How to Become Your Own Cyber Sleuth

16 October 2016 by National Bank
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So you run a home-grown business, and a relatively successful one at that. And you’re thinking of taking the big leap into the international market. This can seem daunting, and the complexity of the process may be holding you back. But a wealth of information online can help you gain insights into your competition, and more importantly into the heads of your potential customers. You just need to know where and how to search.

Where to start

The first step: go online and research what markets are out there, says Doug Taylor, Managing Director of Pacific Business Intelligence Ltd., which provides consulting services in international business development, marketing and strategic planning.

Taylor suggests picking between 10 and 20 countries where you might like to do business—keeping in mind you’ll likely need to travel there—and start looking at whether there is a market for your product.

How to pick a target market

In Canada, about 80 per cent of goods sold overseas goes to the United States, followed by China at 5 per cent. But those two markets can be difficult to break into, says Taylor.

His advice: look at countries like Malaysia, Thailand, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland.

Get on social media

A good way to understand the demographics in your target market is to head to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google.

“While lots of folks use social media daily, few realize that you can use these platforms' advertising tools for free to find out critical market information,” says Rob Cooper, founder of Victoria B.C.-based PlusROI Online Marketing, which helps companies build online strategies.

By using the LinkedIn Advertising Planner, for example, you can find out how many professionals there are in a particular country with specific job titles, or who work in certain industries. You can use keywords that pertain to your industry or product to find potential buyers in minutes, and from their LinkedIn profile you’ll have access to contact information as well as social media profiles.

Curious how many parents in Canada are interested in Real Estate topics? The Facebook Ads Manager will tell you.

Google is also a great source of information. You can use their keyword tool to find out how many people in any area are conducting specific searches on a monthly basis. Google will also let you use their Display Planner to research how many advertising impressions are available per month on specific topics within specific geographies.

These features are all available by signing up for advertising accounts on the different networks, which then gives you free access to the advertising research tools. While you may have to create an ad and enter a credit card on the different platforms, you can pause it before it runs and you don't have to spend a dime.

Competitive research tools like SpyFu enable you to see how many people a month come to a competitor’s website; they also provide specific details on the keywords used to bring them, including historical information about the sponsored search ads competitors have run.

How Rob Cooper might use these tools

“If I had a photo software company and wanted to figure out if it made sense to try to sell products into France I could:


    • Use Facebook Ad Targeting to find out how many people are interested in photography in France.



    • Use LinkedIn to find out how many professional photographers there are in France.



    • Use Google Keywords tool to find out how many photo software-related searches are done monthly in France.



    • Use the Google Display Planner to find out how many ad impressions are available monthly on photo sites seen by people in France.


    Spend time on sites popular in your target country

    Not all countries use the same social media sites as we do in Canada, and businesses looking to expand overseas need to understand where their potential customers are.

    In Germany and Japan, for example, many people use the career social networking site Xing. China uses Baidu, and many others also use the messaging app WeChat.

    What next

    If your product can be sold online, Rob Cooper suggests running some modest online advertising tests to gauge the level of interest within the region. “Travel is expensive and some initial tests can help you understand if it's worth the investment,” he said. “There's no substitute for direct interaction, but the web can help you pick your bets a bit better.

    Online forums and sites like LinkedIn Groups can also be a good place to strike up conversations.

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