Dec. 29 2006 11:28 AM

Recession. Stagnant growth. Low consumer confidence. These are very real business headlines we have been seeing for some time. Business is difficult for most of the companies here in the United States. Interestingly, many countries in Europe, Asia and elsewhere are not experiencing the economic pain that has gripped the US for the past two-plus years. Countries like Finland and South Korea, for instance, have well-educated populations that are very open to purchasing goods and services from US businesses.


Many countries in Europe have long histories of direct buying of low-priced goods. In fact, many Europeans have expanded their direct buying horizons to include higher end and luxury goods, often from international sources. And by any measure, the most successful medium to reach these prospects remains direct mail. With a little research and the right partners, many US businesses can market their products and services globally and gain large revenue potential with relatively little risk.


There are numerous advantages to expanding your business to reach new international markets. And there has never been a better time to do so. It used to be that post offices and postal agencies worldwide were state-owned agencies, which were politically controlled, heavily regulated and protected monopolies. They had limited competition, especially in the delivery of letters, and virtually no technological threat. People sending mail experienced very little customer service since there were few options in getting their packages and letters from place to place. That has changed dramatically in the last 30 years due to key events like the liberalization of the postal markets, adoption of the Internet, lowering of customs barriers and the introduction of the Euro, a common currency for most of Europe.


With these changes also come new opportunities for direct marketers. Economic barriers are coming down. More and more companies are looking to do business globally. And as postal operators have become less political and more focused on the customer, there has been an increase in innovation and service quality. Direct marketers can maximize these innovations to drive their businesses as well.


Private operators who offer logistics expertise, transportation and high-value, business-to-business delivery are teaming up with public operators who have unequaled residential delivery capability and unparalleled retail infrastructure. The future is in the creation of global one-stop transportation, logistics and delivery solutions. ·


For US businesses, there are many compelling reasons to take on the global direct mail market. Foreign mailboxes generally have significantly less clutter than mailboxes in the US. That means marketing messages are less likely to get lost. The average American receives over 360 pieces of direct mail per year. That compares to the average Swiss citizen, who receives approximately 120 pieces annually. To stay competitive, businesses can't afford to overlook Europe as a potential source of revenue.


And with the advent of the Euro in 13 countries, doing business in Europe has been dramatically simplified. Now there is a single currency and single pricing for up to 300 million customers a market larger, and potentially more lucrative, than the US. And another 10 Eastern European countries are slated to join the European Union in 2004, with additional countries to join in 2007. Since the advent of a common currency, companies are required to do fewer foreign transactions, and those transactions are simpler with a lower risk of exchange rate fluctuation and reduced currency transaction costs.


However, before embarking into international direct mail, there are a few things to check out in the country you plan on targeting:

1) Economic strength and stability

2) Regulatory environment

3) Political situation

4) Fiscal and tax policy

5) Infrastructure development

6) Population spread

7) Cultural factors


The more you know about the target country, the greater your chances of success with a direct mail campaign. For example, if you know that 70% of the population is concentrated in major cities with easy access to the products you are selling through the mail, perhaps your mailing list should focus on the 30% that can't run to the corner store for your widget. Or if the regulatory and tax policies are strict for foreign companies, perhaps you need to work with local distributors or agents rather than selling your product directly.


Also, remember that the world is full of people that are not Americans. Do not treat them like they are. This statement applies to American companies, but it could just as easily be, "The world is full of people that are not Irish. Do not treat them like they are." Always be sensitive to cultural differences and market to them. Remember, you are not always the same as your target customer.


Just like politics, all marketing is local. Use local experts, if not as staff, then as consultants at least. And local means native. Just because someone studied French in high school in Kansas does not make that person qualified to prepare marketing materials for Parisians. There may be a European Union, but there's no such thing as a European. Each country is different and must be marketed to differently. In fact, each region of each country is often different. Even countries that share a language have different cultures. There are differences between Germans and Austrians just as there are differences between Americans and the British. Don't try to treat them the same.


Choose your target audience, focus on one country and do your homework. Multi-country rollouts are very difficult. Start gradually. Learn things as you go and apply them when you are ready to rollout in a new country. There are too many details specific to each country to successfully and effectively rollout in multiple countries simultaneously. It's better, and usually cheaper, to work out the glitches one country at a time.


There are several steps to getting started in a country. First, do some local market research. Understand the buying behaviors of your target customers. What are their typical payment methods invoices, COD, postal money order, debit cards, credit cards or personal checks? What type of direct mail lists are available to marketers? Are there processing fees related to using the lists? What are the privacy statutes that are in place? In some countries, cold calling and acquisition fax or e-mail may be prohibited. Are there any advertising restrictions that will impact your campaign? What's the best media mix for an advertising program direct response, Web, direct TV, direct mail, telemarketing? Is a local look or an international look more desirable for a campaign? Regardless of whether you integrate international cachet with local comfort, at a minimum you'll still need to put purchasing instructions and pricing in local currency, have an in-country return address, a response center and Web site in the country's native language.


You should strive to appear very international. You'll have a hard time finding customers in Paris, France, if your return address is Paris, Texas. Work with an international mail services provider that can set up your direct mail campaign with local indicia and an in-country return address.  People generally like to do business with what they perceive to be local companies or companies that appear to have local representatives. There is also a level of comfort and security if they are having a problem with the product that they ordered, knowing, or at least feeling, that they can get help quickly and easily and don't have to call another country for support.


Whether companies choose to work with a re-mailer, an authorized agent of a foreign postal administration, a wholly-owned subsidiary of a foreign postal administration, a U.S. Postal Service consolidator or a full-service provider, foreign markets offer many opportunities and business advantages to the aggressive direct marketer.


Rainer Hengst is vice president of Public Affairs for Deutsche Post Global Mail USA. The company is a subsidiary of Deutsche Post World Net. For additional information, visit the corporate Web site at