Getting international communications right

international communications

Are you ready to launch in a new market? Getting your international communications right is a vital part of your global business strategy. It’s a big job, and many organisations need support to understand how their existing online and offline assets can be used effectively in different markets.That’s where Claire Snowdon can help. Claire is a Director at I-CAN Global (The International Communications Adviser Network), helping exporters improve their global visibility and communicate with different markets.

I spoke to Claire about the work she does and the challenges of international communications. Read on for her insights:

International communications, an interview with Claire Snowdon

Joanna Mos: Hi Claire, thank you for your time in doing this interview with us today. Let me start with your background. How did you become an international communications consultant?

Claire Snowdon: “I had a very international upbringing, going to boarding school with other students from all over the world, and then working overseas in the fashion industry on the manufacturing and operations side. I’ve worked in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the Far East for global fashion brands, facilitating business in these markets, where understanding how to communicate in a diverse range of countries is vital for success.

“When I returned to the UK approximately 10 years ago, I wanted to use this experience and knowledge to help other companies get their international communications right. I founded Expat Know How, now Snowdon Consulting, helping organisations understand intercultural differences and how to do business effectively. In 2014 I also became an accredited Export Communications Consultant for UK Trade and Investment (now the Department for International Trade).”

JM: So, are you a linguist as well as a communications specialist?

CS: “You can’t really live and work in another country without speaking a bit of the language! I have conversational French and Portuguese, and I also understand Hebrew and Sinhalese. I love being able to communicate in someone’s native tongue, and I’m currently learning Spanish.”

What does international communication support look like?

JM: Tell me a little bit more about I-CAN. What do they do?

CS: “I-CAN Global is a UK-wide network of international communication advisers, who offer analysis and guidance to help organisations expand globally. Some of our work comes from referrals from organisations like the Department of International Trade, as well as from providers who work in the same arena as us, including translation agencies. We often find that organisations need help with their communication materials before they are translated, so companies like Comtec may recommend that they speak to us first.”

JM: What types of organisations do you generally work with?

CS: “It can be any sector, although I have obvious strengths in manufacturing and fashion and any size company. We work with organisations that are new to exporting overseas, as well as those that are already exporting. Sometimes they come to us to improve what they’re already doing or for support entering a new market.”

JM: What kind of services do you offer to your clients?

CS: “Our team are some of the same people who developed and delivered the UKTI’s Export Communications Review (ECR) programme. We now offer an International Communications Review that first benchmarks where an organisation is, and then provide market-specific advice and practical recommendations for getting where they want to be. We tailor the programme around the client, their export goals and available resources, to develop a bespoke international communications strategy for that organisation.”

JM: Can you break down in a little more detail about how the programme works?

CS: “Having understood our client’s objectives and their international strategy, the first step is online and offline market research. This includes a healthcheck to benchmark where the company currently is, competitor research, and so on. We then share our findings with the client, discuss best practice and make our recommendations. This is followed up with a report that provides the client with a roadmap for developing their communications. We also offer additional support such as workshops, and our advisers can work 1-2-1 with clients or deliver project-based work.”

The challenges and solutions for communicating globally

JM: What common challenges do you come across when organisations are exporting for the first time?

CS: “As part of our initial audit, we often find that an organisation’s existing assets aren’t ready for localisation for a different market. Perhaps their website domain name is co.uk rather than an international domain like .com. Often people don’t realise that just being on the ‘Worldwide Web’ is not enough. For prospective customers to find them their online presence for that market needs to be optimised. It’s really important to make sure the UK website and other digital assets are working, before starting to build a relationship in a different market.”

JM: What about language factors? Can these be a challenge?

CS: “Sometimes. Many people think that because English is widely spoken around the world, they don’t need to translate their website or other marketing materials. However, research shows that people don’t like to buy products from websites that aren’t in their native language or use a different currency to theirs. Businesses are missing a trick if they don’t translate and localise these assets.”

JM: How important is having a cultural understanding of international communications?

CS: “It’s vital. At I-CAN Global, we encompass digital, culture and language. When an organisation is thinking about doing business in China, they will probably understand their limitations and that they need support understanding Chinese culture, business etiquette and so forth. However, often people don’t think about it when the market is closer to home, in Europe. Even in these markets there can be significant cultural differences that can affect your ability to do business, so it’s important not to have a UK-centric view on exporting.”

JM: Market research forms part of your International Communications Review. If someone wanted to do this themselves, where should they start?

CS: “You need to find out where your customers hang out in the market you’re interested in, are they on Facebook or Qzone, WhatsApp, WeChat or elsewhere? To network online you need to be in the right room. Also think about what customers will see when they search for you online, there could be old information floating around or even damaging content. If you’ve already got customers in the market, ask them! Existing customers and local market contacts can be a valuable resource for market research.”

JM: What advice can you give organisations looking to export for the first time?

CS: “My top tips would be a) get it right in the UK first, make sure that you are clear on your target market, keywords, content and that you are engaging the right customers in the UK and have a good platform before going international. b) be clear on your international strategy, ask yourself is the market right for you, can you do business there [consider regulations, politics etc.], and what resources [language skills, in-market contacts etc.] have you got and what do you need?; c) pick your battles, start with the market that’s easiest for you. All companies have limitations around capacity and finance, so don’t spread yourself too thin or run before you can walk!”

Our thanks to Claire Snowdon for talking to us and sharing an insight into international communications. You can find out more about I-CAN Global by visiting their website here, or connect with Claire on LinkedIn by clicking here.

For more information about international communications from a translation and localisation perspective, download our free guide

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