A few years ago I divided an American MBA class into two groups, US students and foreign students. Then I asked them to list what defines America. The Americans saw their Wild West history, a house with a picket fence, and Disney as faithful representations of America, while the foreigners saw the sense of freedom and the American “can do” attitude as representative of the US. The lesson here is that non-US
companies need to ask the seemingly obvious questions and not overlook any subtle warning signs when trying to connect with American customers. Although Australians and Americans speak the same language it does not mean they think, feel or shop the same way. If you understand the Americans’ firmly held beliefs then you can influence their consumer behavior.
Research on your customers should start with free information that you can gain from the internet and the Australian government. Consider using LinkedIn to post questions that you want answered. Once you have established that baseline you can come to the US to conduct research, or find a consultant to undertake further research for you. The best recommendations for finding a consultant will come from other Australian companies that have already entered the US market. If you want a good example of an Australian company that believes in the value of market research then look at Boral which uses market research to determine what their customers feel and think about their product (bricks) so that it can continue to dominate the US market.
After you understand what drives your US customer you still need to test your products and messages on American customers to determine if your value proposition fits with their unique American-centric beliefs. This is not always easy and even US companies can misinterpret what is important to the US consumer. When Coca-Cola introduced New Coke back in the 1980's it was a monumental failure because Coca-Cola did not understand that the emotional connection its customers had with the existing product was more enticing than the physical features and benefits of the new product. Coke is big enough to write off the product development costs but an Australian company entering the US market cannot afford such a misstep.
1. Start with the assumption that the Americans are more different from the Australians that would be expected.
2. Contact your local Austrade office or State Government international business development agencies and ask for free advice.
3. After you have conducted your desk research then come to the US to speak with potential customers, distributors and retailers to gain feedback on your plans.
4. Find a US tradeshow that will act as the center point for a visit to the US. You will be able to set up meetings with potential distributors in advance and while you are at the tradeshow you can check out your competition. You don't need to have a booth: you can just attend and conduct your interviews and research.
If you want to provide input on how Australian companies make a connection with their American customers then comment on this blog or send me a message via email or Twitter.