The first step in targeting a new market

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I recently took a call from a potential new Client from the USA who is looking to bring his brand to the UK. We’ve been in discussions with him for some months, waiting for the time to be right for him to move forward with his expansion ambitions. It seems that time is now.

We’d covered off the chit chat about the polar conditions on the Eastern Seaboard and our respective festive breaks when he asked me;

“Just remind me again Chris, what services does your business offer that can help us to get into the UK?”

My heart sank. We’ve engaged in conversations with a number of US food businesses over the years that invariably focus down on the key question, “Do you know a good distributor we can work with?”

So I hastily began to explain that, no, we’re not a distributor, and how the UK retail chain is considerably less complicated and convoluted for a prospective importer than the US market… when he stopped me;

“It’s okay Chris – what we’re looking for is a proper understanding of the UK marketplace and consumer before we contact any potential distributor partners”

Music to my ears. And not just because research, insight and strategic positioning are what we do!

It was a sharp contrast to a conversation I had some years ago with another brand that operates in the same sector as my new prospective Client. On that occasion, following a twelve month ‘get to know you’ period of conversations and e mails I managed to secure a meeting at a major international trade show in New York with the CEO of that particular business – the kind of decision-maker contact that we crave, and that usually indicates a sound commercial opportunity.

We exchanged pleasantries, he sat me down and looked me in the eye.

“So what kind of an importer are you?”

I hesitated (I was younger and a little less worldly then) and then launched into a three minute overview of what our business services are, how they would be very relevant to his needs and objectives, and specifically, how a better understanding of UK consumers would be really valuable to him.

His eyes never met mine during the whole of this discourse, and although our meeting lasted a polite twenty minutes I knew that we weren’t on the same page.

His brand still hasn’t launched into the UK.

There are plenty of businesses that view exporting to a new marketplace as a two stage process. Stage one – obtain an initial foothold in that territory via a distributor or importer that will allow you to make a few opportune sales whilst scoping out the market in a cost-effective manner. Minimal investment, minimal risk, and we’ll see how things go. Stage two – if things look promising, then we’ll make a little more investment to build our distribution and to generate more substantive sales.

Aim…Fire…see what we hit.

It’s a bit like the approach that some businesses in this country take with their NPD – the impulse is to get new ideas to market as quickly as possible to generate revenues, rather than to take a little time and investment (and it doesn’t need to be a long time, or a lot of investment) to get things ‘Ready’ before launching.

But, as my new friend from the East Coast recognises, understanding what is going on in the marketplace, how your products and brands can best fit within that, and what makes you different, better and appealing to a UK consumer is really valuable. It helps you to get your positioning right first time, and enables you to present a compelling case to UK retailers as to why they should allow you onto their shelves.

Taking time to get ‘Ready’ can appear to be a little cautious, a little tedious, even a little risky (because there is no guarantee at the beginning that this investment will definitely lead to anything that generates revenue). If there’s a timely market opportunity out there, shouldn’t we jump on it and worry about the detail later…?

Be lucky. But being prepared is surely a better way to go.

Because it’s a good deal easier to hit a target when somebody helps you to find out where it is.

Words by Chris Blythe