Why maintaining a united global perspective is essential to doing business without borders

Nigel Barker
Digital Marketing Adviser | Business West
27th March 2017

If you had to ask me what single thing I love most about my job it would have to be the cultural diversity.

Helping clients build strong digital and real-life relationships with global audiences actually makes me feel like part of the ‘solution’ and not ‘the problem’

This was hammered home to me when I attended the Retail Without Borders conference at the QEII Centre in Westminster on Thursday 23rd March, literally yards away from the terrible attack the day before. Attacks like this, and the subsequent rhetoric from certain organisations are seemingly intent on dividing cultures, not uniting them.  We live in a time filled with speeches and sound-bites that strive to erect borders, in many cases literally.

So, it was weird walking to a venue right on the edge of the taped police lines, they were literally attached to the railings by the door. Retail Without Borders was already confined within borders.  Any feelings of the somber soon dissipated, turning to joy as I entered the lift with delegates from a cross section of African nations attending a finance event on the floor below.

Great guffaws of laughter and smiles were in abundance along with healthy levels of banter, which I think is universal, not just global, as we ascended in the lift to our respective days.

“THIS is what it’s about.” I said to myself, “Togetherness and sharing. You can’t kill human spirit.” I thought as I wished them all a great day.

And so I sauntered into the event, smiling and positive.

Content is (still) King

An event is merely a marketing exercise, we know that, but what makes it feel less like marketing and more like education is one thing; the content. Great speakers, varied delegates, interesting subjects, informative exhibitors. Get this right and the audience doesn’t feel as though it is being sold to as much as being involved in something.

The overarching message that came through from all of the speakers and discussions that I had, was that this kind of content was very much the beating heart of digital marketing and eCommerce globally.

When you trade globally, think locally.

It’s not a ‘one size fits all’ approach. What passes as ‘great content’ in the UK or the US wouldn’t work in say, Japan for example.

In the UK we have developed a taste for ‘design led’ content. It is often sparse and there's a heavy focus on images and styling. We don’t go very much for detail.  That tends to be hidden away in a menu or small print if it’s there at all. 

In Japan however, according to Reid Wegner, Head of Cross Border Sales Strategy for Rakuten, Japan’s largest eCommerce marketplace, the busier the better. They want technical data, facts, figures, materials, you name it.  The images, instead of being ‘beautifully shot lifestyle images’ that we favour in the UK and US, in Japan they want to see the items broken down, shot from all angles, almost ‘disassembled.’

If you were selling a food mixer for example you would have shots of all of the parts that came with it. This local knowledge is essential and can save costly mistakes.

Understand your audience

Taking the time to understand your audience and how they interact with you at every stage of the process is really key.

Let’s take China – a vast country we all know, but to put it into perspective currently 52% of the population are online. Doesn’t sound that big until you realize that 43 million new customers are being added to this figure every year. That’s 2/3 the size of the UK EVERY YEAR.

Mei Chen, who works for the International Business team of Alibaba.com painted the modern picture of China for us. The modern Chinese are young, dynamic and tech savvy. They live on their mobiles and if you don’t believe that – figures show that 82% of purchases are made on a mobile. If you have ever heard the expression Generation-Z – they are IT.

The Chinese are also the leaders of the ‘Now’ generation. Live Streaming on platforms like WeChat is huge and Mei Chen meant HUGE.  Companies report seeing uplifts of 10,000 plus sales during key ‘Live Streamed’ content events that last maybe half an hour.

Brands regularly use Gamification too in China as part of their content strategy to engage the user in a complete brand experience, and it works.

For me though, the Chinese model of fashion shows leaves the rest wallowing in the dark ages. Instead of having a season's collection shown six months before the end customer can buy it, in China you can watch the season’s show live or via live stream, tap the screen and buy it there and then. Delivered to your door next day (or sooner).  It is the ultimate See. Click. Buy experience.

Brands that deliver this mobile, content rich, youth focused strategy into China WILL achieve more than equivalent brands who merely have a T-Mall listing for a few products, and with an audience that size the pickings are rich.

Focus on logistics

My final ‘take home’ of the event was around getting the customer service element right. One of the points that came out of a panel discussion was “Treat customer service as a sales strategy and not a maintenance strategy.”

Sounds obvious when you think about it, but once again, local knowledge is vital here.

Mona Ataya, CEO and Founder of Mumzworld.com pointed out that in many parts of the Middle East customers pay Cash on Delivery. If you can’t accommodate that then you won’t get them as customers. This was echoed by Carlos Victorica from South American eMarketplace, Linio, and Shifnal Singh from India based, Myntra.

You need to work with a logistics company that can accommodate that so you get paid, and you need to be prepared to wait for that payment.

It’s not just in developing economies however, German consumers like to pay after delivery, which they will do via bank transfer. This means that you have to bankroll the sale and delivery before you get any money. Further complicated by the fact that in the world of fashion retail, you can expect 75% return rates in some areas.

This shouldn’t put you off these territories, the audiences are vast and they want UK goods, they just have a different way of doing business. In many ways it’s a more personal way of doing business I guess.

Final Thoughts

As I left the venue, head full of good stuff, I had a bit of time to spare before making my way back to Victoria and my onward journey to Cornwall. Having spent a large chunk of my life working in London I was filled with nostalgia. I took a walk to a pub, near Westminster with WiFi for a quick half and to catch up on a few emails and to reflect on the day.

Again, I was struck by the mood of the people. The bar I was sitting in started to busy up and became filled with people of all nationalities chatting, smiling and getting together for a post work pint. We were less than 200 meters from the police tape marking yesterday’s tragedy and whilst there was genuine concern amongst the drinkers for the families of the victims. It was obviously a topic of conversation but there was a real sense of unity, not fear.

So I still believe that we are good as humans and the overwhelming global majority wants to do what we have done for thousands of years. 

We want to talk, we want to share and we want to trade with each other, without borders.

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