Driven by results and an expert in effective go-to-market programmes, gigCMO's COO, Siyuan Ren, is central to our growth consultancy serving start-ups, scale-ups and established SMEs. A clear marketing strategy is at the heart of every commercial success, crafted from vision to execution. Here, Siyuan shares her insights into the importance of international trade for SMEs and the role of a clear marketing strategy in their success.
Understanding International Trade for SMEs
With the rise in digitisation, we see a lot of SMEs looking to take their business international, particularly in the UK, in the wake of Brexit and recent economic challenges. It's a natural way to think - it's a big market out there, and it's wise not to put all your eggs in one basket.
However, I've noticed when working with different businesses that the driver for thinking about international expansion is often ad hoc transactions from overseas. The spark for considering a new market is often an organic process rather than a strategic one, and while that can be a good starting point, it should be distinct from being a global expansion plan.
Expanding internationally can be a detailed exercise, and while it's a worthwhile endeavour, it needs to be approached with the same level of detail that you might undertake when starting an entirely new business.
The Challenges of International Expansion
International opportunities are wonderful, and they are a defining feature of our connected, modern world. However, as with all things, there are challenges to consider. These are not reasons to avoid international growth but to ensure a planned approach rather than a serendipitous one.
There are areas to consider regarding marketing, such as whether your value proposition translates to a new market and whether customer behaviours differ. However, your strategy also needs to consider your business operations.
Many of the challenges to international expansion come from logistics. For example, I recently worked with a UK-based DNA testing business who were seeing growing potential demand for their product in Europe and the USA.
The company works by sending a kit to the recipient, who then takes samples and returns them for testing - all by post. As a result of Brexit, shipping and returning the tests presented several logistical issues. In the short term, the business owner was better off hopping on the Eurostar to France and hand-delivering items than posting them, which wasn't sustainable or scalable.
Overcoming such issues is entirely doable, but to fulfil customer needs in a timely manner, it's important to have them ironed out in advance wherever possible. That seamlessness can only be achieved through knowledge, research, and planning of appropriate systems and processes.
Most small businesses don't have the resources to do that level of research and development, but not doing it will likely lead to costly trial and error, which can also impact your company's reputation before you even get going. This is where partnerships with organisations like gigCMO are instrumental. They can help you tap into local knowledge and provide all the expertise to explore overseas growth step-by-step and with the best chances of success.
Creating an SME Marketing Strategy
The Department for Business and Trade recently held its International Trade Week 2023, where they had some fantastic seminars about different markets and market opportunities. What's clear is that it's essential to be intentional about your value proposition, a principle at the heart of our Playbook approach and our belief that everything is rooted in data.
You must remember that in an international market, your customer has changed, and the value proposition you offer at home may not resonate with them. Finding that out and then understanding how to adapt it is the starting point for your marketing strategy.
In a broad sense, you can start creating an international marketing strategy by considering the following:
Step 1: Crafting a Vision for Success
First, evaluate all the transactional cases you've had to date. Look at who's ordering, the different customer personas, which aspect of your product or service they are most interested in, whether there are any alternative requirements from your home market, and brainstorm any logistical challenges you know of for each area. Write it down along with estimating how easily any challenges can be overcome. This will help you identify the priority market in a rational, rather than radical, way.
2: Executing Your Marketing Strategy
Once you've identified which market to enter, think about which city to start with rather than approaching a whole country. If you consider a market like the US, it's vast, and the customers' wants and needs vary enormously from one region to the next. Choosing a single location within a country means you can work out the operational process and test it before replicating it across the country to scale.
Step 3: Monitoring and adaptation
All businesses talk a lot about KPIs, and for good reason, but when you start in a new market, it's tough to set KPIs and OKRs because you're still testing and learning. Our advice at the start would be to focus on learning about your target market by observing how your customers behave and monitoring any feedback. See if customers are willing to endorse your business and seek to understand the competitive landscape.
Crucially, ensure you have a digital presence because that's a space where you can monitor everything from website traffic to lead generation and conversions. You will find that there's a lot of learning initially, which will lead to adjusting the KPIs and OKRs over the first six to 12 months until you can identify your longer-term goals. That flexibility is a positive thing and that agility will give you a competitive advantage in the long term. It doesn't mean you shouldn't set KPIs and OKRs, but set realistic goals based on market data and market learnings.
Overall, international markets are a powerful and positive space for SMEs to explore, especially in the current climate. With the benefits of data and digital platforms, you can enter new spaces in a much more informed, strategic way that optimises your chances of success within a shorter period. The key is to do it with care and consideration and ensure you get the proper support.
Discover how gigCMO can set you up for international success.