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International Marketing and Lead Generation Using the Internet
By David Gikandi
Everybody knows that the Internet offers the international marketer an unprecedented opportunity to open new markets, find new import-export trading partners, gather competitive intelligence, and make and save a whole lot of money in the process. Before the Internet, businesses had to invest considerable sums of money in international marketing and lead generation. Now on the Web, the same results can be achieved much more affordably, more accessibly, and faster. But getting these desired results is not as automatic as the numerous success stories out there would lead you to think.
To succeed at international marketing through this powerful new medium and global marketplace, you have to know how to quickly sort through the enormous amount of clutter on the Web, find information that is useful to your business, and reach your target market better than your competitors can. Knowing how to do so simply involves knowing how to effectively use each of the tools, features and resources on the Net for international marketing and lead generation purposes.
Do you need a Web site?
To start with, you must get your own Web site. Yes, must. The Web site is the building block of the Web. It is why people go online in the first place. A new business Web site is created every three minutes. From mom-and-pop outfits to Fortune 500 firms, it has become expected that any company worth its name should have a Web site. In the eyes of many savvy consumers and businesses worldwide, not having a Web site is almost like not having a fax number, telephone or even an office. It makes business that much more difficult.
Let us say, for example, that you are a medium-sized electronics exporter in Taiwan. You have heard that it is easy to find importers worldwide using the Internet and you now want a piece of that action. So you arm yourself with an email address from a local ISP or a free one from Hotmail. You go online and, assuming you know where to start looking, find about 30 potential buyers from the USA, Europe and Africa. You find them in several online trade forums, asking for exactly what you export. They have all asked to be contacted by email. You cannot believe how easy it was to get these leads, and you write email to all of them immediately. You let them know that you are a big electronics exporter in Taiwan and, if they could give you their fax number, you could fax them some quick details and follow up with a package in the mail containing your color catalog. You also warn them that your prices change often so they have to reconfirm all prices with you prior to ordering. Then you wait and nothing happens, and you are puzzled. Want to know what happened? Other electronics exporters, some smaller than you, may have all emailed these potential importers. But instead of asking them to go through the trouble of waiting for and reading garbled fax transmissions and waiting for catalogs in the mail, they provided the importers with URLs to their professionally designed company Web sites. Right there, as soon as they received those emails, the importers were able to browse through online color catalogs that always had the latest prices on them. They were also able to place an order directly on the Web sites, with all product details automatically filled in for them online. They were impressed by the professional image the Web sites gave those other exporters, and they were impressed by the convenience afforded to them. In their mind, they felt they were in touch with those other exporters 24 hours a day. And they felt that they could expect a higher level of convenience, speed and service from those other exporters. Those other exporters not only win those sales away from you, but they also save a lot of money in catalog printing, faxing and international postage. Which probably means that they can afford to give the importers a bigger discount than you can afford to. Now do you see how your marketing efforts can be frustrated so easily if you do not have a Web site, even if you have got everything else correct?
So how do you get a Web site? There are two ways to go about it. The cheapest but least desirable way to do it is to do it yourself or hire a moonlighting Web designer to create a Web site for you. Having such a site is far better than not having one at all, but to present a professional image and ensure success, get a professional Web design firm to create one for you. Such a firm has developers, graphic design people and marketing-savvy people who all come together with all their different skill to create a truly effective and professional site for you. When looking for a professional Web design firm, remember that you do not have to find one that is near you or even in your country. There are great price differences between similar levels of service in different countries. For example, due to intense competition, Web designers in the USA charge far less for the same level of service than do designers in Africa. They generally also have better skills due to more experience and resources. If you find a good company anywhere, check out their references and then rest assured that they would deliver what they promise you. The Internet is your only chance to affordably look like and challenge Fortune 500 companies in the international marketplace. Don#t pass that chance up.
How to Search like a Pro
Search engines, databases, directories, newsgroups and archives all enable you to find products, services, suppliers and buyers online. Search engines have little programs called robots that #crawl# the Web visiting and indexing every word on every page that they come across. Users then enter search words (called keywords) to retrieve a list of Web pages that have matching their search words. "That#s very helpful," you say. Not really. If you are a coffee importer, for example, and you need to find coffee exporters, you might think that going to a popular search engine like Alta Vista and searching for "coffee" will get you a list of coffee exporters. It will actually get you about 100,000 pages that match your request, and present them to you 10 pages at a time! And you can bet your money that the first 10 or even 100 pages will most likely have nothing to do with your import or export needs. They may be pages belonging to little coffee shops in New York, articles about coffee, coffee color descriptions, and so on. There may be a hundred Web sites out there that have exactly what you are looking for, but you just cannot find them because the 100,000 other Web sites are crowding your search results. So you get frustrated, conclude that the Internet is a waste of time, and go back to your fax machine to do "business as it has always been done". Do not despair. There is a way to get the results you need.
The best way to use a search engine or directory is to visit its help pages first. Each search engine and directory is designed differently with different ways to best search through them. But for just about any search engine or directory, you can follow the following techniques to get results you can use. Let us go back to coffee example. The first thing to do is to think clearly of unique words that really describe your need. Also, think of the words that the person offering the coffee for export would use to advertise it. You may come up with the words "coffee, arabica, beans, Kenya, Brazil, export#" and any other words (or codes) that may describe the product or its sales process. Next, combine these words in a way that will tell the search engine to ignore all occurrences of "coffee" except those that you really need. You do this with the help of the words #AND#, #OR#, #NEAR#, #NOT#, parenthesis (), and the double quotation ("") marks. Searching for #"arabica coffee" AND beans NEAR Kenya OR Brazil NOT "instant coffee"# will give you all the pages with the phrase "arabica coffee" and the word "beans" anywhere on the page, as long as the word "Kenya" or the word "Brazil" are somewhere near "arabica coffee" or "beans", and the page does not contain the phrase "instant coffee". You can keep adjusting this search criteria to filter out even more irrelevant pages until you end up with what you need.
Search engines are just one of the many ways to find things on the Internet. You can also use online directories, databases and trade directories to find telephone numbers, email addresses, Web sites, services, products and much more. Each directory or database has its own structure and purpose. There are yellow pages, white pages, email directories, trade directories, manufacturers# directories, service providers# directories, product databases, you name it. To find a directory for what you are looking for, just search for it in Yahoo! (www.yahoo.com) and in the search engines.
Finally, you can search through Usenet newsgroups. These are great when it comes to targeting specific interest groups. Newsgroups are online forums grouped by very specific interests and often run and populated only by people who share a common interest. There is a newsgroup for virtually every interest or topic. Most newsgroups are non-business oriented but many will be glad to have you come in and do business in them. The best way to search and post to newsgroups is using the DejaNews service (www.dejanews.com). DejaNews works like a search engine on one hand and a posting service on the other, through which you can post your trade offers, demands or replies to postings. When searching through newsgroups, use the same techniques you would use on any other search engine.
Until a system is created for effectively categorizing and rating the tremendous amount of information that exists on the Internet, we all have to make do with the shortcomings of the existing search engines and directories. But with a little practice, you can really get the Internet to work for you today, giving you the information you really need.
The Power of Online Databases
Before the advent of the Internet, you would have expected to pay a few hundred to several thousand dollars for marketing research information, contacts, trade directories and leads in printed and CD-ROM format. Today, the Net has enabled information companies to provide you with the same information online for prices starting at under $8 dollars a month for online access to a range of databases carrying a wealth of marketing information. Online databases are a blessing for the international marketer. Through them you can quickly analyze markets, compile lists of potential foreign contacts and evaluate these contacts all within a few hours from the comfort of your PC.
The variety of information kept by these databases is vast, ranging from financial and credit information to lists of buyers, sellers and manufacturers. Other databases keep data on import-export trade flows and other trade data. Others archive industry news clippings from around the world. There is a database for almost any need you have. Some of the better databases include:
PIERS (Port Import Export Reporting Service at www.agte.telebase.com). This is a vast online database of official U.S. Customs information, containing detailed information about all U.S. waterborne imports and exports. It enables you to track your competitors' shipments, know how much business they are doing, identify suppliers and buyers, know who the big buyers or sellers are, and identify new potential buyers or sellers to start business with.
The Asian Sources directory (www.asiansources.com). This has a very large catalog of products and profiles from Asian suppliers. At Asian Sources, you will not only be able to get a short profile on thousands of exporters of a wide variety of products in Asia, but you will also be able to see these products in full color and get a price quote on them online or confidentially by email.
The U.S. Department of Commerce#s STAT-USA service (www.stat-usa.gov). This collects business, trade and economic information from 40 government agencies. It is a great source for trade leads and country, industry, economic and market intelligence and reports. (Discounted access to STAT-USA is available at www.access-trade.com).
Dun & Bradstreet, Dow Jones, Hoppenstedt, Kompass, Teikoku and the like. These services can give you detailed financial, historical and credit information and evaluations on companies worldwide. The cost for this information ranges between $5 and $230 per report, depending on the level of detail required and the location of the company being researched on. Generally, reports on companies in the USA cost the lowest because of the lower cost and difficulty of obtaining corporate data there. All of these services can be accessed centrally from the Global Business Intellibase (www.agte.telebase.com).
Working with Mailing Lists
Online mailing lists are not like the direct mailing lists used in the real world to send out advertising to a large group of people. They are more like email-based chat lines in that they allow subscribers to exchange messages, or chat, amongst themselves via email. There is a mailing list for just about any topic imaginable and you have to first find those that are associated with your target market. You do so by searching through list server indices such as Lsoft#s (www.lsoft.com). Once you find a suitable list, you join it by simply giving it your email address as instructed. Most lists do not charge anything for membership. Once you join the list, do not immediately start sending advertising to it. Observe the format and type of messages that you receive from other members for a couple of days. That will tell you what sort of messages will be acceptable with other members. Once you are comfortable with the mailing list, it is now time to introduce yourself to other list members. Do so with a short email briefly describing your interest and business. After the introduction, you can start sending out your own postings to the mailing list, including replies to other user#s questions, questions of your own, and advertising where applicable. In every message you post, use descriptive subject lines that compel a reader to read the rest of your message. If you have followed all the rules, every member of the list will receive your message within 24 hours. Keeping in mind that some mailing lists have subscribers or readers numbering in the thousands or even tens or hundreds of thousands, if you hit the right chord you should experience an influx of positive response to your messages and advertising.
Working with Newsgroups
Newsgroups are electronic bulletin boards dedicated to specific interests. They are online forums run and populated by people who share a common interest. There is a newsgroup for virtually every interest or topic. Most newsgroups are non-business oriented but many will be glad to have you come in and do business in them. The best way to find a newsgroup that is associated with your target market is by using the DejaNews service (www.dejanews.com). DejaNews works like a search engine on one hand and a posting service on the other, through which you can post your trade offers, demands or replies to postings in newsgroups. Once you find suitable newsgroups, you can immediately start posting your messages, questions, replies and announcements to them. But before you do that, observe the format and type of messages that are already posted on the newsgroup by other users. That will tell you what sort of messages will be acceptable with other users. Remember to not only post your announcements, but also make an effort to answer questions posted by other users. That will create general goodwill for you within the newsgroup and establish you as an expert. In every message you post, use descriptive subject lines that compel a reader to read the rest of your message. You should not post advertising where it is not wanted or post the same message more than once in one or two weeks. Abusing a newsgroup will quickly get your posting privileges revoked and result in your getting hundreds of hate mail from users who are fed up with the abusive postings. If the message was written well and according to the rules, and you chose a newsgroup that would actually be interested in your message, you should feel the effect of your posting within three to five days. Used well, newsgroups are an excellent way to reach large targeted audiences at no cost.
Optimizing and Managing Email
Email is fast, cheap and direct. It can be a powerful communication and marketing tool if used wisely. Email is quickly becoming the most common communication tool for businesses. That means that you have to start making sure that your email represents your company as appropriately as your letterhead or other company stationary does. For your email to look the same on any email program, monitor and computer used by the recipient, it's best to type email in 10 point Courier using 60-character or less line lengths followed by hard returns (a hard return is when you press the 'enter' key to make a new line appear). One way to gauge a 60-character line length is by typing 60 hyphens (-) as the first line on your email. After typing your email, delete the hyphens. Soon you'll develop a sense for typing 60 characters.
Just like conventional letters, professional email should have a header that acts as your letterhead, and a footer that acts as a signature. The headers and footers should carry relevant automatic information, such as your title, contact, slogan and Web address. Most email programs allow you to specify a header and footer to use and then insert those automatically into every new email you write. Headers and footers should be no longer than 2 to 5 lines each.
Every email should have a descriptive and captivating subject line. The subject line, being the first line that most people read, should drive the reader into wanting to read the rest of the message. The first 8 lines of the message body should quickly give the reader a good idea of what the message is all about so that an interest in reading the rest of the email is created. Just like conventional letters, email form letters can be created to automatically mail merge and mass-email any number of customizable fields and recipients.
To best manage incoming email, use an email software package that allows you to filter, sort, block, auto-respond to and auto-delete various types and sources of email. A good program that does this is Microsoft#s Outlook 98. You can also set up an autoresponder that automatically sends out standard replies to frequently asked questions, saving you time and paper. You can even set up a system that allows your customers to query your product database by email. There are many ways to use this versatile and powerful communication tool that will soon be used by just about every business by the year 2000. In the history of humankind, no other means of communication has become so popular in such a short period of time. Email definitely has great implications to your online marketing and business success.
Online Press Releases
Writing and sending press releases is yet another part of promotion that has been positively affected by the Internet. As you know, sending and having a press release accepted for publication can have very positive and effective results on sales. If you have a new, innovative or otherwise interesting product, service or event, you can write a press release and send it off to editors and journalists in your industry. Generally speaking, any news event about a product, service or event that has an immediate effect on a large number of a publication#s readers will get published free of charge.
In the past, you would have had to write your release and send it off by fax or postal mail to thousands or hundreds of journalists in the hope that a few of them will publish your release. That was costly, tedious and prevented many companies from using this powerful marketing tool. With the Web, you can now go to a press release posting service such as the Internet News Bureau (www.newsbureau.com) and select categories of journalists, publications and other media contacts that you wish to target. You then enter your press release just once, and immediately have it transmitted via email to thousands or hundreds of journalists worldwide at a relatively small cost. Alternatively, you can build your own media list by gathering the email addresses of journalists and editors in publications in your industry. It is now easier to do so because many publications now have online versions or a Web site at the least.
Composing a press release is best left to a professional who not only knows how to write well, but also knows what editors are looking for in a release that will be published. Generally, a press release with a high chance of being published must carry information that will have an immediate impact on a broad section of a publication#s readership. The headline has to be attention getting and relevant, and the body has to be simple and to the point. It has to be orderly and factual, yet interesting. A press release that has the "we are the best exporters" kind of language will get nowhere. It has to be short, about 200 words or so. If editors need more information, they will contact you. Finally, it has to be formatted in the standard press release format. Written and targeted well, press releases are invaluable and extremely effective.
Web Site Promotion Strategies
Having a Web site is not enough. You have to make sure that people end up coming to your Web site # that is the whole point of it! Unfortunately, there are over 55 million Web sites and that number is growing rapidly. To make yours stand out in that crowd is something you have to work on. Most people find Web sites by going to their favorite search engine or directory, doing a keyword or key-phrase search, and going to the pages returned in the search results. Often, these results can contain tens or hundreds of thousands of pages that match the words searched for. Again, most people go through the first 10 or 20 results and never bother with the results returned after that. To be found by your target market, you have to make sure that the search engines and directories place you in the first 10 or 20 search results, otherwise you will have nobody coming to your Web site. It is as simple as that. Consider that in a given day, a certain keyword is searched for thousands or hundreds of thousands of times in any search engine or directory. If you appear in the top 10 search results, you will have thousands or hundreds of thousands of hits to your page per day. If not, you will have a few dozen hits a day.
There are many resources and tools on the Internet that show you exactly how you can appear in the top 10 results in a given keyword search. One of the best tools to do this is the Web Position Analyzer (www.webposition.com). Getting a top 10 position and maintaining it can sometimes be a lengthy process and you might want to let a positioning service (e.g. Did-it.com at www.did-it.com) do this for you. Simply put, all you need to do is to make a list of words and phrases that people are most likely to use when looking for whatever it is you provide, then make Web pages that rank highly on each of these words or phrases when scored using a particular search engines algorithm. Each search engine has a different algorithm that it uses to score Web pages on keyword relevance. Almost all engines use all or most of the following in calculating relevance: Web page filename, character and word counts, link popularity, meta keywords tag, meta description tag, image alt tags, headings, comment tags, keyword frequency and proximity, and keyword weight. There are hundreds of search engines and directories that you can submit your Web site to. Use a submitting service such as Submit-it (www.submit.com) or Exploit (www.exploit.com) to quickly get listed in all of them. The engines and directories that you need to pay special attention to and get ranked highly on are Yahoo!, Alta Vista, Hot Bot, Lycos, Info Seek, Web Crawler and Excite. These seven will contribute to over 90% of all your traffic. Once you attain a top position, you have to consistently monitor it and maintain it, making sure that new Web pages do not score higher than yours do. Again, tools such as the Web Position Analyzer help you in this maintenance.
Search engines are the Web#s most popular way of finding resources. By positioning your Web site well with them, you are virtually guaranteed a heavy stream of traffic. In fact, search engine positioning is the single most important element of online promotion. Best of all, it costs nothing (or almost nothing) unlike advertising, and brings you a lot more traffic.
Maintaining Your Online Marketing Edge
Once you have applied all the marketing and lead generation techniques we have covered, you will achieve success. The Net virtually guarantees success if you do follow its rules. But because of its dynamic nature, you have actively maintain your marketing edge or somebody else will sooner or later come and take your place. Other than continuing with the activities that got you your success in the first place, you must provide a reason for your clients to keep coming back to you. Here are a few ideas on what you can do to keep your clients. Of course, not all of these suggestions will work for you, depending on your line of business.
Offer free information related to your line of expertise. By doing so, you will make your Web site a source of reference and build trust with your users. If the free information keeps getting updated periodically, people will keep coming back to your site. Those return visits generate goodwill and eventual sales.
Hold contests that are relevant to your business.
Have a sale with a time limit and publicize it.
Conduct surveys to find out what your clients really want. Reward them for answering the survey questions (e.g. give them a discount or an information article or something that does not cost you much).
Add your Web site address to all your stationary, packaging and the like.
Create something unique on your Web site. Think of something that is missing in your industry and create it.
Publish a weekly or monthly email newsletters and invite your Web users to subscribe free. Most people will willingly subscribe to a newsletter that promises to keep them up to date on a Web site, industry or even pricing of things they are interested in.
Offer free initial consultations or something else free that will not cost you much but will build goodwill and future sales.
Consider buying banner advertising on other Web sites that serve your target market or in the search engines and directories.
Encourage webmasters of sites serving your target market to link to your site or, even better, put a banner linking to your site. In return, you would do the same for them.
If you do the right things, the Internet will be very kind to you. It can virtually guarantee that you will be successful. It truly does offer the international marketer an unprecedented opportunity to open new markets, find new import-export trading partners, gather competitive intelligence, and make and save a whole lot of money.
David Gikandi is the President of Access Global Trade Exchange (http://www.access-trade.com),
a comprehensive online provider of international marketing tools, information resources and affordable international
business solutions for small, medium and large companies worldwide.
Tags: Sales and Marketing