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A Checklist for Preparing Your Package to Go Global

Content provided by the Women Presidents' Organization


By Laurel Delaney

Small-brand marketers may be going overseas for the first time.  Understand culture's impact on packaging, and you can succeed.

Many major brands are firmly entrenched overseas.  And now, marketers of smaller brands have begun to jump on the bandwagon.  But marketers of small brands may be getting their first exposure into consumer needs and perceptions in overseas markets.  If you are one of them, you need to tread cautiously in your approach.

It starts by knowing the consumer in your target market.  For consumers in other countries, package elements such as shape and color -- even the product quantity inside the package -- hold different meanings. They can even perceive the name differently, depending on the culture.

Your design approach may have proven sound for your brand in the United States.  But, you should expect to start fresh when marketing abroad.  That undertaking requires substantial investments of your time and money.  Why is all that necessary?  If you fail to do your homework, the results often prove disastrous to your brand's identity.


A Package Checklist

By following a number of steps, you can avoid costly missteps.  So, grab your own international-ready product and match it against this checklist.

1.  The name of your product.  Sure, it sounds fine and intriguing to an American, but what does it mean in the target market?  Find out beforehand.  If you don't, you will end up with a fiasco like Coca-Cola had when it introduced its signature soft drink in China, under a Chinese name sounding very similar to Coke.  But the characters used for the name mean "Bite the Wax Tadpole."

2.  The colors of your package.  What do they connote in other countries?  Vibrant, attention-grabbing red sometimes signifies a warning or danger in the United States.  In Chinese culture, it indicates good luck.  A slick black package with touches of embossed gold or silver conveys elegance and sophistication to consumers in the United States and some newly industrialized countries.  But, in some parts of Africa, it suggests death.

3.  Overall package and label design.  Besides your color choices, your illustrations or graphics need to be appropriate, appealing and understandable to consumers.  Seek opinions on your package design from consumers in your target market.  Would they buy it based on how it looks?  If you put a smiling face on your package, but consumers in your target country take the purchase of your product more seriously, would your labeling be trivial or cheap looking or even offensive?

4.  The size or quantity of your product.  Your product might be perfect for U.S. patterns of consumption, but way too much in Japan, where the size of the typical household is very small.  One single Whopper may feed one American, but that same burger sold in France may make a lunch for two, or have to be tossed in the trash.  You may need to adjust your package to provide smaller sizes.

5.  Weights and measurements.  Indicate weights and measurements on your label using local standard measures.  Metric is probably appropriate to use, but check to make sure.  Will you need a bilingual label?  Canada requires a French-English label.  Finland requires a Finnish-Swedish label.  Most Middle East countries require an Arabic-English label.  For some destinations, the first order or trial shipment requires only a sticker on the outside of the package, in the language of the importing country.  Generally, this sticker should state the importing agent's name and address, the weight of the package in the country's standard units of measurement, an ingredient legend and the expiration date.

6.  Number of units per package.  Pay attention to the cultural significance attached to the number of units you place in your package.  Some countries, particularly in the West, find the number seven to be lucky and view 13 as unlucky.  In Japan, the number four is the sign of death, so grouping anything product four to a package will be the "kiss of death" for your marketing venture.  When the package calls for small quantities packed showcase-style, make sure consumers in your targeted market consider the quantity desirable.

7.  Product pictures on the label.  When Americans read "Pizza" on the outside of carton, they intuitively know what's inside.  But will they know in New Caledonia?  Probably not.  Appropriate graphics are a key consideration.  Illustrations are acceptable, two-color pictures look nicer, but four-color label photography shows it like it is.

8.  Package material.  If your package is behind the times in the United States, don't think you'll be able to "unload" it on the world market.  Consumers everywhere appreciate innovation and cutting-edge technology.  They expect it from brand managers in the United States.  Keep informed on the newest and best packaging in your product category.

9.  Extending current product applications.  Here's where a few months of living in a foreign country would pay dividends.  You could learn how "the locals" do things and document their needs.  Before you set out to do business in a foreign country, compile questions to ask.  How do the people there like to spend their time?  What are their favorite foods?  How do they clean their homes?  How do they clean their clothes?

10.  Environmental effects on your package.  Humidity, high energy costs, poor water supply, extreme hot or cold temperatures and poor infrastructure can affect how your package holds up in a new market.  You might be able adjust your package to withstand damage.  Otherwise, you will have to choose a market that makes a better fit.

11.  Ensuring electrical products are suitable for international use.  If your wired product is not adjusted to the electrical standards in your target market, you'll have all sorts of problems, especially if you have already shipped the unacceptable product!  A good resource you should know about is Electric Current Abroad, a publication of the U.S. Department of Commerce.  It provides everything you need to know about electrical standards worldwide.

12.  Handling warranties, guarantees, consignment sales or service calls overseas.  Anticipate what it will take to put one of these commitments in place not locally, but globally.  Can it be done?  If so, map out the logistics from start to finish and determine who will be responsible.  If it is not feasible, then don't offer it.

13.  Product ordinance.  Check with local government officials to see whether your product carries any legal restrictions or governmental regulations.  Find out if it is mandatory to perform a safety-measure or durability test on your product prior to shipping overseas. 

Adapting your product to meet the needs of an overseas market is a considerable undertaking.  It will be smart to determine if the anticipated sales will outweigh the expense, and to project how long will it take to recover your product adaptation costs.  You may find it more realistic, at least initially, to export your products to countries that will accept them as they are.  From there, you can always grow and expand from your successes at your own pace.  But keep a long-term perspective:  being willing to make strategic changes to your product will open doors to sell it anywhere in the world.

Copyright ©2004 Laurel J. Delaney.   All rights reserved. 

Laurel Delaney runs GlobeTrade.com and LaurelDelaney.com, both Chicago-based firms that specialize in international entrepreneurship.  She is also the creator of "Borderbuster," an e-newsletter and The Global Small Business Blog, which are both highly regarded for coverage on global small business.  Laurel can be reached at ldelaney@globetrade.com.

Content copyrighted by the Women Presidents' Organization


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