International expansion: what are the risks and how can you minimise them?

Nicola Winters

Head of International


For many businesses, going global is a key part of their long-term strategy. There are several business benefits of international expansion, such as increased market share and revenue.

However, the decision to launch into new markets should not be rushed or taken lightly, as it comes with many risks – including financial loss and damaged brand reputation – should it not go as planned.

In this blog, we will look at the main risks brands face when expanding internationally and how to minimise them.

What are the benefits of international expansion?

Before we dive into the risks involved with expanding into new markets, we want to highlight the business benefits of going global.

Money, money, money

The biggest reward associated with international expansion is the potential to drive revenue from new audiences. Within each new market sits your target demographic, waiting to be converted.

Less competitive markets

When researching new markets, you may find that your industry faces less competition elsewhere in the world than your current market. This provides a great opportunity to swoop in and dominate markets with the biggest potentials early on, before you face stiff competition.

New recruits and team expansion

As your company grows internationally and revenue grows, you will be able to recruit more individuals, meaning more inhouse skills and talent to help further grow the company.

What risks do brands face when launching internationally?

Any major business decision comes with risks, and international expansion is no exception. Working with international legal and marketing experts can help you to navigate potential pitfalls before they happen and being prepared by conducting thorough (and relevant) market research can ensure your launch goes as smoothly as possible.

Targeting too many markets at once

Each new market can feel like a goldmine of opportunities and the temptation to launch into multiple markets at once can be high, particularly if on the surface they seem similar (for example, because they speak the same language).

The problem with this approach is investing in new markets can be expensive and launching into several at once makes it less likely you have researched and tested the market before committing to the financial cost of expansion. This means that, should any of the markets not be a good fit for your business at the time of launch, you may lose out financially.

Minimising the risk

Your web analytics account is a great place to start when thinking about moving into new markets. Are there any countries which you receive higher volumes of traffic or conversion rates from? These metrics indicate interest in your brand and products.

Once you have identified possible markets to target, you can work with mother tongue digital marketing experts to identify:

  • User interest in the product
  • User behaviour in the market
  • Competitor strength.

These insights will highlight opportunities and challenges associated with the market so you can make an informed business decision of whether to expand, and if so, what your strategy is.

Alienating your audience

It is easy to assume that all countries and cultures have the same online options available as the UK and US, or that the target market has the same online preferences when it comes to payment, delivery, etc.

However, this is not the case and the gold standard for websites varies across the globe. It is important to ensure that any localised websites have the correct cultural nuances if you are to avoid alienating your new market audience or creating barriers to conversion.

Minimising the risk

Different countries may have different payment options, delivery options, website trust signals and minimum levels of customer service, which only an individual from the culture would be aware of. Working with a mother tongue digital marketing expert can help you to identify areas where there are different cultural expectations and design appropriate solutions for the market.

Offending your audience

Using translators to directly translate your website content, rather than localising content so it is culturally and linguistically sensitive, can lead to mistakes which appear ignorant at best, and offensive at worst. It’s not just copy, either; images and even colours can represent different things in different cultures so using the same stock images on all of your sites may not be the best option.

A famous example of translation gone wrong is KFC’s slogan “Finger-lickin’ good” which was translated to “Eat your fingers off” when they first launched in Beijing.

Minimising the risk

Work with mother tongue digital marketers to translate the brand message while taking into consideration how users search, any double meanings, local-specific words, slang, and context.

Breaking the law

It is not just cultural nuances that differ between countries; laws and policies vary across the globe and it is crucial that your business and website are legally compliant when launching into new markets. Data protection, cookie policies and return policies are examples of areas which may need to be looked at to ensure you are not breaking any laws in new markets.

Minimising the risk

Working with a specialist international team who have digital and legal expertise or hiring a legal consultant to help assess your policies, can prevent you from making any legal mistakes when branching out internationally.

Aiming too high

A common mistake companies make when expanding into new markets is applying the same KPIs to their new sites, which can set the company up for disappointment.

There are several reasons performance in a new market will not match your current performance, including having less budget, a smaller market, less brand awareness and share of the market, lower organic visibility, and higher customer acquisition costs.

Minimising the risk

Work with market experts to identify the potential opportunity within the market and where your brand currently stands so you can set realistic goals for the first few months of launch. Once you have more country-specific data, you will be able to set more custom KPIs.

Entering new markets is a great way of expanding your business and increasing brand awareness, revenue, and inhouse talent. Working with mother tongue digital marketing experts, conducting thorough market research, and getting market-specific legal advice, can all help to minimise the risks involved and improve your chance of succeeding worldwide.

For more advice on international expansion, check out our blog.


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