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Mailing Internationally is Profitable and Manageable With the Right Partners

Date: December, 2009 --

By - Jerry Messer, President/CEO Data Services, Inc.
It seems whenever the dollar weakens, savvy American companies begin thinking more seriously about exporting their products abroad. Over the past twenty years, US domestic mailers have often asked me how their company could possibly build an international customer base. After all, the international mailing game certainly seems formidable, from postage and logistics challenges to language barriers and collection issues. Add on data processing questions and creative concerns and government/regulatory matters, and many mailers find they start to feel overwhelmed by it all.

And then there's the list issue. Finding mailing lists in sufficient quantities to make it worthwhile mailing into a specific country is vital to long-term success.

Yes, marketing a product outside the US appears daunting at first blush. Yet there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of US companies successfully mailing abroad every day who initially started out marketing exclusively in the US. These companies enjoy substantial profits from their international customers. If you have the right product then you can use the same techniques these companies did to break into new markets.

If you have a phone, some persistence, and are willing to ask questions of suppliers, then your entry into the international market will be easier. Research online is helpful but somewhat limited and is no substitute for asking questions of the experts who are in the international game day-in and day-out. Building your network of international experts who can answer your questions and aid in your international marketing often leads to solid business friendships with a group of business people you would not otherwise meet.

Who do you call first? The best worldwide service and information resource is Data Services, Inc. Data Services founded in 1967 has been the pioneer supplying international data processing and all the related information, services and suppliers you will need to start mailing internationally. At first mailing internationally may seem like alphabet soup with a new set of terms, postage vehicles from the USPS, like ISAL or IPA, but after you learn the differences in delivery times, rate structures, etc. then you'll quickly determine which is most appropriate for your company. Many mailers use a combination of USPS products, courier services, and other nations' postal services.

Data Services can even connect you with experienced international list brokers that can research the availability of lists in the countries you are targeting. Just because a nation is well-developed and has a strong middle-class doesn't necessarily mean it will have available mailing lists. Some countries simply do not have a well-developed direct mail culture and are very hard to penetrate, even for seasoned mailers. It is much easier to start marketing into countries that already have an abundance of lists. If there are several mailing lists available, then at least you know others have blazed a trail there before you and you have a pool of potential customers used to buying through direct mail.

The same basic common-sense list rules that you use in your US mailings should apply internationally. Wherever possible, you'll want to see repeat usage of these lists by mailers offering products similar to yours. Some mailing lists look good on paper but underperform. Testing in small doses is always a good idea. Also, don't be too shocked if some of the list rental customs among international lists vary from what is standard practice in the US. There are some differences.

Many companies find it most comfortable to start small and begin with mailing into countries like Canada or the UK where English is the primary language. Canada is an excellent choice but is often overlooked as a starting point. Mailing into Canada can help you ramp-up your company's back-office processes so that as you expand into other international markets you are well-prepared.

As with any direct marketing business, due diligence and testing in small yet meaningful quantities is essential. But with the right suppliers and some grit, marketing internationally can become a very profitable segment of your direct marketing business.