You would think a major brand like Target would have no problem succeeding in Canada, right? After all, the cultural differences between the U.S. and our neighbor to the north aren’t huge, especially compared to other countries. But after about two years, the company shut down its Canadian stores, citing financial loss as the reason. Similarly, Tesco tried to bring its supermarkets from Europe to the U.S. but pulled out a few years later after losing hundreds of millions of dollars.
Going into a new market is hard, no matter the country. If you’re trying to bring your brand into the ultra-competitive U.S. market, here’s what you need to know.
1. Start With a Differentiator
To succeed in the U.S., you need to offer something that no one else does, whether that be a particularly key feature, a unique technology or something unexpected. Just be sure you bring a solid core product that’s already proven. When you identify your value propositions and the key benefits you bring to the table, you have a solid foundation on which to build.
2. Focus On a Strategic Pain Point
Your initial efforts should focus on a specific market segment with a significant pain point that you can solve. Don’t try to be all things to all people. Understand what made your brand a success in your home country or region. What was the primary pain point that it solved, and who has that problem in the U.S.?
3. Understand the Competition and Where to Position Your Brand
Back at home, your company might be an industry leader or top in revenue, but that doesn’t guarantee you success in the U.S. The U.S. economy was the largest in the world in 2020, which means fierce competition from both hungry startups and deeply entrenched brands.
Competitive research is essential for success. Carefully study all data culled from due diligence. Identify the leaders in your particular segment and what they do right, as well as which brands lag and why. Also, seek to identify new players attempting to carve out their own space.
You shouldn’t expect to be an immediate industry leader when you enter the U.S., but you can use your research to position yourself for immediate impact in your segment.
4. Educate the Market, and Change the Mindset
Part of achieving a leadership role means educating your new U.S. consumers. Use findings from your due diligence to determine what U.S. consumers know and don’t know about your specific segment, and then target what they really need to know.
Zero in on pain points caused by an established mindset, and show them that there’s another way to do things. Change their mindset about how things must be done, and educate them on how your product offers a better way.
5. Expect Differences - And Adapt
Don’t expect 100% of what worked at home to work in the U.S. There will inevitably be differences in business practices, not to mention cultural ones, you’ll have to navigate.
While 60% to 70% of your core product might remain the same, it’s critical to plan for your team to focus on adapting the other 30% to 40% to the cultural, legal and technical differences.
6. Bring in Good Talent at Home and Abroad With a Strong U.S. Base
Talent is often the primary difference between a good company and a great one, and a strong company culture plays a huge role in attracting new talent. When hiring, cultivate a family atmosphere where everyone carries a stake in the firm’s success and works together toward the same goal.
Don’t underestimate the importance of a robust home base for your U.S. operations. Your international employees might be capable, but a team hired and based in the U.S. allows you to navigate the cultural differences more successfully. You’ll spend less time adapting and more time expanding.
7. Cultivate an International Culture of Working Together
While it is crucial to build a solid U.S.-based team for your new operations, it is equally important you remember it is part of an international team with a wealth of business and domain expertise. For sustained global growth, international teams have to work closely together to align strategies, share expertise and experience, and maintain the company culture you have worked so hard to cultivate.
Plan for joint initiatives between the parent company, the new U.S. operation and other international business units, not only to ensure everyone is on the same page but also to encourage collaboration, share new ideas and foster innovation.
8. Be Open to New Use Cases for Your Product
Coming from a smaller market often means fewer use cases for your product or service. The limits or capabilities are never fully explored until reaching the dynamic U.S. market. Be open to consumer feedback and always be ready to capitalize on new opportunities.
For example, when my company first entered the U.S., we learned that many of our clients found data capture elements of the product useful for form management in their legal and human resources departments. Even though the platform was built for purchase-to-pay automation, this offered us another way to differentiate ourselves in the U.S. market.
This highlights a key trait for success in the U.S.: flexibility. As you navigate the U.S. market, be open to new ideas and points of view. Perform your due diligence, find your space and ways to expand beyond, but approach it all with an open mind.
You’ve already cleared the toughest threshold: You’ve developed a product people find value in. Taking the time to embrace a new culture, new means of doing business and how your product serves the U.S. consumer is a sure pathway to years of success.