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Innovation and export: How SMEs can get ahead overseas

Australia’s small business exporters have three things in common: they are optimistic, they are confident and most importantly, they are innovative. When this translates to the international market through exporting, these traits are even more important to success.

As small and medium enterprises (SME) move into the global marketplace, they have the opportunity to learn from international best practice. This provides an opportunity to drive innovation and productivity, creating an enduring competitive edge, both overseas and at home.

Here are some ways in which Australian small business exporters are driving growth and productivity through innovation.

Delivery innovation

Finding an innovative way to distribute their product or service can make a real difference to an SMEs’ success as an exporter. Collaborating with an established overseas partner is one way to gain a head start in a new market, with immediate benefits for both businesses.

An overseas partner creates a new revenue stream and a new way to bring value to their existing customers, while the Australian SME gains a ready-made delivery channel run by people with direct experience of the market.

Digital technologies have also made it easier than ever before to reach out to overseas customers directly, either in collaboration with a partner or alone.

Sydney-based digital marketing company Stackla has used both approaches to rapidly build a portfolio of more than 500 blue-chip clients around the world. Specialising in collating and analysing user-generated data across social media, Stackla provides its clients with customer insights they can use to create tailored marketing strategies.

By partnering with established providers like Hootsuite and Simpleview, and building relationships with global brands including Twitter and Facebook, Stackla has been able to win hundreds of new clients across Europe, North America and Asia Pacific in just four years.

At the same time, Stackla’s strong digital presence enables the company to deliver software and interact with its customers directly via its website and developer portal.

Marketing innovation

An essential element of export success is the ability of an SME to adapt their marketing approach to appeal to customers in different locations. The first step is to analyse the distinctive tastes and buying behaviours of key customer segments in each destination, then adapt the brand and marketing strategy accordingly.

Digital technologies and social media have made it easier than ever to market products and services internationally at low cost. Digital platforms also make it easier to gather insights into the behaviours of different market segments.

It’s also important to get the basics like branding and packaging right.

Australian winemaker Cassegrain has been exporting to Japan and other south-east Asian markets since 1987. But when the company made a concerted effort to enter the Chinese market in 2013, it found that getting its marketing right was essential to its success.

“As a relatively young market, China tends to place greater emphasis on image and profile than on the quality of the wine itself,” says John Cassegrain, Chief Winemaker and Managing Director of Cassegrain.

“The market is driven largely by traditional perceptions about what wine should be — so, for example, we’ve seen a preference for wines that use corks, rather than screw caps. Similarly, our Japanese customers are very demanding when it comes to presentation, including the quality of the bottles we use.”

By adapting everything from bottle shapes and sizes to labelling and packaging, Cassegrain was able to create a product with unique appeal to Asian buyers.

And by ensuring that pricing reflects the quality of the wine — and not just the packaging — Cassegrain is helping protect the brand’s future as the market matures.

Financing innovation

Securing finance for new export initiatives is a key challenge for many SMEs. However, innovative finance methods are becoming increasingly popular and creating new opportunities for Australian export businesses.

For example, a growing number of startups are using crowd-funding: raising capital directly from the public, usually via websites and social media channels.

A key advantage of this approach is SMEs don’t need to share control with a third party stakeholder, such as a private equity or venture capital firm.

SMEs expanding overseas and looking for finance to support growth should consider alternative funding sources that can help build their global presence without sacrificing equity or control.

For SMEs unable to source finance through their bank, Efic may be able to help.

As Australia’s export finance agency, Efic delivers simple and creative solutions for Australian companies – to enable them to win business, grow internationally and achieve export success.

There are numerous ways SMEs can drive growth through innovation. We have seen some great examples of innovation among SMEs, such as adapting their delivery model to meet the needs of an overseas market, or tailoring their marketing and brand strategy to create unique appeal in new markets.

Leveraging innovation can lead to great success overseas for Australian SMEs.

About the Author

Andrew Watson, Executive Director, Export Finance, Efic


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Andrew Watson

Andrew Watson

head of the SME team at Efic

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