CAMBRIDGE: Many brands seeking a global presence are not developing an overarching plan, preferring instead to take a series of small steps, a strategy expert has argued.

Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Nataly Kelly, vice president of market development at Smartling, the cloud-based enterprise translation management company, said it was not necessarily the case that only large-scale advance planning could lead to success when going global.

She pointed out that for many companies, the decision to take a step into foreign markets had effectively been pushed on them by their customers.

Kelly cited the example of Apple, which had opened stores across the US and seen them filled with overseas purchasers buying iPhones in bulk to take back to sell on in their own countries. Rather than rush to make products available, Apple had noted the demand and slowly expanded its global footprint.

This incremental approach, reacting to developments, is one that more and more companies are adopting. "They are easing into an international presence one small step at a time, often learning as they go, creating plans in response to what they learn, and experimenting along the way," said Kelly.

Digital is the driving force, as consumers from anywhere in the world can learn about a company and a brand, and need not arrive at a website via a route determined by marketers.

But these digital paths give marketers information about what their next step might be, whether that be creating a website in a particular language for a particular region, for example.

It is important that such opportunities are not ignored, declared Kelly, noting that companies frequently feared large up-front costs and an unclear return on investment when expanding.

It is possible, she suggested, to simply translate some online marketing content in one country to make products and services more accessible, or to offer some minimal form of customer support.

If such steps proved successful, sales and marketing efforts could be ramped up in promising locations, with distributors and resellers utilised to avoid the costs of setting up a physical presence.

"Going global is simply a path, not an obstacle course," Kelly concluded.

Data sourced from Harvard Business Review; additional content by Warc staff