How 2 SMBs entered new markets: A playbook for crossing borders

Lerato Seopela, Sashin Pillay / September 2020

When it comes to local customers, business owners are experts. It’s tapping into new markets and everything that entails that can lead to anxieties: culture, buying trends, export legalities, and payment options.

Many small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) do not have access to the market insights to help them find the most viable new market for their expansion. And they view international marketing and operational challenges among the biggest barriers to succeeding abroad. With the right tools and support, however, this can change.

Two South African SMBs recently tackled these challenges. One had to come up with a strategy to respond to the instant international demand created by a duchess visiting their small factory. The other started exporting a halal meat snack from South Africa all the way to the Middle East.

As a small company, with only one physical outlet, Tshepo Jeans needed to control its budgets

What to do when international demand comes your way

In October 2019, Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, came to collect a custom-made pair of jeans from the factory of Tshepo Mohlala (owner of Tshepo Jeans) in Johannesburg. The resulting publicity skyrocketed international interest in the company’s bespoke denim products, but Tshepo Jeans wasn’t sure where exactly to focus its attention.

Tshepo Jeans Graph (1).jpg

The first step was to upgrade its website into a fully functional ecommerce site, and then to convert the demand into actual sales.

As the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement took off, Tshepo Jeans also appeared on Beyoncé’s Black Parade Route, a list of international Black-owned small businesses to support as an extension of the BLM movement. This, understandably, created further demand for Tshepo Jeans’ products. The team wanted to confirm which countries the interest came from, to really focus their marketing efforts.

There were challenges, though. As a small company, with only one physical outlet, Tshepo Jeans needed to control its budgets, while simultaneously developing new distribution channels, and deciding in which countries to invest its marketing budget. The company’s brand and social media director was new to digital marketing, and concerned about how to tackle the momentous task.

She started by using Market Finder to confirm which markets were viable, and then used Search ad campaigns in the Netherlands, the U.K., and the U.S., the countries identified by the tool. At first, the focus was on gauging brand recognition and demand, using specific search terms like “tshepo jeans”, but later the team moved to more generic ones such as “denim jeans”.

Businesses want to find new ways to increase brand awareness and sales by scaling into new markets

The results were a ready-to-wear product range to better suit the export market, and new distribution networks. Despite the team’s initial fears around digital marketing, based on the success of their initial campaign, Tshepo Jeans intends to continue investigating more export markets.

If you can’t enter one market, look for other markets

Stoffelberg Biltong had already started looking into ways to expand into foreign markets, despite meat import bans from some regions. As a result, the company put in place a few of the key factors necessary for exporting meat snacks, including a fully certified game (venison) abattoir, the internationally accepted food safety Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) accreditation, and halal certification.

Biltong snacks are now available in most airports in the UAE, much to the joy of expat South Africans

Stoffelberg Biltong wanted to expand its brand, build a loyal customer base in new markets, and drive consumer education about biltong as a new product category alongside meat and meat snacks. It specifically wanted to position biltong as a different type of meat snack to jerky, the American favourite. Biltong has a very different taste profile and texture, among other differences.

Stoffelberg Biltong’s unique value-add, in that it has halal and HACCP accreditation, garnered interest from an unexpected market, the United Arab Emirates (UAE). To confirm this interest, Stoffelberg used Market Finder, which also identified that it would be relatively easy to enter the UAE, provided a distributor was in place.

Serendipitously, Stoffelberg’s existing South African distributors have contacts in the UAE. As a result, biltong snacks are now available in most airports in the UAE, much to the joy of expat South Africans, who are introducing their friends to this delicacy. Future plans include expanding to other countries in the Middle East.

Tools for taking your business to international markets

As local economies slowly work their way back from the grip of COVID-19, it has become even more essential for SMBs to look outside of their own marketplaces. Fortunately, there’s no guesswork required when you have the right tools to get the job down. What Tshepo Jeans and Stoffelberg learned is that doing this takes three steps: assess, prepare, and advertise.

Assess where there is demand

Unless you have teams all around the world, it can be a daunting task to try to understand where there may be demand for your product or service outside of your home market. Market Finder takes the guesswork out of it by showcasing the most viable markets based on monthly Google searches for product and service categories, demographics, and disposable income. This is useful for SMBs with limited budgets who need to know where it makes the most sense to invest their efforts.

Prepare to enter a new market

The best way to enter a new market, is to understand what it’s about; almost like learning the local language. Once you know which markets would be the best bets, make use of Market Finder’s extensive country-specific guides and tips on localisation, logistics, and preferred payment methods.

Advertise to local people

Now that you’re set on your new markets and prepared to make headway, it’s time to let people know you’re there. There are far too many signals for any one marketer to keep tabs on all the time, but with Smart Bidding you can meet your conversion and revenue goals, even in an uncertain marketplace.

Google tools and resources to help your business continue working effectively through the coronavirus pandemic