Launching your product into new markets? Here's how

By Barron Ernst, Chief Product Officer, Showmax
I’m often asked how Showmax managed to successfully expand from Sub-Saharan African to Poland, a very different type of market. It’s challenging to answer, as we didn’t follow a typical playbook of international expansion. Instead, we looked at regional markets where people wanted to consume content but weren’t offered easy access through services like ours.
The decisions you make about how and where to expand, should primarily be determined by two things: your customer and your market or industry. With that in mind, here are some rules I’d recommend all entrepreneurs abide by when expanding internationally:
Focus on your markets and customers
If you don’t take the time to understand how countries differ from one another, it will be an uphill battle to launch your product. There are vast cultural differences that can impact your growth. Take a mobile product for example, it’s imperative that you consider the behaviour of local smartphone users, as well as data costs and plans. It’s surprising how much this can vary across different geographies and it will have an obvious impact on product uptake. For example, the cost of mobile data in South Africa is high on an absolute basis (I refer to Fin24’s article as my reference point). When you combine that with a lower GDP per capita, it means that you need to be aggressive in helping your customers find ways to reduce their dependence on using expensive mobile data to use your product. That’s why Showmax introduced the ability to download content so early in our history.
Think about the channels you use to market your product. Remember, Facebook targeting and clever ad words won’t necessarily have the same effect as they did in your home country. To target your campaign in the right way, you have to know the nuances of what and who you’re working with. Also, audiences for specific channels in other countries may not convert as well as in the United States or your home country, so you need to aggressively test and spend a lot of time figuring out the right acquisition channels for the country you are targeting.
An understanding of customer perception is vital
Assuming that a design that’s proven successful in one market will seamlessly integrate in another, is wrong. WeChat, for example, has a user interface and experience that has proven incredibly popular in China. Much of this success is because it has been tailored to both the Chinese language and local mobile phone usage.
When expanding into France and Japan, the team at Pinterest assumed that translating the product language would be enough to make it a success. Ultimately, they had to retrace their steps and improve their understanding of the language, user experience and targeting in order to make it work. It turned out that while users had similar goals, they wanted to share or pin items that were slightly different (for more details, I highly recommend this great article by Shawn Xu). Talking to your customer and getting a direct understanding from them is key to expanding your product to other geographies.
Research which products are already successful in the market
This might sound rudimentary, but it can be a major stumbling point for a lot of businesses. You could develop a product that you’re convinced will revolutionise the market by following the two rules above, only to find that an almost identical product already exists.
Research, research and more research is the only way to identify what will work. Consider developing relationships with successful local companies to get a sense of how they work with their customer base.
Then, consider partnering with a local company to help you launch. Oftentimes, working with a company that understands the market, the customer, and the trends, will help you avoid some of the initial stumbles you’ll have in the market. We did this by hiring a great local Polish team who had previously launched and scaled technical and mobile products and who had a deep understanding of the Polish market.
The steps outlined above are the bread and butter of all successful market expansions.  Although every expansion project is different and will encompass a unique set of requirements, customer and market research are fundamental.
And last but not least, expect to fail nine times before you finally succeed on the tenth. Market expansion is hard, it takes time, and you need to be ready to make mistakes. Don’t expect to win immediately!

About Naspers

Established in 1915, Naspers has transformed itself to become a global consumer internet company and one of the largest technology investors in the world. Through Prosus, the group operates and invests globally in markets with long-term growth potential, building leading consumer internet companies that empower people and enrich communities. Prosus has its primary listing on Euronext Amsterdam and a secondary listing on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and Naspers is the majority owner of Prosus.

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