EXPANDING INTERNATIONAL STARTUPS AND SCALEUPS IN THE UK
Decoupling from Europe has meant that inward investment has greater significance for UK PLC, and attracting international firms to invest in and grow their UK operations is of absolute importance to help the UK economy stand independently of its now, new neighbouring trading block. Matching the needs of firms looking for global expansion with the skills, services and infrastructure available in the UK will be driven hard by inward investment initiatives, promotion agencies and the UK government. We often hear of major multi-nationals and global giants being supported in their job creation in this market, but what about the smaller firms, the international startups and scaleups who are looking at ways to cost effectively expand into the UK?
At Cherish PR, we have been fortunate enough to have worked with many fast-growing and agile tech companies who are looking to the UK as an English-speaking gateway to growth outside of their native country. They are often direct-to-consumer, selling through multiple platforms and in multiple currencies. They can easily and cost effectively facilitate global business from a local HQ, but at the time when consumers are wary of scams and buyers are suspicious of unknown brands, how do they build positive local awareness, economically?
Keep it “Glocal”
It can be quite a challenge for international startups and scaleups to run a UK business when their HQ is on a different time zone and thousands of miles away. Setting up the right regulatory, legal and operational structures and frameworks can be costly, particularly when there’s uncertainty that the market uptake will justify the expense. That’s why many of our successful international clients started their UK expansion through marketing services, testing and learning what works with UK audiences and what resources they will need to fulfil the demand here, before setting up their full UK operation.
Know your audience here in the UK
To get the marketing right, we often propose initial audience research to test for differences and similarities in attitude and appetite for products and services in the UK. Last year, one international scaleup was prepared for some major industry resistance when it launched its disruptive digital service here but in fact, initial research revealed that the client’s platform addressed a specific UK industry frustration. By focusing on this in launch public relations and tailoring our messages, we were able to open doors and increase opportunities for our client within the industry as well as direct-to-consumers.
Is your English our English?
One mistake we see frequently is a one size fits all approach to the English language, and when this is your local customers’ first interaction with your business, they need to feel it’s credible and relevant to them. It seems crazy but from localised spelling to sentence structure, the way your site copy is crafted will have an enormous impact on your consideration.
Getting your cultural house in order
Alongside the copy, visual elements like photography, video and design are also cues to whether the service is local and relevant. Design trends differ territory by territory so having a good local design influence is also vital.
Let’s not forget cultural references. All too often we have seen international clients believe that they have got the measure of British references but in fact, they immediately show that the brand isn’t home grown. We tell our clients not to try too hard to be British but instead focus on the language and the need rather than making quips about the weather or the Royal Family.
When it comes to social media and owned content, it’s always worth getting direction from a local market consultant and balancing this with your own brand’s style and tone of voice.
These simple techniques and steps will ensure that when you start to build your UK business, the interest you pique amongst British audiences won’t fall at the first hurdle.
Just because it worked in Europe…
Getting attention from consumers in any market is tough and capturing British hearts and minds seems to evade many international startups and scaleups looking for a foothold on our shores. The most common challenge we see is the assumption that because a marketing campaign or tactic worked well in a European market, it will work in the UK.
A couple of years ago, we had a client who had attracted significant user sign-ups in Spain as a result of TV publicity secured by their local PR agency. They believed that one story placed on TV was the answer to all of their prayers and they only wanted TV in the UK. We argued that conversion needed a different story and a blended media approach, but were not heard. TV was duly delivered in spades but as we advised, this had little or no effect on conversions. The client could not understand and simply asked for more TV. We eventually resigned the client because they would not listen to our expertise.
The message here is to trust your local market experts. They are there for a reason and are the lifeblood of your organisation in that market, especially when you have no team on the ground.
Building Awareness Cost Effectively
Once you have your marketing services teams in place, we recommend that depending on the business’ expectations and strategic thrusts, awareness is built organically at first. Better to test and learn, optimise and get the proposition, platform and services right before investing heavily in big and expensive top-of-funnel activity. We often work alongside clients for up to six months getting the story right before they invest in a bigger integrated campaign. PR is low lift and a cost-effective way to build awareness and interest before “taking the plunge”.
Skills and Connections
When you’re ready to take the plunge and set up a local UK entity, there are many amazing initiatives designed to support international startups and scaleups doing business here.
London as a capital may be an obvious choice but UK regions and cities have excellent local enterprises designed to support innovation and skills across the supply chain. Some homework in the areas of support that your firm needs may well match you with a regional UK hub. This may be for R&D and thus aligned with a particular university or academic institution. Or you may have a specific talent requirement that connects you with a particular skills hub or social enterprise, or perhaps a suite of services which may lead you to an area of the UK that is proactively looking to export services to global firms. The UK Government’s Investment Atlas is a great place to start. Simply having eyes and ears on the ground to facilitate introductions and share information is a great first step.
These are just a few learnings from our experience of partnering with startups and scaleups from as far afield as Los Angeles and Sydney, or Tel Aviv and Nairobi. We love being a trusted advisor, the eyes and ears on the ground in the UK and sharing these clients’ growth journeys as they build their UK enterprises. If you’re a disruptor with eyes on international growth, give us a call. We’d love to help you to build awareness in the UK.
Rebecca Oatley, Co-CEO The Wilful Group and Founder Cherish PR