Focus

The Global Marketing Flywheel

How to think about international growth in a changing world

Libor Safar

Libor Safar is digital marketing director at RWS Moravia.
He has over 25 years’ experience in the localization industry,
with 20 years in international marketing and sales.

Gabriel Karandyšovský headshot

The Global Marketing Flywheel

How to think about international growth in a changing world

Gabriel Karandyšovský headshot

Libor Safar

Libor Safar is digital marketing director at RWS Moravia.
He has over 25 years’ experience in the localization industry,
with 20 years in international marketing and sales.

T

here’s been a recent shift in marketing circles from talking about funnels to talking about flywheels. This concept — a global marketing flywheel — offers companies options for how and when they expand their global content or product offerings to international markets. In fact, some organizations may already be using the concept to drive their localization decisions without even being aware of it.

Is the marketing funnel outdated?

The concept of a funnel has always been deceptively simple. Traditional marketing efforts have been focused on turning prospects into customers by moving them through stages — awareness, interest, consideration, intent, evaluation, and, ultimately, purchase. These stages formed the top, middle and bottom of the funnel, with activities and metrics built around pushing prospects down through the funnel.

Building on the concept, the typical global marketing playbook calls for focusing first on the top, and subsequently on the middle of the funnel to initiate international growth when entering new markets. The focus then shifts toward the bottom-of-funnel activities, where the goal is growth and winning market share from local competitors.

The funnel has been around for quite some time and has informed many international sales and marketing strategies. The concept works perfectly well until it doesn’t. The reality is, increasingly, that buying is no longer a linear process. Buyers have access to so much information before they even think about buying, and they rely more and more on word of mouth, effectively ignoring much of the traditional marketing that companies produce.

It’s becoming more difficult to win new customers using a framework that pushes them through a funnel. But, more importantly, this approach fails to build on the potential of attracting sales and driving referrals from happy, existing customers.

So while funnels continue to be useful when designing linear processes, their linear nature makes them less useful when considering an overall marketing approach.

In a global marketing context, this leads to a failure to build on a company’s existing customer base and a failure to capitalize on the general goodwill built in its home market and other current markets. Getting the next language or market right isn’t always easier than the last, even when it should be. At best, this results in incremental growth that just about beats the churn-rate companies normally experience, but by no means is it a way to achieve exponential growth.

In fact, this model is even more relevant in the current post-COVID world, which is marked by accelerated digitalization. This is an opportunity to increase revenues and reduce costs, and it comes with a pressing need to keep and delight existing clients.

The funnel vs. the flywheel

This is where the flywheel comes in. The idea takes inspiration from engineering, where a flywheel is a highly efficient device used to store and conserve energy. The flywheel needs initial torque to get moving, and from there it creates and stores more energy with every turn, continually increasing its output. A marketing strategy can work in much the same way. Instead of a company starting over from scratch after a given campaign has been completed or client acquired, the marketing flywheel allows them to harness the energy of the previous cycle to power the next campaign or acquisition, with less energy needed. This is the way to build self-sustaining marketing operations that keep spinning with ever-decreasing friction.

Amazon was perhaps the first company to embrace and perfect this flywheel concept in combining their own ecommerce platform with third-party sellers across markets. This helped increase traffic, the selection of products offered, and, ultimately, the overall customer experience, all while decreasing costs and, by extension, prices. This then formed a virtuous self-reinforcing cycle. In the marketing field, the concept found a lot of traction with respected marketers such as Rand Fishkin, founder of Moz and SparkToro, and Brian Halligan, co-founder and CEO of HubSpot. In fact, much of HubSpot’s operations have been reengineered based on the flywheel model (attract-engage-delight), with corresponding changes to their sales, marketing, customer services, and product development. This has made HubSpot one of the greatest success stories of a high-growth organization customizing and adopting the flywheel concept.

So while marketing as a discipline is not exactly known for its aversion to a constant stream of seemingly new concepts and buzzwords, “flywheel” is one idea
that has proven its worth and has real-life applications.

Here’s a closer look at how the global marketing flywheel (Figure 1) works and the specific activities you can pursue at each step.

Figure 1: The Global Marketing Flywheel. Each new language, localized piece of content, and international customer won makes the wheel spin faster.

1. Leverage from existing markets

It’s a rare company that goes from one to 50 or 100 languages in one release. At the same time, since the web is a worldwide phenomenon, anyone can reach out to customers anywhere in the world from day one. That also means companies may have existing goodwill from their home market or other locales where they already operate that they can leverage in a new market even before they formally enter it.

For instance, an existing website domain authority that contains content and links to assets in other languages added over the years has a global relevance that can be leveraged in a new market. This can be intelligently explored using multiple-domain search engine optimization (SEO) strategies that help build a massive search engine presence that’s hard to beat with a single domain or language footprint. Ongoing technical SEO optimization also helps immensely.

Similarly, companies may have existing global social media followings they can branch off and segment to communicate directly with their audiences in a local language. They can do this even before establishing their local social media channels, which otherwise would take time to build and grow from scratch. For instance, organizations can post on their global social media accounts in local languages specifically to followers who have a given language set as their default, or who are based in selected target markets. This reinforces the global social media presence and later on can be used to cross-promote local channels, and vice versa.

Using this approach, every new language adds strength to the global domain and other assets, and supports all existing and subsequently added languages, creating a self-reinforcing circle that can be leveraged. This also includes getting relevant testimonials from recognized brands and leveraging existing reviews from existing markets when entering a new one. Among other things, this consideration also impacts how organizations structure their global marketing teams, striking the right balance between global efficiencies and local relevance, so they can capitalize on these opportunities.

2. Boost local brand affinity

Brand is the lubricant that makes every part of the flywheel go faster. It allows companies to achieve more with considerably less at every stage of the process. For instance, across markets and online platforms, high click-through rates correlate strongly with low costs-per-click. In other words, brands that are recognized and evoke positive connotations enjoy more clicks, resulting in a lower cost of paidor organic acquisition.

In this step, organizations work to build up demand for their brand and increase in-country brand awareness. This is something all other parts of the flywheel contribute to and something that necessarily requires time and patience. Specific activities that can help foster local brand awareness are local PR and media relations, as well as building some form of in-country presence or partnership network. Building and nurturing a local community can be augmented by using brand ambassadors, locally trusted and respected people, or figureheads who can work with the community to represent and promote your brand in-market.

The ultimate goal is for the brand name to become the search term, rather than having to win in the content search game. This requires constant monitoring on the local market level, as the growing — and highly controversial — practice of companies bidding for their competitors’ brand names with branded keywords in their paid advertising shows.

3. Optimize for local conversation

In broad terms, this represents the ongoing effort to maximize inbound traffic value so visitors proceed to achieve defined goals, with indicators and milestones along the conversion path. This might be conversion on a landing page, subscription to a trial or freemium model, opting into marketing communications, a blog subscription, online inquiry, or request for information.

In a global marketing context, this optimization goes beyond simply localizing website content to redesigning the site so visitors enjoy a native market-like user experience. This includes offering a range of communications options specific to each locale — online, email, local phone, live chat, or chatbot available in a given language, to name just a few — as well as automatic meeting booking in visitors’ time zones, locally preferred payment options and return policies, and compliance with local privacy rules.

The flywheel model is all about iterations and ongoing experimentation, and localization is one way to increase conversions across geographies. Readdle, the growing developer of popular productivity apps for iOS, is a great example of a company using an intelligent approach to test market potential by incremental localization of content. It does this first in the App Store, followed by minimum localization, and finally “all-in” localization for a selected market. Figure 2 shows how their conversion rates from free trial user to paying customer rapidly increased following localization of one of their products.

This metric is even more important in the contexts of the current economic uncertainty, as software companies from Asana to Zoom see a greater adoption of free trials or freemium models across the board. This increases new user registrations and overall user base, but turning these into paid subscriptions is absolutely critical. This is why organizations are focusing on local conversions and optimization with local-language content or localized products more than ever before.

Figure 2: PDF Expert for Mac saw a major uptick in conversions of users from free trial to paid version following localization. Source: readdle.com.

4. Publish market-relevant content

Providing valuable, educational content that addresses the needs of prospects and customers is a winning formula for attracting and engaging customers. But can be hard when the competitive space is increasingly saturated. However, this may not be the case for every market and there’s an opportunity for organizations to create new channels in a range of other languages where the competition for attention may be less fierce.

This applies to local-language blogs, offers, multimedia, and other assets. Companies have the full list of options here, from translating content created originally for the home market or transcreating it while adding local flavor to opting for complete in-country copywriting with original content written in the given market language with target-market specifics and insights in mind. In most cases, this last approach, with local market stories and context, generates the highest level of engagement, despite typically being the most expensive.

RWS Moravia’s Japanese blog illustrates this point well. It publishes posts that have been translated or transcreated from English as well as original posts that have been authored in-country in Japanese by local copywriters. When we compared the performance of these different types of content, we saw that original posts that tackled locally relevant topics enjoyed view rates 11-12 times higher than that achieved by the translated content. 

5. Grow locally through amplifiers

Amplifying local-language communications is crucial, especially in the early stages of market development when the local audience is smaller. In addition to the obvious use of dedicated, popular, market-specific social media accounts and platforms, there are other tactics, including potential local influencer engagement. Another approach, suggested by Rand Fishkin, calls for creating specific content that will appeal to potential amplifiers, such as journalists, industry or mainstream media, and other potential ambassadors and influencers. This can prove useful for local marketing, as it provides for the creation of user-generated content in individual target locales.

One frequently overlooked component for amplifying content is customer marketing, with content and tactics designed to grow audiences among existing customers. Similarly, advocacy marketing is a useful tactic aiming to enable customers to create buzz around your brand and products — one more way to support referrals from happy customers.

Another recent tactic revolves around user reviews, for instance on app stores. These may be written in different languages and may contain a wealth of information about the actual experience users in different geographies have with a given product, whether localized or not. Companies who are able to pick up reviews across languages and who have the ability to respond in the users’ native languages can amplify positive use experiences or improve their products based on those less-than-positive reviews. Sadly, many developers still leave said non-English reviews or comments unanswered.

Ratings, again collected in individual markets, are another great way to grow product adoption, since there is normally a direct correlation between ratings and total downloads, and a one-star increase in ratings may result in conversion increases in hundreds of percent.

In-app prompts to rate a product, in particular, introduced in iOS 11, lead to a ratings inflation across geographies, since giving a rating is now so much easier as users don’t have to go to the app store to provide written feedback. They’ve also probably helped to skew the overall feedback developers receive, with average rankings rising substantially since their introduction.

This is because giving a five-star rating is easy, and developers often deploy smart tactics and behavioral science to display in-app prompts in moments when users are most likely to give a high rating. This means that more valuable information about the actual sentiment in a given geography can be gleaned by mining multilingual feedback and through active listening on social media.

App stores and marketplaces in general are both a global phenomenon and increasingly competitive, so companies need to look for all reviews and ratings they receive regardless of the specific market or language of origin. That’s because the negative experience that customers have in one market can ultimately impact global ratings, hitting overall growth. 

6. Create local customer experience

The right degree of localization is crucial to providing a strong local customer experience, but it’s just one element in the overall mix. Other elements include providing localized support, personalization, and integrations with complementary products or services that are popular in a given market.

In this context, the focus on delighting customers in order to drive future growth also means that companies may choose to provide localized products or experiences earlier on. They may also decide to go deeper in the level of localization provided than might have been the case in the past.

In the current economic climate, localization can also be perceived as a measurable tactic designed to decrease annual churn rates or to increase client retention. The fact that users can experience a localized product hands-on in a free trial or freemium model before actual purchasing it increases the likelihood of their conversion to paid customer.

Companies also continue exploring new ways of getting in-country inputs about products. For instance Evernote, the popular roductivity app, built their success on the Japanese market by sending a team to Tokyo to interview Japanese users after they saw a growing interest in their English-language product there. This helped them understand the specific local needs and usage behaviors, which they then used when preparing the localized version.

They also used these insights in customizing their App Store presence in Japan, which went beyond the usual App Store optimization tactics and explicitly explored the ways the app was being used in Japan. This has become so useful that Evernote meets with local influencers and active users to get in-country feedback on a regular basis.

7. Expand your own in-country audiences

This step supports the imperative to own your own audiences. Social media and other online platforms with followers provide excellent additional audiences, but they are only secondary. Across markets, engagement rates on social media, where companies need to compete with many others (as well as sponsored content), are much lower than with direct communication such as emails. In addition, social media will always prefer native content and users to stay on their platforms rather than link to other sites. For these reasons, companies need to build and grow their own email lists of opted-in contacts, blog subscribers, and others — genuinely interested communities that can be expected to engage with and amplify content. This is the solid customer base that companies need to consciously build up and nurture over time.

Every piece of content published, or demand generation activity created, should lead to increasing your audience. This reinforces the reach of your assets and activities. In the spirit of global marketing, this means segmenting your global lists by language preferences, cross-promoting content across locales, making it easy to share and promote content, and supporting word-of-mouth and referrals.

Putting it all together

Individually, none of these steps in the global marketing flywheel model are really that revolutionary. The model’s beauty lies in the way it shows the comprehensive nature of international marketing and how it helps identify gaps or sources of friction that may hinder your efforts. And clearly it no longer relies on the traditional, linear buyer journey frameworks.

No individual standalone tactic can have a significant impact. Experience shows that no hacks or shortcuts will have a lasting impact. “Localize and they will come” no longer works. Providing a great localized web experience is not enough. Real growth can be achieved when all the components in the flywheel are in place and contribute in unison, building on the goodwill created by delighting existing customers over time.

This model encourages us to think about how to make the flywheel bigger, how to make it spin faster, and how to eliminate unnecessary friction that slows it down and reduces energy.

Potential friction comes in many shapes and forms. It is not unusual for localized content to resonate less well with the targeted in-country audiences. Fairly often, companies create great content in the given language but fail to promote and amplify it properly. It’s also not unusual for the localized product or web experience to cater to the specifics of larger markets, say Germany, but not smaller ones, hurting adoption and conversion rates. Friction may also arise internally, between the central and local marketing teams, or between product teams and marketing. In every case, the flywheel model helps identify sources of friction and find ways of fixing them.

Take it for a spin

The model reinforces itself with each and every new language added, new piece of content localized, new international customer won. All of these increase the speed of the flywheel. And while the initial revolutions may be difficult, it gets easier over time and feeds into long-term growth.