Sunday 22 October 2017

Show, not tell, to make your voice heard in the States

Sme advice

'As the largest economy in the world, the US attracts a lot of competition.' (stock image)
'As the largest economy in the world, the US attracts a lot of competition.' (stock image)

Sean McWilliams

In an increasingly competitive business landscape, Irish companies that want to stay ahead of the curve need to look further afield for new opportunities. With a common language and diverse opportunities, the United States is a natural next step.

In 2016, exports to North America by companies supported by Enterprise Ireland grew 19pc to €3.74bn.

This followed similar double-digit, year-on-year growth in 2015, with innovative sectors such as medical devices, ICT, telecoms, media, gaming and cloud computing performing particularly strongly. Over 700 Irish companies are now exporting to North America.

As the largest economy in the world, the US attracts a lot of competition. To stand out from the crowd and have their voices heard, we're seeing more and more Irish companies gravitate towards 'thought leadership'.

The objective of thought-leadership marketing is to establish your business as an authority within its industry.

Put simply, it's about showing, not telling. Rather than pushy or self-congratulatory messaging, business leaders demonstrate their expertise by providing high-quality, relevant content for their target audience.

Fortunately, the US offers many outlets for thought leadership. Some Irish companies organise their own events in-market, inviting industry-leading subject-matter experts to participate. NewsWhip, an Irish technology company that tracks and predicts the spread of stories on social networks, recently held its own summit in New York, attracting over 200 attendees to listen to insights from media industry pioneers.

Involving players of this calibre in an event where the Irish company sets the agenda and leads discussions is a powerful way to establish authority. As well as attracting greater attention, by bringing big names on board, you are associating your business with high-profile industry leaders and influencers. This reinforces the company's credibility as a thought leader in the market.

Such an approach can be particularly effective for those operating in a niche or burgeoning market, where target customers may be actively seeking direction. Irish startup Gecko Governance co-ordinates quarterly events on emerging Blockchain technology for the funds industry, while also showcasing its own product to high-level decision-makers.

Even if you don't have the budget to stage your own event, this shouldn't preclude you from taking advantage of thought-leadership opportunities. For instance, we have seen other Irish companies opt to co-sponsor events

Founders and chief executives should also be looking for opportunities to 'take the stage' and participate in panel discussions at the major industry events and seminars attended by their target clients and influencers. PwC estimates that 11,000 trade shows and conferences take place annually in the US, attracting an estimated 27 million attendees. Even in a niche market, there are ample opportunities.

Being present and actively engaged at key industry events is another important way to find out what matters most to your target customers, providing valuable intelligence to help position your strategic offering.

Other ways of engaging in thought leadership include doing interviews; publishing articles or white papers; using social media to post videos and blogs; and entering the online dialogue on industry forums - essentially finding any avenue to meaningfully engage with the industry.

As thought leadership becomes an increasingly important way to distinguish yourself from the competition and enhance credibility, Irish companies that adopt a consultative sales process or aim to position themselves as a 'trusted adviser' to their clients can't afford to watch from the sidelines. They need to position themselves centre stage. And Enterprise Ireland's teams in the US can offer advice and support to help do just that.

Sean McWilliams is a trade development executive with Enterprise Ireland - New York

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