[Internationalization Benchmark 2024] The real price of services when expanding internationally
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[Internationalization Benchmark 2024] The real price of services when expanding internationally

Expanding internationally is the very definition of make-or-break.

From the right localization that maintains your brand essence to PR that gets the big national papers excited—all brands who make a success of their expansion have something in common.

They found the right local partners to help them adapt offering, messaging, and make a boom with their launch.

But, just like the market for your product or service changes, so does the market of providers who can help you. Hence, budgeting becomes trickier, and so does the search itself.

That’s why, from 100,000 yearly projects posted on the Sortlist platform from companies looking to hire trusted teams around the world, we crunched the numbers to find the most common prices in the biggest markets across all of Europe and the Middle East.

The markets are:

  • United Kingdom
  • Germany
  • France
  • Belgium
  • Netherlands
  • Spain
  • Italy
  • UAE

And we analysed our bank of verified providers across each city to show where talent clusters and where you’re more likely to hire for Branding in Berlin or Localization in Leipzig.

Prices of services across Europe & MENA

The prices tend to follow a normal distribution – so what we show you is the peak of the curve, the most common values, between the 40th and 60th percentile.

There are always prices above and below this value, but this tends to be the most common range.

And we split the most important services for a brand looking to localize into three distinct phases: prep phase, launch phase, and maintenance phase.

Preparation phase

In the prep phase, we talk about doing the due diligence on your new market, and adapting all your necessary materials to align with that market research.

The price of Market Research

The foundation of a successful international expansion is a clear understanding of the new market.

That’s the filter through which every campaign, sales action, and product launch will be seen. Is your competition in the new market stronger or weaker than at home? That affects the positioning of your product or service.

Is your product or service an unknown category for clients in this new market? That could give you a first-mover advantage, which can be powerful. But it means that your marketing materials, and sales pitches, should educate on the benefits of your category, rather than claiming why you’re better than the competition.

A local partner with contacts, who understands the culture and the business landscape of your new geography, is an essential ally when building these strong foundations to your strategy. And it might even impact whether you should target this market at all.

The price of Branding and Positioning

Your market research has given you a guide to follow, and the target for expansion has been chosen.

But to state the obvious, in this new country your brand is unknown. Which is where a local partner is needed to bridge the gap between your brand and your new clients.

Everything from colours, logo, positioning, references, and competition can be referenced, changed, or removed for a new market – all with the aim of speaking the same cultural language.

The idea is to make your band seem local, building trust. These logos, for example, might seem familiar except for one important detail…

That’s because the Danish brand Just Eat expanded to Australia and Canada through a strategy of acquisition, and local brand partners advised them to keep the brand recognition those companies had accrued over the years.

In Spain however, they followed a different strategy: Sin Delantal, was simply absorbed into the Just Eat brand.

And the UK, where they had first-mover advantage, their brand strategy was focused on connecting with British cultural life – those where the country “gathered round” (from their spot on the sofa) – and where it just might be time for a takeaway.

They’ve sponsored football teams as well as the singing reality show X Factor, connecting these British cultural moments with the idea of ordering via Just Eat.

Just Eat’s UK Brand Collaborations

The price of Localization

Localization is perhaps one of the first services you think of when preparing a launch in a new geography.

But the difference between translation and localization is vast: the former just tackles language. The latter requires cultural understanding and an understanding of your company’s products and their position in the new market.

And for that, of all these services, local support is perhaps the most essential.

An example of localization, not just translation, is in aPriori’s targeting of the German market, a project localized by SWC Partnership, who specialize in launching English language-brands in Germany (and vice versa).

A priori’s USA Creative
A Priori’s German Creative Translated to English

Not only has the all-American SUV been replaced by a more German sports car, but also the copy talks about “more time to electrify” rather than being specifically lightweight.

The value proposition isn’t focused on cost, either. Germany as a country tends to place a high value on quality, even if it costs a little more. So the positioning changes to “accelerate time-to-market and stay on the ball.”

The price of Copywriting

While transcreation is a most common first step to bring your existing company to a new audience, it’s also common to adapt product lines with an emphasis on this expanded geography.

You’ve probably seen a McDonald’s menu abroad and seen unusual items (the McLobster comes to mind).

nike hijab uae
The Nike Hijab

Or take the Nike Pro Hijab released in 2017. That’s an item of clothing that has one meaning in the USA, but a totally different cultural significance in a Muslim majority country such as the UAE.

To get the launch to an Emirati audience right, they would need original copywriting, not just localization.

Launch phase

The launch phase is all about making a boom in the first months of your presence in the market – and that means getting news out in the media, across social media, and with launch events, often all in conjunction.

The price of Public Relations

When you’re ready to launch, it’s natural to want to get in the press. But even knowing something as simple as what kind of French publication is more relevant for your business, Le Monde or Le Figaro, can be difficult.

Parma Ham on French News

Building a network, understanding the needs and beats of each journalist, at each paper, and the kind of angle to each story that’s going to make them bite takes years of relationship building.

And that’s why working with a local PR agency is a cornerstone of any international launch.

How that might take shape, depends on the agency, and the needs of your business.

It could be getting Parma ham on French TV.

Or targeting German H.R. media to position Gympass as a company benefit.

PR always comes as a part of amplifying a larger launch strategy, perhaps connected to events or influencer marketing (more on that later).

Take Australian boot brand Steel Blue’s collaboration with Dutch popstars Goldband – an approach in which the band as influencers activated the brand at a dedicated event, amplified by the PR agency Counter Collective to make a splash in the Dutch media.

Not bad for a work boot.

Goldbrand X Steel Blue in the Press
Goldbrand X Steel Blue in the Press

The price of Events

Whether your brand is B2B or B2C, page one of the internationalization playbook is to launch an event. Provide entertainment, food, and guests that align with your target audience, invite them, then use it as an opportunity for them to try your product, or understand your brand and its values.

And there are as many kinds of launch event as there are brands that go global. Two that recently launched in Spain, with Barcelona as an entry point, illustrate the contrast.

One is major corporate launches like the opening of the Chinese Wanhua Chemical Group’s new R&D centre in Barcelona – with the Minister for Trade making a strong emphasis on political ties, growth and innovation – on a global scale.

Wanhua Chemical Group's R&D Launch
Wanhua Chemical Group’s R&D Launch

Another is a brand activation for the British retailer JD Sports. In the UK, it’s known as a leading destination for street style.

JD Sports Brand Activation
JD Sports Brand Activation

In Spain, it was communicated through an in-person event featuring the music and food that underpins the subculture – with the clothing (and JD as retailer) as the third pillar of that culture.

Young and inclined to street style? This event is for you, and so is JD.

As for Events agencies, their role stays the same—they handle the sound, handle the guest list, put together the transport (by private jet if needed), and manage every single detail so it goes without a hitch.

The price of Influencer Marketing

One way to make sure your launch gets in front of your target audience is by using the fame and reach of local influencers, tapping into the all-powerful social proof.

As marketers have said goodbye to third party cookies it’s become a relevant strategy for reaching niche audiences in terms of both geography and relevance. These relationships make for a great ROI—if is well-managed and well-chosen in the first place.

The prices above are a great indication of how much working with a professional influencer marketing agency might cost. But each individual influencer has their own rates, and it can be tricky to benchmark.

For a complete breakdown, you can check out this complete guide.

Maintenance phase

In the maintenance phase, it’s all about keeping that momentum going—once you’ve started making some noise about your position and offer in the new market, you do not want to let it die.

The price of Social Media

Social media, just like any kind of content and communications in the new market, will need to be handled by someone who understands its culture and traditions.

Lidl Tweet
Lidl’s “Middle of Lidl” strategy in the UK

The strength of social media as a channel is in the close personal connection it can foster and the informal nature of its communication, bringing about a closer connection to the brand. So a cultural understanding of local language, humor, traditions, and current affairs is crucial to make that work.

And that’s why you’ll see larger companies operate multiple social media accounts: one for each country.

German supermarket Lidl is a great example—in the UK they lean into the language with current affairs, among other things:

While in Spain, they lean into the wordplay and absurd humour—with a strong positioning on price. Many of their puns could never work in other languages.

The price of SEO

SEO could either be part of the preparation or part of ongoing work—but if your website expands, with new products, content or other pages, and organic traffic is an important source for you, counting on ongoing local help with your SEO is essential.

Keyword research and content optimisation is best done by someone who understands local slang, idioms, and cultural references, and an analysis of local competitors will help identify opportunities for growth, or new threats to your position.

Equally, when it comes to link building, a strong backlink profile from reputable local websites will help make sure you’re ranking well.

The price of Google Ads

Again, creative is essential for a high converting advert—and understanding the local culture to craft engaging copy that’s going to push the right buttons is incredibly important.

More than that, when it comes to Google Ads, local partners understand the geography and business landscape of the country. This can help with geo-targeting specific regions, cities, or even neighbourhoods where people are most likely to be interested in your product or service.

Both of these are a shortcut to high converting ads and strong ROI, without having to rely on expensive trial and error.

Which city has the skills? City specialization per country

When you’re expanding internationally, working with local experts is a fundamental part of the process.

Understanding the talent landscape of the country you’re looking at can be interesting as a starting point to your search. In Spain, Barcelona is known for its long history of innovative design, but it’s also leading the way when it comes to AI technology.

To visualize this, we analysed the 68,000 providers present on the Sortlist platform, each one with just a handful of specializations: giving each one a “specialism score.” A score for each speciality is calculated using the number of validated providers in a city per capita and using that as a variation from the national mean.

One thing to make clear: larger cities have many more providers. The “specialism score” is not a measure of the number of providers in each given city (for that you can simply use the search function on Sortlist). Given their size, they may not always come out on top per person.

Rather it’s a measure of what weight each city gives to each specialization, normalized for its size.

If you’re looking to expand within Europe, here’s how those cities look.

Service specializations in France

Though Paris is the centre of much economic life in France, and you’re sure to find a provider for your needs there, what stands out is the relative strength of both Bordeaux and Lyon, especially when it comes to digital services.

Relative to their size, both have a large concentration of SEO agencies, and indeed France is broadly well known for the strength of its SEO industry.

If you’re looking for advertising, you might be surprised to find a high concentration of Advertising agencies in Strasbourg, and the same could be said for Web Design agencies in Nantes.

Service specializations in Germany

As one of Germany’s larger cities, Munich stands out for both its strength and breadth of services, but especially notable is its adoption of cutting-edge technologies. The number of agencies specializing in AI in Munich is high, and on a per-population basis the same can be said for Frankfurt.

Both Dusseldorf and Hamburg equally stand on a per-capita basis with a broad range of agencies. And across the board Germany’s services landscape is strong in most of its major cities: whatever the service you need you’re likely to find a local provider to handle that.

Service specializations in Spain

In Spain, Madrid and Barcelona rule the roost—though one notable exception is when it comes to AI services in Valencia.

Barcelona stands out across almost all categories, however, with the highest overall average—the home city of Gaudi leads the way in Branding, Design, Events, and more.

And as perhaps Spain’s most international city, with a major port, it’s a common entry point for international brands looking to break into the Spanish market.

Service specializations in the Netherlands

If you’re not from the Netherlands, you wouldn’t be surprised to see Amsterdam as a centre for services: a go-to when expanding into the country.

What might be more surprising would be the per-capita strength of Utrecht, the Netherlands’ fourth-largest city.

But as home to the country’s largest university (the university of Utrecht, whose students account for almost 10% of the population during term-time) and famous for its artistic life, it’s a small but important Dutch city packed with innovation.

Service specializations in the United Kingdom

London is the centre of the UK’s economic life, and whatever agency you’d need can be found there. But on a per-capita basis, it’s Bristol that stands out: especially when it comes to SEO and PR (two services which these days often go hand in hand).

A notable mention to PR also goes to Manchester and that’s where we also find a strong clustering of Branding agencies.

And both Edinburgh and Cardiff both weight heavily towards Events agencies; it’s perhaps one of the most regionally-dependent services, if you’re looking to target Scotland and Wales respectively.

Service specializations in Belgium

Brussels is a global city, known worldwide as the headquarters of the European Union. And it’s also home to Belgium’s native AI industry—leading the way per-capita.

But in Belgium, that’s only half the story. Expanding to Belgium comes with unique challenges, as a country with two widely spoken languages. The lingua franca of Brussels is French, but in Antwerp, the capital of the Flemish region, Dutch is more widely spoken.

And Antwerp is an economic powerhouse, with one of the largest ports in the world and a population of 1.2 million—second only to Brussels.

Here you can find a strong clustering of PR, Event and Advertising agencies—but it should be highlighted that any strategy that involves expansion into Belgium should take into account two different languages and media landscapes, not just one.

Notable mentions also go to Hasselt, which has a strong Web Design cluster, and Ghent‘s strong services landscape overall.

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