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Step-by-Step Guide to Exporting – Step 5 – Reaching the customer: developing your export marketing strategy

Treat all markets differently. There are cultural differences out there that you need to respect.

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Table of contents

  1. Step 5 – Reaching the customer: developing your export marketing strategy
    1. 5.1 Understanding export marketing plans
    2. 5.2 The many Ps of international marketing
    3. 5.3 Building your export marketing plan
    4. 5.4 Setting prices
    5. 5.5 Promotion
    6. 5.6 Marketing tools

5.1 Understanding export marketing plans

Long before you fill your first order, you'll need an export marketing plan.

You've already examined the elements required to produce an effective export plan under section 3.3. Now, you're ready to tackle the specific marketing components of your export plan. While you're developing it, remember not to confuse marketing with advertising, sales or promotion. Marketing is strategy. The other three are the tools your strategy will use to reach your target audience. Canada Business Network lays out the questions you should be asking while developing a marketing plan and provides a template to create your own.

A good marketing plan should be built around your research and will answer the following questions:

  • What are the characteristics of your target market?
  • How do your competitors approach the market?
  • What is the best promotional strategy to use?
  • How should you adapt your existing marketing materials, or even your product or service?


Building business relationships in foreign markets is best done face to face. Faxes, phone calls and email should be reserved for follow-up.

5.2 The many Ps' of international marketing

Commonly referred to as the "marketing mix", the four Ps' of marketing are:

  • Product. What is your product or service and how must it be adapted to the market?
  • Price. What pricing strategy will you use?
  • Promotion. How will you make your customers aware of your product or service?
  • Place. How and where will you deliver or distribute your product or service?

International trade is more complicated. Add the following nine Ps to the list to produce the 13 Ps' of International Marketing:

  • Payment. How complex are international transactions?
  • Personnel. Does your staff have the necessary skills?
  • Planning. Have you planned your business, market, account and sales calls?
  • Paperwork. Have you completed all the required documentation?
  • Practices. Have you considered differences in cultural and business practices?
  • Partnerships. Have you selected a partner to create a stronger market presence?
  • Policies. What are your current and planned policies?
  • Positioning. How will you be perceived in the market?
  • Protection. Have you assessed the risks and taken steps to protect your company and its intellectual property?

Source: FITT, Going Global


Be prepared to translate documents into the language(s) of the target market. Current and potential customers will appreciate it.

5.3 Building your export marketing plan

Your marketing plan is a work in progress that you will have to modify continuously. As you develop it, consider the following questions:

  • What is the nature of your industry?
  • Who are your target customers?
  • Where are they located?
  • What is your company's marketing strategy?
  • What products or services do you plan to market?
  • How will you price your products and services?
  • Which segment of the market will you focus on?
  • Does your marketing material accurately convey the quality and value of your products or services and the professionalism of your company?


Take sufficient time to collect background information on the consumer demand, competitive landscape, local import laws, customs requirements and other important factors in the target market.

As for content, a good marketing plan is closely related to your export plan and should contain the following sections:

  • Executive summary, which describes the purpose of your marketing plan and how marketing activities will be used to support your export strategy.
  • Product or service analysis, which gives a clear description of your export product or service, its unique selling points and how marketable it might be in the target market.
  • Market analysis, which describes your target market's key economic, social, political and cultural characteristics, and provides a profile of your target customer, including buying patterns and factors influencing purchasing decisions.
  • Competitive analysis, used to decide pricing and marketing strategies of your product or service.
  • Goals, which describehow you will achieve your objectives in terms of market share, position, revenue and profit expectations.
  • Marketing strategy, which includes pricing recommendations, mode(s) of delivery and proposed promotional methods.
  • Implementation, which identifies the activities and target dates you'll undertake to carry out your marketing plan, including a detailed marketing budget.
  • Evaluation, which describes how you will evaluate your marketing plan at various stages to determine if your goals are being achieved and what modifications may be needed.
  • Summary, which describes, in a half page, how your marketing plan goals fit into your overall export plan.


Competitive analysis should be used to help tailor your unique selling proposition (USP) to target markets.

For more information on how to craft an effective USP and use it to increase sales read the Trade Commissioner Service's (TCS) Spotlight on International Marketing.

5.4 Setting prices

Strategic pricing is one of the most important factors in achieving financial success. Part of setting a realistic export price, and therefore an appropriate profit margin, is to examine production, delivery and distribution costs, competition and market demand. You should also understand the variables of your target market and other export-related expenses, such as:

  • currency exchange rates and fluctuations
  • market research
  • customer research and credit checks
  • receivables/risk insurance
  • business travel
  • international postage, cable and telephone rates
  • translation
  • commissions, training charges and other costs involving foreign representatives
  • consultants and freight forwarders
  • product or service modification and special packaging

5.4.1 Market demand

As in domestic markets, demand in foreign markets can affect your price. In other words, what will the market bear?

For most consumer goods, per capita income is a fairly good way to gauge a market's ability to pay. Per capita income for most industrialized nations is similar to that of Canada or the United States, while it is much lower for much of the rest of the world. Often, simplifying products or services to reduce the selling price may be the best option in less affluent markets.

Remember that currency valuations affect affordability. Try to accommodate currency fluctuations and the comparative value of the Canadian dollar when setting your price.

Export Development Canada (EDC) provides information on managing foreign exchange risk.

Customer success story

Canadian businesses AND TCS working together – This environmental technologies company was able to leverage insights on local markets to take their business further thanks to TCS.

Watch the video

5.4.2 Competition

In domestic markets, few companies can set prices without considering their competitors' pricing. This is also true in exporting.

If you have many competitors in a foreign market, you may have to match or undercut the going price to win a share of the market. However, if your product or service is unique, new or demonstrates superior quality, you may be able to set a higher price.

5.4.3 Pricing strategies

How will each market affect your pricing? Include product modifications, shipping and insurance in your calculations. And, as mentioned above, you can't ignore your competitors' pricing.

Refer to your market objectives when setting your price. For example, are you trying to penetrate a new market? Looking for long-term market growth? Or pursuing an outlet for surplus production?

You may have to tailor your marketing and pricing objectives to certain markets (e.g. developing nations). There are several pricing strategies available:

  • Static pricing – charging the same price to all customers
  • Flexible pricing – adjusting prices for different types of customers
  • Full cost-based pricing – covering both fixed and variable costs of the export sale
  • Marginal cost – covering only the variable costs of production and exporting, while you pay overhead and other fixed costs out of domestic sales
  • Penetration pricing – keeping your price low to attract more customers, discourage competitors and gain quick market share
  • Price skimming – pricing the product high to make optimum profit among high-end consumers while there is little competition

After you've determined your costs and chosen your pricing strategy, establish a competitive price for your product or service that gives you an acceptable profit margin.

5.4.4 Pricing checklist

Use this handy checklist to track your costs and develop your pricing strategy.

Marketing and promotion

  • agent/distributor fees
  • advertising, media relations
  • travel
  • communications
  • materials (brochures, business cards)
  • trade fairs and exhibitions


  • unit cost of manufacture
  • product or service modification
  • regulatory approval
  • increased R&D costs
  • labelling/packaging, including translation
  • packing/marking


  • inspection
  • certification
  • document preparation
  • cargo insurance
  • freight forwarder's fees


  • lading and related charges
  • carriage
  • warehousing and storage
  • insurance


  • customs and other duties at port of entry
  • customs brokerage fees


  • costs of financing
  • interest charges
  • exchange rate fluctuations
  • export credit insurance

Source: FITT, Going Global

The table below outlines some of the differences between marketing goods and marketing services in an export environment.

Different approaches used to market goods versus services
FactorFor marketing goodsFor marketing services
DemonstrationsSample productPresentation of capabilities
Initial marketing bySales representativesFirm's principals
What do you market?Your productYour firm and your services
Local market presenceSales/distribution facilityOffice or virtual office in target market
Cultural factorsProduct design and packagingInterpersonal dynamics
Local associationsDistributors, marketersService industry
Local eventsTrade showsConferences (as speaker)
MediaProduct advertisingPress coverage
Local partnersProduction/distribution firmsOther service firms
Government procurementGoods acquisitionServices contracts

5.5 Promotion


Get your sales brochures, website and marketing proposition translated right away into the local language. Make sure to use local translators to ensure intercultural effectiveness when communicating through the use of text and/or imagery.

The outcome of your promotional strategies can make or break your export venture.

Promotion refers to any or all of the communications tools listed below that you may use to convince people to buy your product or service.

Advertising. Carefully select the media that have a wide circulation within your target audience. If few people have televisions, is radio a better bet? Or print? Or online advertising? Or social media? Word of mouth promotion (testimonials, samples, etc.)?

Promotional materials. You may need to remove elements that are inappropriate, offensive or meaningless in the target market. Then have a commercial writer adapt these materials into the native language, and have it double-checked by a native of the country.

Direct mail. A targeted direct mail campaign can be very effective if you do your research and gain experience in your target market.

Media. Prepare a media kit that includes a profile of your company, new products/services, newsworthy activities and any articles published about your company.

Personal visits. Many cultures value personal contact as the best means of promotion and building business relationships.

Trade shows. Attending or participating in international trade shows allows you to promote your business, check out the competition and do market research.

Internet. Be prepared to commit time and money to keeping your website up-to-date, useful to customers and maintained in other languages.

Social media. Consider the most appropriate online platform for your audience and market. What is your demographic and where do they congregate, communicate and share information with business peers? Is it Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter? Or are there local social media platforms relevant to the market (e.g. WeChat in China or XING in Germany)?


Be careful to look into the meanings that your name or corporate image may have in the target market.

Branding Canada for agri-food companies

Is your company in the food and agricultural sector? If it is, you should know about Canada Brand, a program developed by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in close partnership with industry and provincial governments. This initiative is designed to leverage Canada's strong international image to increase the sales and profile of Canadian agri-food products.

5.6 Marketing tools

Developing the right marketing tools is crucial to the success of your business. Below is a list of tools and tips to get you started.

Business cards

  • Professionally designed and high quality
  • Easy to read
  • In the appropriate language(s)
  • Consistent throughout your firm
  • Distinctive and informative
  • Up-to-date and complete, including area codes, country, telephone and fax numbers, postal code, email and website addresses


  • Creative and appealing
  • Informative and easy to read, highlighting your uniqueness
  • Professionally designed and printed
  • Visually pleasing

Customer testimonials

  • Demonstrate that your company is highly recommended
  • Represent your best customers
  • Feature quotes from top executives
  • Include in your brochure and on your website

News articles

  • Clearly state that your company is a recognized leader
  • Quote in your brochure
  • Reproduce on your letterhead
  • Display in your office
  • Send to potential clients


  • Sophisticated and interesting
  • Professionally translated and produced
  • Oriented to the quality and benefits of your product or service
  • Clear and concise
  • Make conveniently available on YouTube, Twitter and other social media channels


  • Comprehensive and informative
  • Professionally designed
  • Easy to navigate
  • Visually pleasing
  • Up to date and reliable
  • Enabled to submit online enquiries (via forms or email)
  • Capable of allowing online purchasing (if appropriate)

Social media

  • Set up accounts in social media such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, those from consumer organizations and online review sites
  • Be aware of the social media that are used in your targeted market
  • Be aware of the functionality in these social media, such as the Share button
  • Understand how your product shows in search engines on the Internet
  • Set up social media analytics so you are aware of your audience, their referrals of your company, as well as associated commentary
  • Be prepared to respond in a positive, proactive fashion to address customer concerns or demonstrate appreciation of compliments
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