Use design to improve your export potential
Getting the design of products, packaging and marketing materials right can help you sell to overseas markets
Good design can be vital to selling products overseas. Before you make your first export sale, you may need to modify your product to make it suitable for different customers or markets.
For example, you may need to change your product to suit local religious or cultural practices, living standards, customers' purchasing power and behaviours. You may also need to adapt it to satisfy differences in engineering and design standards or comply with overseas products and packaging regulations.
As well as the design of your product, you may need to look at adapting its secondary features, such as branding, packaging and labelling, or even marketing materials.
How much you adapt, if at all, should depend on your commitment to the specific market, the costs you would incur for adaptation, and the potential for revenues.
This guide will help you determine the extent to which you may need to adapt your design for overseas markets.
Use design to reach overseas markets
Good design can bring real business benefits and new opportunities. It can help you increase sales by making products more desirable. It can also help you cut costs by making production more efficient or by saving on raw materials.
If you are thinking about selling in other countries, design can help you:
- create new or adapt existing products to match needs and preferences in your target market
- add value to your products - customers may be happy to pay more for a well-designed product
- set yourself apart from your competitors
- comply with specific technical standards in the country you want to export to
- ensure people recognise your business and your products - and so make customers more likely to buy from you again
See also how can I use design in my business.
Product strategies for export markets
Some businesses try to export their domestic products as they are, without changing them to suit the specific needs of the target markets. This may be possible if, for example, the origin of your products is a selling point overseas.
Other businesses strive to develop standardised products that are acceptable in all markets. This can be very hard to achieve and different markets and customers typically have very diverse needs and expectations.
To successfully sell in international markets, most products require some level of adaptation or localisation. At the very least, this modification will apply to the product packing or labelling. See how to adapt your design for overseas markets.
It is very important to carry out comprehensive research to determine the right strategy. Market research will also help you to understand your overseas customers.
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
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.
Understand your overseas customers
To be able to design your products and sell them successfully overseas, you need information on:
- the needs and preferences of your potential customers
- market size
- competitor activity
To get this information, you need to carry out some form of market research. For many small businesses, this can be visiting the country and talking to a range of people.
You can also tap into existing sources of information available from government agencies and private companies. You could also commission a consultancy to carry out a research project.
Find out more about the benefits of market research and market reports.
Comply with overseas products and packaging regulations
Individual countries have their own legal requirements for the design of products and packaging. They may also have product standards. These are not usually compulsory, but can help you:
- show that your product meets legal requirements
- give customers confidence in your product
- ensure quality and safety
If you sell certain products in the European Union, you have to comply with the relevant EU directives. These set out the legal requirements for the design of specified products. See more on CE marking.
Some EU countries have their own additional regulations. Countries outside the EU have individual regulations and standards for products, packaging and labelling. Here are just two examples:
- Algeria has more than 2,500 product standards, most of them equivalent to the international (ISO) standards. A small number of standards are compulsory but most are only recommended.
- In Bangladesh, imported goods and their containers must not incorporate any words, pictures or inscriptions of a religious or obscene nature.
The British Standards Institution (BSI) can advise you on complying with overseas requirements through their Professional Services team.
Invest Northern Ireland's (NI) technical advisers can give you information on standards, compliance and other technical requirements for placing your product overseas. Read more about the support for Invest NI.
When you are designing a product or its packaging, you must take any standards or regulations into account or you may be unable to sell your product in your target overseas market.
Find out how to make best use of standards.
Protecting your designs overseas
Product designs, your name and logo, inventions and trademarks make up your business' intellectual property (IP). These are possibly the most valuable assets your business has and you need to protect them.
Design protection in the UK
You can protect your business' design rights automatically in the UK without the need to register. The right will be valid for ten years after you first sell your design, or 15 years after you create it - whichever is earliest. Read about unregistered design rights.
Registered UK designs protect the appearance of the whole or part of a product, including lines, contours, colours, shape, texture, materials or ornamentation. The rights arise on registration, last for up to 25 years and offer stronger protection against infringement. Read about registered designs.
Design protection in Europe
Unregistered design rights in the European Union (EU) last three years. Registration gives you a longer term of protection of five years - renewable for up to 25 years - throughout all the EU countries. Read about registered community designs in Europe.
Design protection worldwide
Beyond the EU, you usually need to protect your IP rights by registering with individual countries, although some countries may allow you to extend your UK protection after completing certain local formalities. See a list of countries that extend UK IP protection.
Alternatively, you can register your designs through the Hague System for the International Registration of Industrial Designs. You will secure protection for your design in all EU countries and other overseas countries that have signed the agreement.
For more information, see design right and registration.