Almost from the beginning, my business focus has been international, beginning in Europe and continuously expanding. I've recently increased our Asian efforts with a stepped up presence in India. As part of the launch, I was in-country last month, and it was a vivid reminder of my bedrock belief: an American world view is tunnel vision in a global economy. Success requires country-by-country product customization driven by a deep understanding of the people, culture and markets.
Sound like an impossible journey? It's not easy. But let me offer you some tips I've picked up along the way.
There's a "first world" market in every country. The globalizing economy has added a growing middle class to the long-standing upper classes in many developing countries. I saw well-stocked shopping malls and luxury car dealers in the same block as an ox-drawn food cart. The point? Tapping into a small (but growing) percentage of a large market -- a billion people in this case -- is a sizeable opportunity.
The "innovation class" is your market. The developing world's newly affluent are early adopters of technologies and innovation. After all, it's likely to be innovation that fueled their country's rising economy and an entrepreneurial curiosity that fuels their own improving fortunes.
They're interested in products that can improve their lives -- and they're willing to pay for it. They're less interested in ostentatious luxury -- it's out of keeping with their culture. Nanotechnology offers ways to make many conventional products higher-performing options.
"Made in the USA" doesn't guarantee a sale. The market is careful with its newfound wealth. People are looking for quality -- wherever it comes from. And, by the way, they're savvy shoppers who know there's a difference between "value" and "cheap."
Act global? Think local. So how do you tap into the understanding required to customize by country? Quite frankly, I believe you need feet on the ground to succeed -- either your own people or trusted business partners. We had R&D exploring opportunities in India almost two years before our enterprise went live there. Our marketing leadership was there, too, working with a multi-national partner and gathering intelligence. Its the secret of a seamless go-to-market strategy -- from understanding government regulation to choosing the right retail packaging.
Does your product line translate? Once you have a thorough understanding of the local market, conditions and needs, it's time to start looking for opportunities. It's quite possible that products already in your portfolio are market ready.
Here's an example: one of my company's specialties is a nanotechnology-enabled anti fog product for eyewear, which has its largest U.S. user base in sports and industrial safety. However, in India, the hot, humid climate makes fogged eyeglasses a widespread, everyday problem for millions of consumers. One step outside an air conditioned office or car has people scrambling to clean their lenses.
Another of our nano-based coatings can form an invisible barrier on eyeglass lenses to repel the dust and particulates of India's heavy pollution. That means clearer vision in the short term and less damage to lenses over time.
A review of your technology portfolio might provide solutions for other market needs. Explore water purification, either on the community-wide scale or personal level. Air filtration is another one -- many individuals wearing surgical masks as protection against poor air quality and almost everyone has "the cough."
Use R&D to map it out. Country-specific customization isn't a cosmetic touch-up. Your R&D team provides the best thinkers for making the connections between market needs and your technologies -- both short and long-term. It helps get your global business off to a faster start, and enable ongoing commercialization.
The bottom line? There's a whole world of new customers out there. Customized commercialization will help make them yours.
Scott E. Rickert is chief executive of Nanofilm, Ltd., located in Valley View, Ohio.
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