There are the big name disruptors, and then there are those who disrupt them. This is what makes the world of business fascinating: that you can’t stop learning and that you will never know for sure what works where. Small, local businesses often find it difficult to compete with multinational companies, but sometimes they score, too.
In this post, we try to explore what local businesses can teach their global counterparts? What makes a local or national company hold its own against the Goliaths of international business?
1. Know thy audience (too well)
Local companies have the advantage of working in a smaller geography, so they are less distracted and can focus their resources. They are also led or managed by people who actually live and breathe the same air as their customers. Naturally, they can very easily understand the pains their customers may be facing and tailor solutions accordingly.
Ola Cabs, a Bengaluru-based taxi aggregator service, introduced many features that made it easier for Indian customers to use its service over Uber’s. You could pay by cash, summon auto rickshaws, and opt for smaller cars and thus pay much less. Uber ended up adopting some of these features, even if it meant redesigning its product. (Of course, Uber wasn’t the only one learning. Inspired by Uber’s app-only model, Ola shut down its call centres and became a pure app-driven business some time last year.)
2. Use popular local marketing and advertising channels
One reason local companies can be nimbler is because they already know where their audience is hanging out, be it online or offline. So, they can hit the ground running. For instance, if you‘re a Russian company, you already know that your potential customers prefer Yandex over Google and Vkontakte and Odnoklassniki over Facebook. You would naturally gravitate towards these platforms to run your online advertisements.
Sometimes indigenous channels are also cheaper, which makes it even more advantageous for home-grown companies.
3. Learn to learn
Many domestic companies get their edge because they are willing to learn. Sometimes, this ends up in downright copying, but copycat businesses are a reality that everyone has to contend with, like it or not.
Entrepreneurs study the business models of cloud-based or app-driven businesses and come up with a similar product or service, or sometimes even innovate and add a local twist. Rocket Internet is a great example of an organization that has established itself purely by spawning copycat businesses.
While companies that attract venture funding and do a lot of media splash are busy making forays in their domestic market, overseas competitors seize the opportunity. They take advantage of gaps in the innovator’s product and present an alternative, even before the product has been formally released in their country.
Going global in key markets with localization is one way of countering copycat competitors. At least you don’t let them win because you’re lagging in translation.
Yet learning from others is also a very basic human nature. And let’s not forget: it’s not always the smaller, local company that’s copying. Many a time, behemoth companies get ‘inspired’ too.
4. Use the local language and, hence, the right keywords
Understandably so, local entities market in the local languages — they know no other way. In addition to letting the customer easily understand the product and get comfortable with it, the use of native languages also means that the right keywords are being used. Translated product descriptions are bound to show up favorably in searches in app stores and mobile and desktop search results. Thus, you win in more than one way from translation.
All said, local businesses don’t have an easy life. They often have to contend with the brand and marketing muscle of the outsiders, not to mention the management infrastructure and technology advantages that global companies often possess. But they can take comfort in knowing that all global companies started locally. This is also what global businesses need to remember: as long as they are truly local, they can easily cross borders.