Phorest is an Irish tech company that makes software for salons and beauty parlors. They have been around for 15 years, but when I joined them they were experiencing dramatic growth. I was hired to adapt and translate Phorest's strategies to new markets.
Many English-speaking companies don't understand the difficulties they will face in a new country. I told the company straight away that we will have to study these new markets to understand our new clients.
Initially, entering the German market wasn't an active, strategic choice. Phorest had been approached by resellers in Germany who claimed that they could adapt their software to German regulations. They would then sell the product to their existing customer base, as well as other new customers. However — a year later — the product wasn't taking off. While they were acquiring new clients from their existing database, no new leads would come in. The team in Germany was focused on content and social media, but they weren't working on lead generation. Simply translating content and PPC campaigns just wasn't good enough.
Growing the DACH market wasn't part of the original strategy at headquarters and they weren't fully aware of the market potential. Phorest had just entered the US market two or three years earlier, and all of the company's focus was on that. It was my work that made them realize the potential they were missing out on.
Eventually, after seeing my success in Germany as regional marketing manager, one of the global team moved to the US to take on a similar role.
When I started with Phorest, GDPR data regulations had just kicked in, so I had to translate GDPR webinars, blog posts, and ebooks. However, during my first webinar, I got questions from the German attendees that made it obvious GDPR law was different in Germany — and different again in Austria and Switzerland.
I started calling all the clients that we had a positive relationship with and talked to them about GDPR, salon software, and what they expected of us as a software partner. I talked to industry experts, signed up to a dozen newspapers, and joined industry social media groups.
The results were astonishing. Other companies in the industry were focusing on very different pain points to us. Overall, I learned it is important to know your market — don't just build on the knowledge you have from other regions. Look at the numbers and talk to as many people as possible.
About 3-6 months into the job, I had many insights, so I went to my manager and showed him.
Together we agreed that from then on, we would discuss my finding on a monthly basis, and together we would decide what we'd tackle next. This included everything from setting up a buyer's persona, to adapting messages, to creating a map of experts and media we should engage with. As the budget allowed, we also managed the paid search campaigns and re-evaluated our SEO approach using my new insights.
Day-to-day work may keep you busy, but you should always set time aside to work on your strategy. You might not see the results as quickly as you'd like, but I now know from experience, it will save you a lot of time later.
Next, I rewrote all the content we had because it had been translated, but not trans-created. Trans-creation is when you take the essence of a piece of content and rewrite it so that it fits your new audience.
All our global content focused on promoting the marketing features of our software, but our research showed that our German prospects didn't care about that. What they really needed was a reliable, legal, and fiscally compliant point of sale system.
For a native speaker, it is fairly easy to tell if something has been translated or trans-created. Ignoring issues that might be culturally sensitive, not taking into account local legislation, or misusing local language will have you dismissed very quickly and could damage your reputation.
Data-driven marketing and ABM works — and there are so many tools that can help a company to personalize content from region to region.
We had an agency in Dublin that would occasionally send me translated SEO keyword lists for ad copy, but the keywords we were using weren't relevant to the German market. I acquired the budget for a PPC specialist in Germany, and together we re-did all of our accounts and started building new campaigns, optimizing them as we went along.
We also started identifying and testing new channels that the global team had either tested and dismissed or hadn't tested at all. For example, Facebook advertising had a really low conversion rate in the UK and US but did well in Germany. With every test, you learn more about your market.
The more success we had, the more interested the company became in the German market, and eventually, I was invited to do a couple of talks in front of the entire company.
Once we had a really good baseline of leads coming in, my time was freed up to work on the brand itself. I helped to position us within the industry and looked at our brand persona and the leads that we were generating.
At one point we noticed that traffic was coming from some unusual channels and one of our competitor's names had received a huge spike in search volume. Eventually, we found out that this relatively small but established competitor was going off the market because they weren't able to comply with a new piece of legislation.
Identifying this quickly gave us the chance to speak to their management and to strike a deal in which they would officially recommend us to their remaining client base. We got a lot of new clients as a result, at a relatively low cost.
After 6 months, the company told me they were learning so much from me. We went from an average of 30 leads to 200, 2 years later. Although we were allocated a smaller budget than the US and UK teams, we still became one of the top-performing markets. Several times, we were the number one market for the month.
My work helped to position us within the market. By constantly talking to people, I put Phorest on the map, despite us not being a German company and therefore having less trust from the outset. After talking to people in the country, we were gradually accepted as one of their own.
Ultimately this allowed us to set up partnerships with 2 high-end industry groups, one in Germany and one in Switzerland. Investing in local groups also gave us much more credibility.
In countries like France or Germany, it's a real sign of respect when you use their language properly. People in these countries might understand what you say in English, but they're not going to respect you and they may feel you have failed to address their needs. The more you tailor your strategy to the local market, the more success you will see there.
Equally, if you go into a market without making that effort, you might damage your reputation in the long run. A lot of companies will go into new markets with a minimal effort strategy hoping for some quick wins, but it's not a sustainable strategy.