Thinking of expanding your business globally? Your marketing efforts need extra attention in this case, specifically if you're looking to attract prospective customers to your brand … you've come to the right place.
From our studio in Southern California, with guest experts from across the country and around the world, this is "Deal Talk," brought to you by Morgan & Westfield, nationwide leader in business sales and appraisals. Now, here's your host, Jeff Allen.
Hello and welcome back to the web's number one content source for small business owners committed to building a business for eventual sale. Here on "Deal Talk" it's our mission to provide information and guidance from our growing list of trusted experts that you and all small business owners can use to help you build your bottom line and improve your company's value.
One area of business that I really enjoy discussing and we don't talk enough about here on "Deal Talk" is marketing, marketing communications, and understanding what you need to do to put together an effective marketing strategy. If you have the goal in mind of taking your business to the global marketplace. Maybe you're strictly domestic where you are. Whether you are listening from the United States or some other country where you can hear "Deal Talk" online, it's important to know that you really need to be very focused on your marketing efforts, and that really includes a major concentration on your brand, making sure that you can create the kind of brand awareness and the kind of trust that goes along with that.
And I have somebody joining us today who can speak a lot to this issue. Joining me is a gentleman who is very qualified in this area. His name is Axel Hofmann. He's the Managing Director of RED International. Mr. Hofmann is chatting with us today via Skype from his home and office in Dubai, U.A.E. Axel Hofmann, sir, welcome to "Deal Talk." I'm so glad to have you.
Thank you very much, Jeff. I am honored to be part of your program. I think this is great. And I really hope I can add some value to your audience.
International trade shows are an excellent opportunity to learn about the market — because this is a marketplace. This is like going to a traditional marketplace 2,000 years ago when all the traders were in the same place.
Well, I wouldn't have had you on if I didn't think you could, Axel. I appreciate those kind remarks to open. Let's find out a little bit about you to start the program. RED International, tell us a little bit about your organization and what you do.
OK, great. I've been managing RED International for the last two years. And just as a quick background, as you know, I was a banker, and I've been a banker for 25 years. Two years ago, I discovered this gem of a company. I decided to invest in it. And today I am a major shareholder and Managing Director of RED International.
As you mentioned branding, we work a lot with our clients’ branding basically in three areas. We work with exhibitions. We work in interior solutions and we work in event management. We have a portfolio of clients from Europe and from the Middle East. And we deliver solutions to our clients in the form of stand designs and production of stands all over the Middle East.
And like I said, although this is a little bit less related to branding, but we always touch the clients’ brand when we do interiors and when we manage events for them.
I know that you feel very strongly when you work with companies about making certain that when the work is all done, that your team does, that your client's brand has been amplified to a level that will bring them success in their business. And that's why I wanted to talk with you today.
For small businesses, Axel, that are looking to grow beyond their borders, internationally, just how important is it that we take the necessary time for promotion of the corporate brand, not just simply our products but of the brand itself?
In my view, Jeff, this is extremely important. The international market is a very extremely competitive place, and, of course, many local markets as well. But it's become more and more competitive because as many new markets are coming out and are trying to attract new companies and new players, there are companies all over the globe that are trying to take advantage of that.
Being in such a competitive place, how do you expect to do business or to try to attract any kind of attention if your brand is not recognized? Because once you try to enter new markets, you will need to find alliances, partnerships, clients, suppliers. How do you expect people to support you if you are nobody, if you don't exist?
If people don't recognize your brand, it will be very difficult to do any kind of business. You will struggle to find any representatives, any distributors, and even it will be difficult to find clients.
I believe you need to spell out very clearly — first to yourself, to your team — what are you trying to communicate? Because you might be targeting the right audience in the right place, understand the people, but if you don't communicate clearly your brand, you may fail.
No matter how outstanding your product or service is, Axel. And we've had Axel on today because in Dubai, of course, really I consider it kind of the global hub of this new capitalism evolution. You are in the middle of all of this and you have a chance to see brands come and brands go. And with your financial background I'm just kind of wondering, and your exposure to so many companies and businesses that you've seen. And of course, in your past with Citigroup as a vice president there, and all the other financial experience that you have.
Is it possible that a company can actually build its value in terms of real dollars now with a well-constructed brand awareness campaign that aims at helping that company draw the attention of prospective clients in foreign markets outside of its own domestic operations?
Absolutely, Jeff. First of all, let me just emphasize what you've said. Dubai is a fascinating place. A lot of things happen here. They're doing local authorities a huge effort to be number one in everything. So, yes, on that front.
And regarding the value of the company, absolutely. I think one thing you need to understand... We all understand that the value of the company is closely linked to the number of clients and the value of those clients, the value that these clients can bring to your company. There are many factors, but your portfolio is one of the major factors in the evaluation of your company.
Let me give you an example of another factor that I believe is very critical. The distribution of your clients. Let's say that you have 100 clients in your company. And all 100 clients are concentrated into one single place, into one single city.
Let's think of a second scenario in which those same 100 clients are distributed around the world. Clearly, and I think this makes sense, in the second case the value of your company will be higher just because the potential for growth of that portfolio will be higher. It's the same 100 clients, it's a similar value portfolio, but the potential is higher, automatically the value of your company will be higher. I think this is extremely important. You need to work on this concept to develop new markets. And automatically that will bring you value to your company.
Define clearly what is your goal in the [trade] show, and then make sure you select the right show. Once you do, the benefits are tremendous.
You know, Axel, I kind of think about it like I would a financial portfolio. For example, not having all of your eggs in one basket, because we know that sometimes when the market is having some difficulties, the stock market, it's always good to have your finances divided up to other asset classes that might benefit when perhaps the economy may not be so good or the market may be weak in equities. Maybe you're talking about having your portfolio maybe cut more into real estate, or bonds, or something like that, or commodities. You're kind of trying to protect yourself against the risk of losing all that money in just having your finances or investments in stocks.
The same is true for your business, where if your clients are spread out into other countries, let's face it, recession is not always necessarily felt throughout the world at the same time. So while times might be difficult here in the United States, for example, you may have investors or clients, for example, customers in China, or India, or any other country, or Europe perhaps, where the recession is not being felt at all, or not to such a great extent. And you could still be doing very, very well in terms of generating revenue and sales in those countries while maybe your sales are lagging in the U.S. or domestically. So I think you bring up a very, very good point.
True or False, Axel, let me ask you. A manufacturer can essentially build its brand organically by simply entering a foreign market and selling a new, cutting-edge product without the need for a comprehensive advertising strategy, true or false?
Well, let me tell you, this is a yes and no answer in my view. Because advertising and promotion go hand in hand. What you're trying to do is you're trying to develop the value of your brand. Because you're saying once you are into a foreign market you can grow organically. The question is how do you access that market without making an effort to make your brand be recognized?
A very good point.
Either you have to do advertising, you have to do promotion, you have to do something to make the brand be recognized. And by the way, going back just for a second one step to what you said before, diversification is one of the factors, because your future sales will be more predictable.
But on the other hand, brand recognition is also very important. If I only have a presence in one city, my city, my brand recognition will be only there. If I have one client in each of the 100 cities around the world, there's at least a little bit of a brand recognition in 100 cities. So you're building a brand when you build new markets.
Very good. Understood, and I appreciate that point. Why is it that some small businesses don't spend enough time, energy and money on promoting their brand to create awareness and drive interest, do you think, Axel?
First of all, as you know, the SME market, and especially the small companies, are extremely cash flow sensitive. And I think they should be, and they should be extremely cautious when they decide where to invest the marketing money.
This is correct. Many times, they are a bit concerned. They're not sure about where to spend and how to spend. Many of them just stick with what they know, the local city, the local place. They don't do enough to expand the brand. I have seen companies, or, for example, when they do, they make a mistake. So, the second time they say, "No, I'm not going to invest any more money."
I have seen small companies investing money, for example, in the wrong exhibition. Then they fail in the exhibition, they don't do well, and they say, "I'm going to stick to what I know. I'm going to stay in my own place, and I'm not going to invest anymore." I think sometimes they're conservative and sometimes they make mistakes and they just back off simply.
Axel Hofmann, Managing Director of RED International is with me today on "Deal Talk" talking about the importance of branding and focusing on your branding efforts particularly when you are taking your company globally into global markets.
As someone who works, Axel, with so many successful international brands from all over the world, you've had the chance to see what really works. What do you believe are some of the most essential components that are necessary for any successful branding campaign to be effective?
First of all, you need to understand who is your target audience, what is your market. We talk a lot about target market when we talk about marketing. When you go into an international arena, when you want to decide where to do your promotions, etc., you need to understand who you're talking to.
Are you in a business that is B2B? Is it B2C? Are you trying to reach people from a certain geographical area? You need to be very, very clearly aware of that before you make any decision to go into any markets because the markets behave differently. The target market is not necessarily the same as in your local place. So you need to identify who is your target audience.
Then you need to understand, "If my decision is to go into market A or B, I need to understand how these markets behave. Let's make sure that I understand those markets before I jump into making any kind of investment, any kind of commitment." How do people make decisions in those markets? What are the preferences of the final consumers in this new market? You need to understand that. So that would be my second point.
Also, I believe you need to spell out very clearly, first to yourself, to your team, what you are trying to communicate. Because you might be targeting the right audience in the right place, understand the people, but if you don't communicate clearly your brand, you may fail. Just to make the point clear, Jeff, you are in an exhibition, you are offering your product in one stand and the people surrounding you are offering similar products. If the communication from these people around you is more clear, is better than yours, these people might be doing a great business while you're not doing anything.
This is very clear, one factor. Also you need to have a multi-channel communication. Nowadays this is something that is a global truth, a physical communication as well as on the web, social media, through your partners, etc. And I think a very important point for me is to build strategic alliances. Don't try to go alone. You may of course, but my recommendation is build a good network of strategic alliances, not anyone, but alliances that are useful to your business.
If people don't recognize your brand, it will be very difficult to do any kind of business. You will struggle to find any representatives, any distributors, and even it will be difficult to find clients.
Axel, I know that one of the things that you do provide, one of the services you provide is a consultation with businesses. You're a business coach, but you're also a business consultant. So you do work with companies to try to help them grow their organizations, find out what they need to do to drive value, and whatever it is that they need to do to expand.
You had touched on something I thought was very interesting, and that is clarity of communication. You could be surrounded by a number of companies that offer similar products and services. It's those companies that communicate more clearly.
How important is it, Axel, that a company that is interested in entering a market that it previously is unfamiliar with that they speak with a consultant or work with someone perhaps from that area, with experience in that area to craft their messages in such a way that they appeal to that marketplace, so that they can communicate more clearly with that target audience?
I think, to put it clearly, it's a very good idea. I think the point is you need to understand the market through service, though research, through partners, through a consultant. There are many ways. I cannot tell you the only way is through a consultant. I think it would be a little bit unfair.
You can go by participating in an exhibition or in a trade fair. You're going to learn a lot about the local business. Because you have to travel to that place, you have to stay at a hotel, you will have to move around, learn a little bit about the local culture, the local language. When you are in the fair you are going to interact with other people. There are many ways.
One way of course is to talk to a consultant, somebody who is very familiar with the market. In my case my advantage is that I have experience across different industries. But of course I think at the end of the day the point is you need to understand where you're getting into, what is this market about.
Basically, what we're talking about is the fact that your advertising or marketing message, which may be very, very effective wherever it is that you are, where you do business domestically, is not going to be as effective overseas perhaps. Axel, I appreciate your expertise and the information that you shared there that a consultant wouldn't necessarily be the end all, be all solution for helping you enter a market. But very important suggestions that you've made there and we appreciate that.
Axel Hofmann, Managing Director of RED International talking with me about the importance of focusing your branding message, your branding efforts when you are looking at entering foreign markets. And we're going to continue our conversation when "Deal Talk" returns right after this.
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My name is Jeff Allen, Axel Hofmann on the other end of our Skype line today. He's Managing Director of RED International talking about the importance of branding and properly branding for your company to enter international markets successfully.
For those with fairly limited budgets, Axel, those who want to grow their brand internationally, give us some examples of maybe some effective or affordable ways to begin to introduce your brand to offshore prospects for the first time. What would you recommend?
I have seen many small companies taking the first step into international markets. One of the ways they do it is by, for example, participating in trade shows, but as part of a country pavilion. As you know the U.S. is very active in all the internationally significant trade shows, as are many other countries as well. So to have a small booth in that pavilion is not very expensive. You are able to learn a lot from the exhibition, and you can present your products as well.
You can also share a stand with a partner. I have seen, for example, companies that are in the same industry, for example, auto parts, but one is providing brake parts, the other one is providing filters. And they get together and they share the cost of a small stand. That would be another idea.
Another idea could be to close strategic alliances. I am a very strong believer in strategic alliances. I apply it all the time for my own business. So I suggest that you have to find an alliance with the supplier, with a client, or with another similar company that will help you in the promotion of your brand.
And finally if you want to invest a little bit of money as a small company, you may sponsor a small event in one of your target markets. So let's say that you want to enter the Middle East and you come to Dubai. You sponsor a small event here or you go to China, or Hong Kong, wherever. This event has to be somehow related to your industry. It has to be meaningful, and you may sponsor that.
I think these are some of the ideas. You can start small. But these ideas will help you promote the brand and learn about the market at the same time.
Axel, we hear different messages from different people, different comments regarding trade shows. And most of us, I think, have been to a trade show or two, and sometimes more than that. Or have certainly worked with those who have been to trade shows and made that a very important part of their yearly marketing strategy, regardless of whether their business is domestic or international.
Kind of interested in knowing how and why these particular events can be so useful in helping a company build its brand. I can tell you that on the negative side, messages that I've heard from some people is that, "Well, I don't sell a lot of products there." But I think that we're kind of being maybe a little bit narrow minded in how these events can actually be most useful. These are not simply events that are used and designed to help business owners sell their goods and services necessarily there at the event specifically. But tell us how in fact they can be successful and why they're so successful for so many companies all over the world.
I think the international trade shows are an excellent opportunity to learn about the market. Because this is a marketplace. This is like going to a traditional marketplace 2,000 years ago when all the traders were in the same place. You're going to learn about the products from your competition. You're going to learn about the behavior of your target market. You're going to learn about the tricks of the trade, what people are doing around there. I think this is a fantastic place. This is a fantastic way of showcasing your brand among the big brands in the business. So I think it has a number of advantages.
On the negative side or not the negative side, on the warning side, the common mistakes that people do is that sometimes they go to the wrong show. If I participate in the wrong show … for example, I helped an Italian client in the linen industry, and they had very high-end, very high quality linen, like bed sheets, towels, and those kind of things. They participated in an interior exhibition where the target market and the target audience was the final consumer, where people coming to a trade show to buy these materials. While he was trying to find distributors in the Middle East.
So first of all define clearly what is your goal in the show, and then make sure you select the right show. Once you do, the benefits are tremendous, Jeff.
You had a situation there where someone was interested more in a B2B relationship, and they entered an exhibition or an event that was more business to consumer, and they really lost out on the opportunity to showcase their products in front of the proper audience. And I think the same thing could be said, too, with understanding the proper industries and business sectors to market to or to present your products or services to.
It's all about getting in front of these people, getting your name, demonstrating or having your products that perhaps they can touch or feel, having the use of video and multimedia also perhaps in those event spaces, those exhibition booths and so forth. And I've been to some of these things. You've got thousands of people who are coming through every day, and they are not bringing their checkbooks or their credit cards there with them necessarily to place an order. They're collecting business cards, they're collecting your information that they're going to contact you later on.
Do you believe that some companies may fall prey to thinking too big in trying to appeal to the worldwide marketplace all at one time?
There's no harm in thinking big. But before you jump into action, you have to understand whether you are ready for it. So you need to evaluate the readiness of your company to go into international markets. This is not easy. Do you have an offering that is competitive? Do you have the production volume capacity? Is your pricing competitive in the market that you plan to enter? Do you have the licenses, the permits, some kind of legal clearance, etc.?
You have to do an exercise of readiness. And that exercise I think is fantastic because the same exercise will bring you some questions that you need to answer that will help you get ready as well. Then of course once you decide that you're ready, then you can think big. And of course you have to learn, every time you go into a new market you have to learn how to get into that particular market, and that's a separate process. So I would say think big first, set your goals, set your strategy, and then evaluate your readiness to go for it.
For those business owners who are looking and thinking about taking their business to the global marketplace and they're looking for extra advice that may be specific to their organization, they're also perhaps thinking about getting involved in a trade show perhaps offshore, they're looking at going someplace else, whether that be Dubai or that be a location in Europe perhaps, or a place in Asia where they're interested in penetrating and finding their next global clients, how can they connect with you?
It would be my pleasure. They can contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. They can also send a note via our website, www.redexdubai.com
, and it will be our pleasure to respond to any inquiry, and to work together to help any of your audience.
And it has been my pleasure, Axel Hofmann, having you on the program today. Thank you so much for joining us from Dubai here on "Deal Talk."
Thank you, Jeff.
Axel Hofmann, Managing Director, RED International has joined us today and I hope that you enjoyed the program. Let us know how we're doing. We'd love to hear more from you. Send us your comments, compliments and criticisms to email@example.com. Once again, that's firstname.lastname@example.org
"Deal Talk" is brought to you by Morgan & Westfield, a nationwide leader in business sales and appraisals. Learn more at morganandwestfield.com or by calling 888-693-7834. That's 888-693-7834. I'm Jeff Allen, looking forward to joining you again next time. Here's to your success.
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