Use design to improve your export potential

Adapt your design for overseas markets


To sell in foreign markets successfully, businesses must often modify their products to conform to local government regulations, geographic and climatic conditions, buyer preferences or standards of living.

What is product adaptation?

Product adaptation involves changing an existing product (or some of its features) to reach new customers or markets. Some of the product elements you may want to consider adapting include the size, shape, materials or colour.

Different product adaptation strategies exist, including:

  • tangible adaptation - changing physical aspects such as size and packaging
  • intangible adaptation - changing elements such as positioning and brand name
  • promotional adaptation - changing methods and types of advertising or media
  • price adaptation - such as promotional or geographical pricing tactics

You must base your adaptation strategy on clear market research.

Research gives you an insight into customer needs, attitudes or cultural beliefs. It also allows you to spot opportunities, understand how similar products have performed in the past, and determine what marketing strategies may work best in the given market.

Research can tell you, for example, that black is considered an unhappy colour in Chinese tradition, but that hasn't stopped Chinese consumers from buying DVD players in typical black casings. In Iran, for example, blue can symbolise mourning, so you may want to avoid packaging in these colours. See how to understand your overseas customers.

As well as considering product and packaging design in your adaptation strategy, you should also think about

the colour, imagery, language and other elements used in your:

  • marketing material
  • website
  • branding

Strong branding can make your company instantly recognisable. If you want to export a range of goods, a strong brand can help you build loyalty and confidence in your new products. See best practices for designing a successful brand.

Why should you adapt your products?

Adaptation can make your design more sensitive to the needs, preferences and cultural differences of a specific market. This can make your products more saleable and more able to stand up to local and international competition. Coca-Cola, for example, has developed more than 80 formula variations around the world to suit different palates.

Product adaptation can also help you meet the foreign laws and regulations regarding product design and sale, or help you introduce a new product in the market when you lack the required resources and funds. See how to comply with overseas products and packaging regulations.

Adapting your products will likely cost you time and money so make sure that the market potential and the expected revenue justify the expense.