How to bring your IT company to international markets? Advices from practitioners.
Almost every Russian IT company with great potential seeks to enter international markets. In order for your business to function successfully and make a profit abroad, you must first go through a difficult path to get the first results. With such a complex task, PR plays a key role because it is through it that potential customers and partners learn about who you are, what you offer, what mission and values you preach and so on. In this article, specialists of the Communication agency 4D together with leading specialists of the Association of Russian Software Developers RUSSOFT share their experience in international promotion.
Ready! Steady! Go!
Before you decide on such a difficult step, you should ask yourself 3 questions: “where?”, “when?” and “how?"
Where? - you need to decide which markets and segments are most profitable to enter at a given time, while establishing a balance between the attractiveness of the industry, the risks and costs of entering such markets.
When? - you should understand the time when your company should enter the international market. Are the conditions favorable for this step now? Is this really the right time for your product in specific markets? And whether you will become a “follower” by offering better service and prices compared to competitors whose market is already saturated without you.
How? - here you need to understand how you will enter the market. What strategy will you use for this: aggressive capture or gradual sequential expansion? What tools will you use to do this?
After getting answers to these questions, you need to study the market. There is nothing new in this step. Here you conduct research and work out hypotheses that will need to be checked in the future.
You can conduct research yourself using open sources and resources but there is a risk of unreliability of information and ideas about the market. The second way is to contact specialists. This option is reasonable, but we warn you that not every specialist or Agency based in Russia will be able to provide you with accurate data because often the same methods are used as for independent search. The ideal option is an Agency that works directly with the specialists of the market you need. Yes, it can be expensive but it is a necessary investment so that your business can then recoup it at times. Agree that it is better to get reliable data than to blindly rely on intuition.
“Of course, when entering international markets, it is extremely important to rely on local partners who have more experience and understand the cultural and linguistic nuances of the market. They will help you enter the market with the least risk. Thanks to our cooperation with the GlobalCom PR Network, we are opening an international window for Russian business, as we have access to local agencies in Europe, Asia, North and Latin America“, - Natalia Belkova, General Director, Communication agency 4D.
This approach is also noted by Dmitry Malin, CEO, ASD Technologies. He believes that before entering a new market, it is better to conduct analytics. Without it, you may have additional difficulties.
Vladimir Litoshenko, Senior Vice President of FirstLineSoftware, recommends using a partnership that will allow you to confidently enter foreign markets at first:
“Local partners are an interesting story if you are not ready to go out with your office or local representative office at the first steps. Here you can successfully use the partner model. There are a lot of companies and platforms in the markets that need high-quality partners who can help them solve their problems. Over the years of our international activities, we have managed to build a network of such mutually beneficial partnerships. There are integrators and vendors who need professional services to solve their problems and implement their systems. In this model, there is no need for mass recognition of your own brand because the recognizable brand is your European partner, making access to a specific market accessible to you.”
The next problem on your way may be the idea of the company. We know that a person sees himself as one and others as completely different. When entering the foreign market, the story is almost similar. Company owners can see the company as strong, with excellent service, many years of experience and etc. But for future clients and partners, the picture is different. They don't know you and they probably won't trust a company they don't know anything about. To do this, just need hypotheses to better build your work plan in the new market.
Alexey Lapirov, sales Manager at Tech Global (Rosinfokominvest), recommends testing such hypotheses with the following questions:
- What makes you different from your competitors?
- Is the client already solving this problem? How?
- Who is already selling to the client? Why?
- Are you sure there is a place for you in the market?
“Test hypotheses with Customer Development. It involves drawing up questions for potential customers, the answers to which will allow you to narrow and sharpen your offer to this audience and this market”, - Alexey Lapirov, sales Manager at Tech Global (Rosinfokominvest).
After conducting all the necessary research and testing the analytics hypotheses, the localization stage of your company is completed. There is a need to adapt absolutely everything to other countries and work with all the information, graphics and keys, taking into account language differences, cultural characteristics and the mentality of potential customers and partners. You should not skimp on this, too. It is better to order a high-quality translation of your texts than to blush in front of clients with a translation from Google Translator.
Finally, at the final stage, a budget is calculated for the selected market, a sales plan is drawn up, responsibilities are distributed, and communication tools for promotion are defined. We will focus on the latter in more detail.
Why do I need PR if I have a good product?
Really, why do you need PR? As we have already said, many people want to enter the international market but few understand the role of PR in this. Let's look at a simple example.
Your company has a good product, provides the highest service in Russia, the professionalism of employees impresses many, and the name is already ahead of you. It's cool, isn't it? But there is one “but” - all of the above in Russia. In foreign countries, everything is different. We haven't heard about you, and future customers and partners don't have any information about what you are.
Despite the fact that PR is often perceived as an optional part of business expenses, it just plays the role of the “assistant” to convey key information and USP of your company to target audiences.
A study by the GlobalCom PR Network on business risk assessment has shown that communications specialists are an integral part of anti-crisis teams, participating in decision-making. This confirms that the attitude towards PR as an optional part of expenses has changed.
We have already figured out that PR is necessary. What tasks does it solve? First of all, this is all related to the recognition of the brand, product and top officials of the company in the international arena. In particular, PR solves the tasks of establishing contacts with external stakeholders, providing information support for the organization's activities in foreign markets and positioning the company as respecting local customs and traditions. Secondly, it is the formation of an image. PR takes care of all the work with the perception of your company, including the information field that surrounds it. This can include anti-crisis measures, when you need to protect or correct a reputation that has been shaken as a result of any actions. Individually, all the above doesn't work, need a well-constructed plan or communication strategy. It is a key factor for successful entry into such markets because its development takes into account the company's target audience, develops key messages for placement in foreign media and defines tools and KPIs.
The strategy should also take into account anti-crisis measures. Their goal will be to maintain and promptly correct the image of the company or person, adapt to changed market conditions, neutralize the negative consequences of a crisis or scandal and restore business reputation. What is important to do when including anti-crisis measures in the communication strategy:
● Identify all possible scenarios (at this stage, you need to identify the company's weaknesses and vulnerabilities)
● Develop anti-crisis programs (note that they will need to be developed for all possible crisis situations. To do this, we recommend making a list of likely incoming questions and the most effective answers for them. We recommend that all companies develop comment programs)
●Determine the company's first actions in the event of a crisis (what is the first statement you will make? What are the next steps in building communication with your audience? Who is the speaker? All this must be registered).
However, before all these steps, Yulia Poslavskaya, Marketing and Communications Director in Nexign, recommends that clients first answer 2 questions: when do we plan to get results from PR? And what investments are we ready to make for this? Depending on this, you can decide whether you are attracting a PR Agency from outside or relying on an internal PR resource. After that, it will be possible to build a plan for PR activities.
"I always encourage business owners to look at PR as an investment in terms of time or financial resources. Local market expertise and deep knowledge of the media community and its features are important. So, if there is a need to "launch" quickly, we attract a local PR Agency and prepare to allocate our personal time, as many details are important for successful promotion, for example, a good speaker. And most often they are the first person of the company. If resources are limited, you can start by hiring a PR specialist in the team and move forward. In any case, PR should be done by professionals and you will be able to see the results no earlier than in 3-4 months", – Yulia Poslavskaya, Marketing and Communications Director, Nexign.
First steps with working on international PR
In our experience, we can say that there is no secret of international PR in the IT sphere. Often this is a fruitful work of the customer and the performer on a clear understanding of how they want to see their company or product in the international arena. To do this, you need to develop a description of the business and its products, unique characteristics, what goals the company will pursue, its positioning in the selected market and so on. Only after working through these basics, you can choose which channels will be used, and calculate budgets.
After getting acquainted with the market, we determine which segment the customer company belongs to, select specialized media, get acquainted with them and then follow the standard scheme for developing public relations:
- Development of positioning and tactical communication plan: a must have when entering new markets. Without these points, your potential customers simply will not understand who you are or even worse, will not know about your existence)
- Development and preparation of press materials
- Adaptation of press materials to the local market
- Generating newsworthy events and initiating news in the media (Follow up): at this stage, it means calling the media, exploring their interest in the newsworthy events and providing additional information after sending the material or after the event
- Distribution of samples for reviews in the industry media (for product PR): distribution of trial samples of products so that the industry media can get acquainted with the brand and evaluate the capabilities of such a product
- Media monitoring
- Collecting the results of a communication campaign.
“There is no one recipe for all countries in Europe or Southeast Asia. Each country is unique, has its own mental characteristics, its own specifics of doing business. For example, in Saudi Arabia, decisions are not made quickly and take into account holidays, including religious ones. There is a period of time when activity subsides. We take this into account and work with our partners taking these aspects into account,” - Pavel Stepanov, Deputy General Director, Geoscan.
Attracting large investments, any transaction involving your company, entering into a partnership with one of the key market players, up-to-date market Analytics or research, launching a new product on the market, cases applicable to other companies and others can be excellent information guides for mass media in any country of the world.
To work effectively, you will need to communicate with media representatives, search for information, hold meetings, respond to requests, give comments, show the company to journalists, perhaps even in an online format. My colleagues and I have practiced the latter very often during the pandemic.
When working with the media, you don't have to chase the top publications like the Wall Street Journal or Forbes right away. First, look at the niche publications that your customers read.
According to Yulia Poslavskaya, the key elements of a PR strategy that will help you enter the international market are working with the media, using social networks and participating in events.
In working with the media, the following points can be noted. It is important to understand which publications your target audience reads and build long-term relationships with them. It is also important to nominate your company or your solutions for industry awards and take into account regional specifics to ensure that interaction with journalists is as effective as possible (for example, in the US, Twitter and LinkedIn are actively used, while in the Middle East, there are restrictions on using Facebook and Youtube). Participating in international exhibitions and conferences or organizing your own events also helps you establish relationships with the media and analysts. Moreover, through events, you support negotiations with potential customers and demonstrate interest in the market and work with local partners.
Trends in the promotion of IT products on international markets
During our work on promoting international IT projects, we have identified the most effective PR technologies:
- Distribution of samples and test drives of products for the release of reviews of specialized IT media
- Conducting your own research
- Native special projects and gamification of special projects in specialized media
- Participation and creation of your own events (webinars, offline seminars, press tours)
- Digital tools: bloggers and social media seeding to expand the reach of a PR campaign
- Integration of top officials in profile podcasts and other Internet projects
- Sending out press releases with company news (classic PR)
- Press tours to the company
- Working with comments (proactive and reactive).
“All major industry representatives attend events which allows you to visit their stands, show our stand, exchange business cards and other materials to make a follow up after the event. Mailing lists also help you get a certain number of leads. For example, we use a newsletter at the MWC (Mobile World Congress) event. We are also looking for local partners or Resellers who know the market well. We keep our pages in social networks up to date. And we are looking for leads on LinkedIn”, - Igor Filatov, Product Director, Cloudike.com
Tools in action
For 15 years of our work in the market of communication services, we have gained a wealth of experience in working with large international IT companies.
For example, we provided PR support to one of the world's largest high-tech companies, Cisco. Our work included: translating and adapting the company's press releases, sending out news to relevant IT publications in the North-West region, organizing and conducting events, and PR support for events. As a result, we received 417 publications in the media, covering about 10 million people, and the media Index was 3903 points.
Also, our colleagues from the international GlobalCom PR Network in the UK worked with cdnetwork's company which specializes in video acceleration, DDoS protection, cloud storage and etc. The main goal of the company was to create PR activity around the lack of DDoS preparedness which would attract the attention of IT specialists and security decision makers throughout the UK and DACH regions.
For implementation, it was decided to conduct a study “Businesses are dangerously overconfident in their DDoS mitigation” which tells about the neglect and underestimation of large companies of cybercrime through DDoS attacks. The main results of the study were sent to the target media, a total of 13 press releases were issued, active contacts with local journalists were established, several native articles were published and coverage of 98 leads in the German market (Germany, Switzerland, Austria) was obtained.
Our other partner, an Agency from Sunny Italy, worked with Kaspersky lab. The goal of the campaign was to draw the attention of parents and children aged 6 to 10 years to the problem of cybersecurity. It is based on a children's book that the company specially ordered from the Dutch author Marlis Slegers.
PR specialists from Italy decided to make a creative move by turning the book into a theatrical play. The premiere took place on the stage of one of the theaters in the center of Milan in partnership with the Giffoni film festival for children and teenagers, which allowed reaching a wider audience. The media and members of the public were invited to attend. The main audience was, of course, children, including children of journalists. This was a key event of the campaign.
The production told the story of a magical green bear who helps a 10-year-old boy, Casper and his friend Sky learn the most important safety rules in the online world and understand how to behave correctly on the Internet. The book's story, adapted for the stage, was also intended to encourage the youngest Internet users to be open with their parents and teachers, rather than remain silent if they are threatened or bullied online.
Talented children in the field of cinema and digital technology, who are part of the Giffoni Dream Team, helped develop a game application based on the book which was intended for primary school students in Italy and also teaches them to use digital media responsibly.
At the festival, journalists were looking for young talents to make them the heroes of their articles and stories. Our Italian colleagues came up with such a move: a child Prodigy Flavia Riza joined the working group on the digital app. This fact attracted journalists and they told about it in their stories on national TV channels, mentioning the project. In addition, as part of the information campaign, bloggers-parents were provided with a set of "KUMA Safe Kit", which included: a book, a Teddy bear, a presentation letter, a Christmas calendar with educational recommendations on safe use of the Internet and branded sweets.
Then the hashtag #alsicuroconKuma (#SafeWithKuma) was used, where bloggers and opinion leaders discussed this campaign and shared safety recommendations on social networks and blogs.
This was the first PR campaign in Italy that was aimed at primary school students. Most of the projects in the field of cybersecurity is focused on older children. It is always difficult to talk about this topic with young children, but the Agency managed to find effective solutions to this problem. Through a small group of children who participated in the production and development of the app, it was possible to establish contact with thousands of children, speaking the same language with them. The information was presented in a light game form, so the effect of training was high. The success of the campaign lies in a balanced combination of digital and event PR and media relations. As a result, 260 publications were published in the media and the educational project was included in the programs of primary schools in Italy.
As part of the GlobalCom PR Network international project team, we also provided PR support to the German company FotoFinder as part of the presentation of the new Bodystudio ATBM master system. The project team also includes agencies from Australia, the Baltic States, Brazil, China, Croatia, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latin America, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Scandinavia, Serbia, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States.
FotoFinder specializes in high-tech methods for detecting melanoma, psoriasis and other skin diseases at the earliest stage. For the first time, the system allowed doctors to use standardized whole-body imaging based on artificial intelligence technologies to assess microscopic birthmarks and moles.
The global results of the work were: 34 mailing lists on mass media, 16 interviews were organized, 265 publications were initiated in 230 mass media.
In conclusion, every year thousands of companies from Russia try to conquer the foreign market, but only a few achieve positive results. Before you decide to expand your presence, think about whether you understand the market well enough and if you don't, can you find someone who does?