create far harder-to-correct issues if you’ve left testing until you’ve got something close to a finished product. Not only will designing solutions for those issues feel like severe backtracking, but your subjects might feel far too guilty mentioning minor errors in a polished product. Involving them early on with basic versions will boost the likelihood of them being confident enough to remark on every single and simple problem and pain point. Their knowledge is invaluable while exploring how to introduce a product in a foreign market. In a country where you have little or no experience, you must remove any barriers preventing them from delivering the data you require.
A few examples of international UX design issues
We’re well aware of how fashions and styles change so frequently in home markets; in the press, tech interfaces, media design, popular fonts, spacing, styles, and their delivery. However, just because that’s what’s en vogue in our world doesn’t mean it’s the same overseas and in your new markets.
Where one market sees simplicity and achieving goals as effortlessly as possible as the goal, another is just as likely to crave additional information to deliver higher-factual density while making the same decision. In those markets, all that white space is a wasted opportunity that could be used for further in-depth detail, additional guidance, facts, and figures.
Are the images that drive one culture to desire a product the same as a customer a thousand miles away? Are the calls to action too soft, forceful, inappropriate, or offensive? Does the direction or the way text reads create problems when converting your apps and websites?
These are only a few sample areas where UX research is essential, avoiding the often-unseen risks associated with new product development in a foreign market.
Rolling out a truly international product
Venturing into a global product launch and not simply introducing your product to another country can be overwhelming with the work it can involve.
However, international rollouts rarely happen all at once. Not only does that type of practice create masses of logistical challenges, but it also produces far too many reactions and issues to realistically resolve as demand dictates.
Softer rollouts to one market at a time helps designers and developers meet their responsibilities and respond to reactions. It also helps narrow overlapping issues before moving on to the next location.
Launch into your best-performing markets first for the best possible profit opportunities, carrying out relevant local research and testing to ensure your best successes.
International research can start with your competitors just as it does at home
Studying a competitor’s app, website, or product with foreign users can deliver just as much useful information as at home. Taking advantage of the lessons they’ve already learned in how to better assimilate a product to a foreign market can help you get off on the right foot.
What an Indian, African, or Asian user might need from a product or service than those in Western cultures do can provide a wealth of insight into the adaptations you’ll need to make, and what could promote you as a better alternative to the tools they currently rely on.
Earning potential, social, and family values impact how we feel and make decisions; in locations with entirely different operational systems and moral standards, each business needs to react accordingly, not just within its products.
Delivering support across regions and locations is a huge topic in itself. Not only how you offer support but the voice you use and the manner of delivery, again, changes from culture to culture.
You must retain your brand identity to stay recognisable as a global entity, but it will require specific modifications and redesigns to provide its best possible delivery in a new market.
Product design over global markets is a vast topic with an almost endless list of demands depending on location, culture, beliefs, and practices. Wherever development involves creating new products or services for foreign markets, carrying out the proper research to ensure you hit the ground running is vital. It saves so many resources and prevents unnecessary and costly backtracking.
The only way to guarantee safe entry when introducing a new product into a foreign market is to design outwards from a core base of attributes and adapt them for each new region. Partnering with specialists in international UX research and the locals of an alternative culture will protect them from unnecessary and costly mistakes.