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Your website is not just an add-on in your export strategy, it’s often the star. Cameron Bayley looks at how you can use it to maximise export potential.

Active ImageEdwin Kuller, Austrade’s e-business adviser, sets the scene. An Austrade office based in one of the department’s outposts in Japan gets a call from an Australian business wanting to enter the export market. The first question to the business is: do you have a website?

“When customers in those markets are looking for new suppliers and in research mode are trying to find out who’s doing what, the website is the first thing they’ll want to go to before they make contact with the company.”

And at every point along the way, from researching what your company does through to making a transaction, your website will play a starring role, not least in your marketing strategy. “Particularly for a small Australian business owner who can’t jump on a plane and go to trade shows or do other forms of marketing, a website can provide them with potentially a global audience for a little spend,” Kuller explains.

And it seems no matter who you speak to in the export industry, whether it’s exporters or experts in the field, they usually agree that your website will be the first port of call for potential clients or business partners. “Any company serious about doing business should have a web presence,” says Janelle Ledwidge, TradeStart export manager at the Australian Interactive Media Industry Association (AIMIA). “Even if they just put up an initial holding page with their contact details while the site is being developed.”

But she’s quick to follow this by saying don’t leave it too long before expanding the content. “Gone are the days of the corporate website just replicating a marketing brochure,” she says. “Websites today are fully integrated business communication tools with a range of applications to engage customers, drive interaction and ensure repeat visits.”

There are two types of websites: informational and transactional. An information website can still be a dynamic tool for export, through the use of product information, company history, testimonials, case studies and contact details, Kuller explains. “A website should have a ‘call to action’. What do you want people to do once they’re on the site? So you want them to read info about you, look at your product catalogue—that’s all well and good but what do you want them to do next?” he challenges. “For an information site it might be, pick up the phone and call us. Alternatively, register for our newsletter, and we’ll communicate with you via email once a month or once a quarter. And that’s a really good way of building a relationship.”

Making your website as easy as possible to navigate and interact with can really help potential customers, says Chris Disspain, CEO of domain registration body auDA. “People love to be directed and have their lives made as easy as possible and that’s the sort of thing that a website can do very easily.” It can be as simple as having an ‘order@’ email address for orders, or a ‘complaints@’ address for complaints, he explains.

And businesses who haven’t yet started exporting shouldn’t be shy of promoting themselves in their ‘about us’ page, says Kuller. Putting local testimonials down can still help, he adds, because satisfying customer need is a quality that translates across markets.

A transactional website takes things a step further, asking visitors to buy a product. And while businesses may have been hesitant in the past to promote transactions via their website, Kuller says attitudes are changing. “Over the last four or five years, research shows people are migrating from informational sites to transactional sites. And that’s happening around the world as well.” He says businesses armed with statistics showing the numbers visiting the website, and from which markets, are realising they have a captive audience and are seeing the benefits of installing a cash register on their site.

Serious Export

Active ImageWhether it’s informational or transactional, if you’re serious about exporting it’s a good idea to make it clear on your site. One of the first things that stands out on the website for 3DClinic medical education software is the phrase: “3DClinic welcomes international customers.” There’s also an explanation that customers from the US, EU and UK can easily buy the software via the website. Using this, and images of national flags, shows the company is serious about encouraging international trade, says Bill Butler, chief operating officer. “Almost all of the hits on our website are on the first page. If we didn’t have this message on the first page, overseas buyers would probably assume we were an Australian-only operation.”

The company also has a section in their ‘frequently asked questions’ page showing an approximate currency conversion, plus links to specialist websites for a more accurate conversion. “Our original idea was to have them buy in their local currency—but this is relatively expensive to set up. So we put the currency converter on the site instead,” Butler says.

“There’s nothing unusual in expecting to be paid in your currency,” says Disspain. This is just one of the decisions businesses need to make early on if they are serious about doing international business online, he adds, and now more than ever banks and other financial institutions are offering packages that incorporate elements such as payment gateways and provisions for offering secure payments. “It’s more difficult in the sense that there’s more choice, but easier in terms of the simplicity of it.”

Another decision businesses need to consider seriously, he adds, is whether to have translated content on your website. Kuller and Ledwidge agree, and say it doesn’t have to be your entire content, just some key elements. “Newer exporters can start off by providing certain pages in other languages,” says Ledwidge. “Your homepage, your ‘contact us’ page and probably your product description page will be enough,” Kuller adds.

For GroundProbe, which provides ground radar services to the mining industry in markets such as Latin America, having translated content on their website was always part of the plan. “From the beginning we decided to translate into Spanish and Portuguese,” says Cristian Aguirre, marketing manager. “And as we target other major continents, for example China, in upcoming years, we’ll consider translating into Chinese or Mandarin.”

Aguirre admits it can be quite a process to find a translator and then to get it reviewed, especially as product details are highly technical, but the company feels very strongly about incorporating this content on the website. “We do get inquiries from a number of countries, and we know they’re coming from the Spanish and Portuguese sections of the website,” he explains. “[Customers] in the international market really do appreciate it when you take the time to do business in their language.” Once the content is translated, the company ensures staff in the international office double-check the content to make sure it’s accurate. They’ll even triple-check it for good measure.

As well as encouraging non-English speakers to their website, it’s also part of giving the company website an international feel, Aguirre says. “We wanted to show the company wa
s dynamic, innovative. A stable company is very important. For people wanting to do business with you internationally they need to get that sense of security.”

Other factors the company has incorporated into their website include an interactive site map showing where their technology is being used around the world, and full contact details for the company, including details of their four international office locations. “So someone with a business in Chile could get in touch with us or with a local representative.”

Exporters also need to be aware of what their company name means in another language, says Disspain. And it’s not as uncommon as you might think. “There are hundreds of examples of Japanese products with English names that they think are great and we think are awful. And vice versa.”

And as Australian companies export to some vastly different cultures, such as Asia and the Middle East, making sure none of your content could be offensive is definitely something exporters should bear in mind. Disspain cites Tourism Australia’s controversial ‘Where the bloody hell are you?’ campaign earlier this year as an example.

Apart from cultural awareness, exporters also need to make sure they’re not treading on another company’s toes in terms of intellectual property. Unfortunately, there’s no simple solution. “There is no such thing as a world patent, no such thing as a world trade mark,” says Peter Willimott, director of marketing for IP Australia. “There are systems in place which are designed to simplify the process of getting protection in overseas markets but there’s nothing that applies to every country in the world.”

The answer is to be vigilant and do your research. Get online and search for anyone using your name or trade mark, especially paying attention to countries you are targeting with your product or service. Many countries have trade mark databases, which can be a good place to start, Willimott advises.

“Searching the internet is a natural first step,” says Ledwidge. “Most people use Google, but an online meta-search engine [such as www.metacrawler.com] can trawl the top search engines in one click and provide links from all, which can save time. Advanced searching usually yields better results.”

While Lewidges suggests exporters should contact IP Australia for more information on trade marks, other resources include Austrade, business enterprise centres, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, AusIndustry and state government trade departments. Legal advice is another good option. “A patent or trade mark attorney will be able to assist you to understand how you’re best going to protect your intellectual property should you wish to trade overseas,” Willimott adds.

Active ImageHe also recommends checking out information and guidelines published by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (www.wipo.int). The WIPO website contains information about one process that has been established to assist businesses trading in international markets: the Madrid Protocol. “The Madrid Protocol provides Australians with a simpler and less expensive way of seeking trade mark protection overseas,” says Willimott. Signing up to the protocol is done in a single application, through IP Australia, and the applicant can state which markets they are seeking protection for their trade mark. Willimott says some big countries are party to the Madrid Protocol, including Japan, the UK, the EU, and China, so it does provide one way of making sure your trade mark is protected in some of the world’s biggest markets.

This is not to say that once you are online you are bound to trade in every single global market. “Some business operators try and minimise the risk,” says Willimott. “If they are aware that they could potentially infringe a market in say China, they’ll say ‘please note we do not supply customers in China with these products’.”

Once you are ready to start trading in international markets, Kuller recommends visiting an electronic marketplace. While these are popular internationally, they are relatively unknown in Australia. “EBay is a horizontal electronic marketplace because it deals with all sorts of products, but overseas there are vertical electronic marketplaces,” he says, with wine, horticulture and fashion some of the industries with established electronic marketplaces. “You name it, there are vertical electronic marketplaces which deal with those product or service areas.” The benefit of working through an electronic marketplace is that it takes care of all administration and communication for those involved. Austrade, in conjunction with six other countries, contributes to a website (www.emarketservices.com) which offers a directory of reputable marketplaces. “And so we say to Australian companies, just check if there’s an electronic marketplace for your product or service, which is being used by buyers in the market you’re trying to get to,” says Kuller.

Having the ‘.au’ domain name can also be part of your export plan, says Disspain, especially if you’re trading in an industry where Australia has a good name. “It’s effectively branding you as being Australian,” he says. “And if you have any weight placed in your business dealings that you are based in Australia then it’s worth having that.” He says it’s no longer the case of people thinking you need to be a ‘.com’ to be taken seriously as a global company. “In the old days, people thought ‘.com’ was international, it was the suit-and-tie-and-black-leather briefcase of business. But that is long gone now. Everyone knows there are millions of names registered with ‘.com’ and that many of them are not related to anything.”

As it becomes harder to secure the name you want in the ‘.com’ space, Disspain says you’re more likely to get your desired name as an ‘.au’ domain. And what businesses are increasingly doing is registering several domain names (such as ‘.au’ and ‘.nz’) and directing them all to the one website, he says, providing the relevant trade mark and domain name laws in each country allow this.

There’s plenty of assistance available for online exporters. A good starting point is Austrade’s ‘exporting online’ page on their website (www.austrade.gov.au), which provides an overview of the whole process, and a range of case studies and links to helpful resources. AIMIA works in conjunction with Austrade to deliver the TradeStart scheme to exporters working in interactive media. The Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts created www.e-businessguide.gov.au to guide businesses through the process of launching their business online. To find a translator for your website, a good starting point is the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (www.naati.com.au).

So the experts agree: as your calling card in new markets, it’s worth giving your website a bit of star treatment and attention. “Don’t see it as an add-on to the business, see it as something integrated into your business and treat it with that respect,” Kuller says. “It’s not the cherry on the top, it’s the whole cake.”

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