International expansion still needs the local touch

Jordan Samuel Fleming, chief executive of DBPL. Picture: Contributed

Jordan Samuel Fleming, chief executive of DBPL. Picture: Contributed

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The internet has made reaching new markets and new customers incredibly easy, but to really drive your brand in a new country, you still need some method of getting on the ground and establishing a positive presence in a cost-effective way.

Part of this is about culture and how you can translate your value and selling points into the local marketplace. It’s not as simple as sticking your website into Google Translate and hoping for the best.

Part of it is about market knowledge and understanding. It’s easy to assume you know everything you need to know about the markets you’re targeting, but reading reports and internet research isn’t enough.

Local people understand the customs, the competition and the local buying habits. They know the history, they know the people and they know what will resonate. Fully understanding the markets you’re expanding into is a crucial – but often overlooked – step, particularly by smaller businesses.

READ MORE: Scottish SMEs lagging in overseas trade stakes

I see the importance of this local approach every day. DBPL currently has offices in four countries (UK, US, Canada and Poland) and we’re negotiating expansion into South America, Asia and the Middle East. Without a doubt, it’s the fact that we have local teams on the ground representing our clients that makes the whole thing work.

The truism still stands: people buy from people and they like the security of having someone who speaks the way they do, uses the same colloquialisms and understand the culture.

Scottish Enterprise has a number of different programmes that are aimed at helping SMEs internationalise. The support it provides is much needed and useful, particularly for smaller businesses, although one could argue the requirements of each are a little restrictive and the actual output can be mixed. It would be good to see greater access to capital for companies willing to export, instead of restricting them to programmes.

There is a slight irony that the current Brexit debate is raging as both the UK and Scottish governments are actively encouraging SMEs to look abroad at new markets for expansion.

The EU still represents a massive market for Scottish companies, and hindering easy access to such a big opportunity would be a terrible loss, particularly for smaller businesses.

• Jordan Samuel Fleming is group chief executive of DBPL

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