The looming global recession poses a tough question for startups. Are you consolidating your marketing efforts and cutting costs — or are you entering new markets and opening up new channels to grow your brand?

We posed this question, along with others, to a panel of experts in our latest Sifted Conversations.

Our experts were:

  • Hannah Weeks, Chief Marketing Officer of Ecosia
  • SzeKi Sim, Senior Vice President of Brand, Marketing and Communications at the Singapore Economic Development Board
  • Sarah Keefer, Pitch’s Chief Marketing Officer
  • Clare Grinton, Brand and Creative Director at Wise

1/ Bold brands will continue to spend, but must change their priorities

Everyone on our panel agreed that there are opportunities to grow brands, even in times of economic stress.

Grinton pointed out that there is often a higher cost associated with not spending on your brand. She said companies that tighten purse strings can be outsmarted and displaced by bolder operations that build loyal followings in new markets.

To mitigate some of the risks of expansion, she suggested that founders prioritize markets where their brand already has a good fit — established through research and testing of marketing materials.

However, Grinton was also clear that businesses operating on tighter budgets will need to work on their priorities or risk spreading themselves too thin chasing instant profits.

You need to rethink what success looks like today and what success looks like when we emerge from an economic downturn. A brand can feel comfortable as long as the brand’s healthy metrics are still there and sales are slightly down” – Claire Grinton, Wise

2/ Use partnerships to understand your new market

Before entering a new market, startups should familiarize themselves with the ecosystem of that country or city. Reaching out to VCs, other companies or accelerators that are working in a new market can open up valuable opportunities—and give a better understanding of the needs of your new target audience.

Lim said making the right connections can quickly help grow your network.

Grinton added that this knowledge can also help with content creation. By accessing the data and expertise of an established player in a given market, you can customize your content almost instantly.

“When you land in a new market, you have to build those networks… You also build and leverage the networks that they have. And then you learn what is unique about that particular country” — SzeKi Lim, Singapore Economic Development Brand

3/ Use data to build local strategy

Wickes said that for tech brands, growth can often happen in markets before you’ve put together a proper strategy.

She cited two examples: first, before Netflix even launched in Australia, there were already 3 million users claiming to be US-based to access the platform. The other is that Ecosia recently saw a surge in users in the Philippines after the typhoons in May. Many users have turned to the green search engine to research tree planting schemes.

While this sudden growth may not have been part of your original plan, it gives you the data to effectively build a strategy in this market. Are users interacting with the product in the same way as in your established markets—or do they need it to be tailored more effectively?

But for companies that don’t necessarily have that head start, it’s about conducting thorough market research. Then test campaigns can help you understand the activities of your target audience.

“They may not use the product in the same way. They won’t have the brand awareness, they might withdraw faster, and you’ve paid the same amount… It varies so much between markets.” —Hannah Weeks, Ecosia

4/ Think globally but act (and hire) locally

One of the most delicate balancing acts in building a global brand is the ability to maintain a clear tone of voice and brand identity while adapting to a new market.

Kiefer uses an example from his time with Spotify. Ads are often created using images that would be widely known before individual marketing teams were given the freedom to tailor copy to their locations. This meant that certain turns of phrase or idioms that didn’t translate well could be rewritten by native speakers, creating campaigns that spoke to the local and maintain the brand voice.

This example led to a question from the audience: when is the right time to hire marketing teams in new markets?

Kiefer said the pandemic has made things easier because market research can be done remotely. But ultimately, you’ll need to empower an expert who understands their market intrinsically to help guide your growth in a new location.

You don’t necessarily need to be physically located in a market to start entering that market. What you need is someone who understands the market in depth and understands how to work in that market” – Sarah Keefer, Pitch

Like this and want more? Watch the full Sifted talks here:

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