In today’s global economy, database marketing has become a real challenge. Marketers have to not only pay attention to the language and culture, but also to the data structure in their databases. Moreover, how you capture your data and store it will play a major role in all your future marketing activities and campaign analytics.

Even if you conduct your business in English throughout the world and are able to store the data in Latin characters, you are still faced with certain challenges regarding other fields. Seemingly simple items like phone numbers, zip codes, addresses, and industry classifications can actually vary quite a bit from country to country or region to region creating some not-so-simple data entry obstacles.  Below, I’ve listed a few key points to keep in mind for these and a few other fields, as well as some of the most effective solutions I’ve encountered.

Starting with phone numbers and zip codes, it is important to note that these fields do not always contain the same amount of characters. For example, in Canada or in the USA, phone numbers contain 3 digit area codes followed by the 7 digit phone number, however; in Italy you have to dial the country code first, followed by a 2 digit area code and then the 8 digit phone number.  For zip codes/postal codes, some countries use characters and others have a combination of letters and numbers. With some countries, such as Ireland, you may even be using a postal district which is only 2 digits long. Therefore, it is important to either segment your database by country or not restrict those fields to a specific limit.

Next, when standardizing the address, it is important to note that addresses are formatted differently from country to country. In Western Europe, for example, the street goes first, followed by the house number, but in North America, the street number is followed by the street name, and in India, there may not even be a house number at all. For a database administrator, the standardization by address has to be done by country prior to sending direct mail campaigns in order to decrease the costs and increase the overall marketing effectiveness when sending out global communications

It is also important to be aware that industry classification also varies from country to country – even in North America, some companies use SIC or NAICS codes. When trying to come up with a standardized code, one should be careful as different countries include different industries under the same name/code.

Another difficulty when doing business abroad that often complicates things is the currency. Tracking down financial information in US dollars could be especially tricky as the exchange rate is constantly changing.  Additional problems arise when not all companies qualify as small or large businesses the same way. While $150 million in revenue could be considered mid size in North America; in a small country, this figure could be considered criteria for a large organization. So when trying to capture this information, you should be careful when classifying.

If you have just started doing business abroad and have not captured country information, there are a few tricks to append this information from an earlier database. One of the easiest tricks if there are documented e-mails is to simply use the domain extension. For example, German e-mails tend to finish with .de and Canadian e-mails have .ca.  You could also capture the IP address which may provide you with the country’s origin. If you have the phone number, you may also use the country code as an indicator. It is important to note, however, that the above solutions would not provide you 100% completeness due to the growing trend of shared e-mail domains and IP addresses.

As you expand your business globally, after you have figured out your database structure and segmentation by country, your next step would be to actually figure out the best marketing techniques which would work for each region (if you haven’t done it yet). For some countries, the post office is not always reliable, so sending out Direct Mail pieces may not be an option, for others, retailing is done on the streets without any centralized distribution area, while in other locations mobile marketing is the next best thing.  Now that you know some of the database issues you may face, and some possible solutions, you just might be ready to conquer the world in your marketing endeavors.