"Leave your product just as it is and don‘t make any attempt at all to adjust it to the conditions of the target market."

First fail in foreign trade

“Homemade” mistakes made abroad cannot be afforded by SMEs – especially not at a time when the markets are becoming more difficult. Professor Peter Anterist, CEO of the global trust company InterGest, talks about the most popular wooden paths in foreign business. Here error no.1: “You leave your product as it is and do not adapt it to the requirements of the target market”.

Your product has been enjoying great success on the German market for many years. No one is able to offer you any serious competition, and even they manage to do so briefly, it is never long before you come up with another innovation to restore your lead.

A case in point is Mr. Müller from R, an ice cream producer in his third generation of business and market leader in Germany. He has conquered the German market with ice cream specialities that our grandparents would never have dreamed of. His amaretto creations melt in your mouth and he has even turned the traditional Sunday cake into ice cream.

The time has come to introduce the rest of the world to the joys of these delicacies. And anyone who has the ability to dream up something like crème brulée (maybe we can turn that into ice cream too?) is worthy of being indulged with German ice cream.

So off we go, full steam ahead to France, to find a sales partner and supply him with enough materials for a listing talk. Best of all, the new innovative packaging is ready just in time for the marketing launch. No more unnecessary outer packaging, thanks to the new sealing method for the plastic cup, and it also has a more colourful design.

Supported by an enormous budget, the company‘s products are soon to be found in the deep freezes of all the country‘s supermarkets, and the thought of the local competition losing ground to this sure winner fills the marketing personnel with joy.

At last, the French can also enjoy marzipan tart in the form of ice cream. How lucky that nobody thought of doing it before.

Of course, what eventually happened was quite different. After a sluggish start, sales progressed poorly, only to turn into a negative slide. The ice cream turned into deadweight on the supermarket shelves. Nobody was interested in trying this oh so tempting ‚Glace parfum tarte á la pâte d ́amande‘. But what on earth went wrong? Can it really be true that the French are so ignorant? They have been eating those strange sorbets ever since time began, and now that they have a chance to try something with lots of cream and sugar, they aren‘t even interested? OK, so there is no such thing as marzipan tart in France but what has that got to do with it? And then there is our wonderful, environmentally friendly packaging. Of course, our sales partner explained to us that the French find a product‘s outer appearance important, but then what does he know? He even had the audacity to suggest that the brand name ‚Lüdenheimer Eiskreationen‘ might not seem quite so attractive in France and that we might consider making it sound a bit more French. But you wouldn‘t expect Coca Cola to change its name for the German or
Chinese markets.

Where Mr. Müller and his team went wrong is that they didn‘t give a single thought to the idea that consumer habits, even in a neighbouring country, might be different than they are at home. They made the most common mistake in export marketing. Every country is different and the people in it have a different culture and different traditions, not to mention different tastes. For instance, consumers in France attach great importance to attractive packaging and aren‘t particularly interested in how much unnecessary waste it might generate. What the French also love are yoghurts with 0% fat AND 0% sugar – a good reason for an important German producer of lovely, sweet creamy yoghurts to fall flat on its face on the French market.

There is simply no way around it. If you want to be successful abroad, you have to adapt your products to the conditions in that country. And this does not just apply to matters of taste or to food products. There is also the case of a manufacturer of decorative fireplaces, who wished to market his products in Russia. His products clearly reflected modern German tastes perfectly. Polished stainless steel, brushed aluminium, fantastically modern and wonderfully stylish. However, it became apparent during the marketing launch that tastes in Russia were quite different, preferring ornate patterns to smooth glass surfaces.

Fortunately, the manager of the fireplace factory was clever enough to see the real potential of the Russian market and launched a separate product line with designs conceived for the Russian market.