- Key success factors for effective usability and functionalities
- AIDAS and KISS principles
- Good Practice videos and screen recordings
- Basic and advanced functionalities
- Homepage success factors
- Opportunities of E-learning and gamification
Usability is like oxygen – you never notice it until it is missing
No matter how solid the needs assessment (Step 1), strategy design (Step 2) and content focus (Step 3), without a proper interface and interaction design your Trade Intelligence Portal will not be a success. Creating a positive customer experience, exceeding expectations is crucial. This Step therefore provides you with practical tips and guidelines on usability and recommended functionalities.
Usability is the ease through which your visitors can achieve their goals on your website effectively, efficiently and intuitively.
- Effective – Your portal satisfies the needs and expectations of the users. They can complete tasks such as downloading a market intelligence report, conducting an online assessment or making a consultation appointment.
- Efficient – The time required to complete a task is minimal.
- Intuitive – Users can easily and almost automatically learn how the portal works by observing, doing and completing their tasks by following their intuition.
This sounds logical. However, according to recent research in the USA, customers cannot find what they’re looking for on government websites about 60% of the time… This leads to frustration, loss of visitors and trust.
Your interface and interaction design has to connect seamlessly with the expectations and needs of your priority target users. Who are they, what are they looking for and how can you provide that through the portal in the shortest possible time, providing a positive user experience and customer satisfaction? In Step 3 on content and formats you can read that your priority users:
- Focus on opportunities
- Are less inclined to read
- Increasingly appreciate visuals, infographics and videos
- Scan and look for action, accelerated by the popularity of mobile devices
It is your challenge to satisfy those expectations and needs. So, your Trade Intelligence Portal has to be:
- customer focused
- as simple as possible
This is your point of departure for your interface and interaction design.
Connect with the daily practice
With the popularity and importance of social media in the B2C and B2B environment, the question arises how to relate the Trade Intelligence Portal to the daily social media practice of your users. If your target users are used to the interfaces of popular social media channels, to what extent should you consider features of such interfaces for your Trade Intelligence Portal?
In Step 5 on social media integration, we look into how to connect portal and social media channels effectively. Already, the InterAmerican Development Bank goes a step further and has developed an initiative, the so-called Connect Americas. It is a trade and investment portal for which the interface and interaction design is based on social media features. This new concept looks very promising and may become a model for future Trade Intelligence Portal interface design. Definitely, a concept to monitor.
“With Connect Americas, we want to create a very simple website and take advantage of the social media skills that are very widespread in Latin America. In Connect Americas we therefore have a lot of features that users are familiar with through the use of Facebook and LinkedIn and put it to use for promotion of international trade and investment. In particular in three service areas: Connect, Learn and Finance.”
– Francisco Estrazulas de Souza – Inter American Development Bank on Connect Americas
The concept of Connect Americas
The concept of Connect Americas is based on three service areas: Connect, Learn and Finance. Watch the introduction video below for a quick insight.
Connect Americas, a social media inspired trade and investment portal
Connect Americas is “the first online business community in Latin America dedicated to make international business easy”. Watch the video to get a quick insight into the concept.
Usability key success factors
Below, you find some of the most important usability factors to take into consideration for the interface and interaction design of your Trade Intelligence Portal.
The AIDAS principle is an important concept to continuously focus on the customer and conversion to the desired action. AIDAS stands for:
- Attention: Attract the attention of visitors with an attractive design proper tagline and intuitive copy
- Interest: Increase the interest of the visitors by emphasizing benefits and advantages
- Desire: Create a desire for the goal you want your visitors to accomplish through testimonials and success stories
- Action: Include calls-to-action to facilitate visitors to act and complete a conversion
- Satisfaction: Create a positive user experience to satisfy your visitors and turn them into repeat visitor
The KISS (Keep It Short and Simple) principle is another crucial concept when it comes to usability. Less is more! Always remember, when online, people do not tend to read, they scan. So, be concise.
- Minimize the number of words in sentences.
- Challenge every word. Do you really need it?
- Eliminate ALL unnecessary words.
- Minimize the number of sentences in paragraphs (max 5 lines).
- Use headers for every paragraph.
- Do not put a prose text on landing pages.
- Use list or bullet items where possible. They are easy to scan.
- Use an active writing style (present tense).
These guidelines should be part of the procedures and laid down in operational manuals, see also Step 7 on the operational plan.
To facilitate finding information and moving towards an action easily, quickly and intuitively, create pages that are not cluttered or overloaded with information. The page appearance should be quiet, clear and scannable. Use lots of white space for easy scanning. A few years ago, usability guidelines recommended minimal use of scrolling. Usability testing proved that the majority of users did not scroll. Today this has fundamentally changed. It is largely due to the increased use of mobile devices and the ‘swipe’ behaviour users. Therefore, pages can be designed in view of anticipated swipe behaviour, meaning longer pages. A fat footer (see below) should enable users that scroll down to continue navigation.
Homepage – 5 seconds to convince your visitor
Your homepage is likely the most important entry point for users of your portal, and you have to give it your best. Why? Because you have 5 seconds! Within these 5 seconds, your homepage should convince your visitors to continue exploring the portal. From Attention, to Interest, and Desire to Action. That means:
- Clearly communicate the benefits of your portal: The Value Proposition.
- Since the value proposition is different for different target groups (see Step 1 on needs assessment), connect to different users with different propositions.
- Pictures should support your main message and enhance the attention power and attractiveness of your value proposition.
- News enhances the attention power, since users always scan for news.
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A clear customer segmentation and corresponding value propositions are combined with prominent presentation of insights into potential markets to attract the attention and develop an interest. The AIDAS principle at work.
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Effective homepage of Prochile
A clear customer segmentation and respective customer interest are well combined with AIDAS and KISS principles. Minimal text and a focus on action to drill deeper into the site. In addition, the homepage features a screen-wide high quality image that enhance the attention trigger.
Calls to action and conversion
On the internet, users DO NOT READ! Your users are looking for action, and so are you. In line with your objectives, you want visits to convert into completed actions. Therefore, focus on calls to action, as a kind of sales process (funnel or pipeline) based on the expectations of your exporters and international buyers. Your portal should therefore:
- contain no dead ends
- offer multiple interaction possibilities
- offer content organized around your customers’ tasks, not your organization
- trigger action through calls to action that are reflected through outstanding buttons/links. The calls to action are clearly designated (attractive design, bigger font, larger size, highlighted colour).
Examples of calls to action are:
- Find opportunities
- Contact us / make an appointment
- E-mail us
- Call me back
- Check your price
- Assess your export readiness
- Follow us (in social channels)
- Share (in social channels)
The art of effective forms
By making your forms easy to understand, you help your visitors to get things done quickly without having to ask for assistance. This saves valuable time and can lead to better customer service. Guidelines for effective forms can be found at the Howto website, also in PDF.
The navigation on the portal is the main tool for the user to find his way to complete his tasks. It is one of the key elements in usability. Some golden rules:
- Navigation menu on every page.
- Always offer a home.
- Always include a keyword search.
- The main menu has less than 9 buttons.
- The most important service is offered after home.
- The main menu features a mega-menu to display the site structure in a user-friendly way.
- Every page has a fat footer with main (mega-) menu items repeated.
- Breadcrumbs show the user where he is on the website.
Mega menu and fat footer
The mega menu is a user-friendly dropdown navigation that shows the site structure and can contain additional text and calls to action, images and even video. On top of that it is well appreciated by search engines like Google and can therefore contribute to higher rankings in the search engine result pages.
The fat footer is a user-friendly navigation, especially now that there is a trend to make pages longer. When users scroll or ‘swipe’ down to the end of a page, the fat footer is available to support continued navigation. The fat footer can replicate the mega-menu, but can also include or emphasize calls to action. On top of that, just like the mega-menu, it is well appreciated by search engines like Google and can therefore contribute to higher rankings in the search engine result pages.
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The mega menu offers an excellent way to navigate the site for all the different users of te website. Attractive , user-friendly and search engine friendly. In this case, the popular pages are even indicated in the mega menu.
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The fat footer is an excellent example of facilitating navigation for users who have scrolled down the pages. The fat footer repeats the navigation menu, but also includes calls to action to sign up for a newsletter or connect through the social media.
Depending how your portal has been developed, it may not necessarily display equally good with all different browsers. There are various compatibility issues that may occur:
- Flash technology that is not supported by tablets or smartphones.
- Nested tables that create problems mobile devices.
There are multiple free tools for compatibility testing available. An example is offered though Powermapper. Also, in your website analytics, you can see which browsers your portal visitors use.
With the rapidly increasing use of mobile devices, it is extremely important to develop your portal using a responsive (or mobile friendly) design. The overwhelming majority of the trade promotion organization representatives in the ITC expert panel reported this as one of the main issues to address. If your portal does not respond well to tablets and smartphones, you are loosing out to a large and fast increasing community of users. Besides, you will need to consider: What makes sense to mobile users?
“We see month on month increases in mobile traffic, it is therefore extremely important to have the website responsive”
– Tim Parkman, Director Channels, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise
A responsive website layout is build up in blocks with a logical sequence. Depending on the screen size, the width and sequence of these blocks will adapt. The desktop and laptop computers will show the full website, while a tablet or smartphone may organize the content and navigation differently and show the navigation differently and stack the content in blocks underneath each other. Also make sure to read related information on mobile friendly formats in Step 3.
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Responsive design NZTE
The New Zealand Trade and Enterprise homepage as shown on a smart phone. The navigation, content of the website and action buttons are reorganized and optimized for use on mobile devices. The navigation menu becomes accessible through a drop down menu and the access to the various section of the website according to user profiles is given priority over news and other content, for which the user will have to swipe.
- Meet and exceed user expectations effectively, efficiently and intuitively.
- Understand who they are, what they want, and what they are used to.
- Consistently follow the AIDAS and KISS principle.
- Provide clean page lay outs, avoid clutter, to facilitate scanning.
- Provide ample and clearly designated links and calls to action.
- Apply web writing techniques, with short paragraphs, headers and list items.
- Use a mega-menu and fat footer for easy navigation.
- Check browser compatibility.
- Give special attention to responsive design.
Your Trade Intelligence Portal contributes to enhanced and sustainable trade performance of different target groups. Depending on your ambition and added value (see Step 1) as well as your strategy (Step 2) your portal can have different functionalities. We propose the following functionalities, most of which we consider as basic. Others can be considered as more advanced functionalities.
- Keyword search
- Contact form
- Event calendar and application function to trade shows, missions, seminars, workshops, events
- Download reports (multiple sector select)
- Related information
- Registration for e-newsletter
- Social media integration: sharing and following
- Embedded videos
- Blog incl. feedback option, categories, tags
- Filter and sort news, blog, MI articles on date, category, popularity, rating
- Print friendly
- Google Analytics and download tracking
- Call me back form
- Chat functionality
- Registration for customized e-newsletter/alerts (profile based, sector/subject preference)
- Registration in exporters directory (self service module)
- Statistical tool, self service trade flow analysis
- Integration with CRM and commercial opportunities
- Syndication and affiliation (RSS feed or database linkages) to access statistical databases, tariff databases, standards databases, business directories
- E-learning, self assessments, compliance checkers, calculators, document generators and gamification
- E-commerce / online payment
In Step 5 we look further into the issue of social media integration. In Step 6 we will address the issue of syndication. Step 8 covers the analytics functionality.
Below we emphasize related information, e-learning, checkers and games.
You can add value to a service by providing suggestions to the user based on the actions (s)he performed online. For example, when a user is searching for market information on processed food to Japan, the same user is likely interested in information about doing business or events in Japan, and in your assistance and other support services about doing business in Japan. This functionality to offer related information should be integrated in your website.
Austrade providing related content to its users
Watch the video to get an impression of a good practice of adding value by providing related content in an effective way. When users select an article about market opportunities, they will automatically get recommendations and links to related articles on doing business, the latest news on that market, and more.
E-learning: checkers, tools, games
In Step 3, it was already mentioned that in addition to offering content, some subjects are very suitable to be dealt with through e-learning tools and interactive checkers. At the same time, these online tools can provide a possibility to diagnose companies for further support and generate management information on explicit needs that can be relevant input for service development. A good practice can be found at New Zealand Trade and Enterprise.
An interesting development in online learning is the so-called gamification, adding a game-element into the learning environment. The Connect Americas platform has integrated gamification into its community concept whereby users can earn points, badges, increase their expertise levels, as is common in digital games. In Connect Americas, users can actually exchange points for tangible benefits form the sponsors. Gamification is increasingly used in management courses and is likely to gain ground in online information and advisory services. Hence, there may be an interesting future for integration gamification in Trade Intelligence Portals as well.
Gamification as functionality in Connect Americas
In this video, Francisco Estrazulas de Souza explains how gamification is included in the Connect Americas portal and how users can exchange points for tangible benefits form the sponsors.
– Francisco Estrazulas de Souza,
InterAmerican Development Bank
- Functionalities should correspond to the users needs, expectations and your objectives.
- Search, sort, filter, download, contact and registration forms are among the basic functionalities that should be well in place.
- Related information and social media integration are value added functionalities that have become essentials.
- Recommended advanced functionalities include customized, profile based services, with alert systems to keep users informed on their specific interests and stimulate repeat visits, often in relation to CRM integration.
- E-learning functionalities, ranging from self assessments to games, offer significant added value
- Syndication with other service providers or knowledge centres can enrich the functionalities in the area of statistical analyses, report sharing and learning tools. More about syndication in Step 6.
Want to know more about this step or how ITC can support you with your trade intelligence portal?
- Key success factors for effective content and formats.
- Good practice videos and screen recordings.
- Forecasts and trends to 2016.
- Combination of information, facilitation and learning.
- Focus on opportunities and forecasting.
- Attention on visual, mobile friendly and social media integrated formats.
Effective content? Interactive, mobile friendly and ‘less is more’.
In this step, we provide you key success factors towards effective content and formats. This can not be dealt with in isolation. The needs assessment in Step 1 and corresponding strategic choices from Step 2 are your guiding lights. But it is clear that added value content made available in the right format will definitely contribute to higher customer satisfaction.
Exporters want opportunities…
To develop a successful portal, the content has to correspond to the priority needs of the users. That will become clear from the user analysis as conducted in Step 1. However, if you consider good practices in Trade Intelligence Portals, you will find some striking similarities. For (prospective) exporters, the content is first and foremost focused on insights into business opportunities in international markets. Not so much a so-called request to buy, but market briefs about trends that indicate sustainable trade opportunities for the exporters. Up to date, and focused on priority markets.
…. and learn how to benefit from the opportunities
In addition, the content should guide your visitor how to benefit from these opportunities:
- Specific market access requirements to consider.
- Tariffs and preferential regimes.
- Events, assistance and incentives provided by the organisation or other parties.
A good practice in this area is offered by Austrade. See video below.
Austrade provides premium content to exporters about market opportunities
This screen recording gives you a good impression how Austrade offers premium content in an effective way. Market opportunities linked to market access requirements and options for market entry. Including relevant links and contacts. A complete package to turn information into action.
Several organisations, for example CBI from The Netherlands, link market findings to recommended actions, suggestions for SMEs on how to deal with market trends and requirements. It is a matter of making the information actionable.
A good practice in this area is offered by CBI. See video testimonial below.
CBI: From information to intelligence
“In CBI we have transformed our market information into market intelligence. More focused on decision making, opportunities and fore sighting. It enables exporters to apply the intelligence into immediate and concrete actions.”
– Janneke Vereijken – CBI, Netherlands
Don’t forget content for foreign buyers
For foreign buyers, the content focus is generally also on opportunities.
- First of all, by means of a presentation of opportunities the country offers in general. That is generally done by explaining the benefits of buying from the country, the unique value proposition.
- Secondly, by presenting opportunities in the priority sectors of the country. This can be done through sector reports, highlighting performance and capabilities in the priority sectors as well as competitive advantages and incentives.
- Third, what should not be overlooked, is the assistance that can be provided by the organisation.
A good practice in this area is offered by New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE). See video below.
New Zealand Trade and Enterprise provides premium content to foreign buyers
This screen recording gives you a good impression how NZTE offers premium content about business opportunities to foreign buyers in an effective way. Including reasons to buy from the country and opportunities in priority sectors.
Overview of services and success stories
When you describe assistance and support services, it is advisable to include success stories. It will enhance credibility and convincing power. Success stories featuring:
- new exporters that successfully ventured into international markets with assistance from the organisation
- foreign companies establishing business deals with exporters through the support of the organisation
Advisory and tutorials
For prospective exporters, specific advisory on preparing for exports, getting to know the basics of the export process should be offered. Many good practice Trade Intelligence Portals offer the following:
- Gauging export readiness
- Conducting market research
- Developing export marketing strategies
- Understanding logistics
- Payment and delivery terms
- Risk management and legal issues
- Export financing
A good practice in this area can be found at Austrade. See good practice below.
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Austrade offers a comprehensive section with advisory and tutorials
The exporters’ section on the Austrade website is a good practice when it comes to providing advisory and tutorials. It covers all the relevant issues listed above, from export readiness to export financing and risk management and everything in between. Well categorized and easily digestible.
Stimulate interaction through checkers, tools, games…
Instead of providing information on the issue of preparing for exports, e-learning courses and checkers are very effective. It will make the learning interactive and lead to better results.
A good practice can be found at New Zealand Trade and Enterprise. See good practice below.
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New Zealand Trade and Enterprise Export Readiness Checker
The online export readiness checker is a good example of an interactive tool that helps SMEs to gauge their export readiness step-by-step. Apart from doing a self-assessment, the SMEs also get advisory and relevant links for more information or additional learnings along the way.
These learning tools are valuable functionalities that provide interesting syndication opportunities with education centres or other service providers. Also see Step 4 on usability and functionalities and Step 6 on syndication.
Promote your companies through an Exporter Directory
One of the most popular sections in many Trade Intelligence Portals around the world for foreign buyers is the exporter directory. A key success factor is to determine the type of information to be provided in the exporter directory. Do this by applying the perspective of the foreign buyer, who would like to compare and qualify potential business partners. Key information areas to include in the export directories are:
- Products and services with export potential
- Type of activity (producer, trader)
- Size (staff, sales value and production volume)
- Value proposition (marketing message)
- Export experience (countries and years)
- Certifications (quality, health and safety, CSR)
- Pictures and video showing the production area and other facilities
An good practice of an exporter directory on sector level can be found at Vietnam Manufacturing. See below.
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Vietnam Manufacturing Exporter Directory
Vietnam manufacturing offers a good practice of an exporter directory in a portal dedicated to foreign buyers. It gives a good presentation and indication of company size, products, value propositions, standards and certifications and alike. It also offers appropriate filters to search on these criteria.
You can also add more value by offering an assessment or audit report, to provide additional trust and credibility to the potential buyer. That can be a qualification from your trade promotion organisation itself, a third party assessment or verification report as offered for example by online market place Alibaba.
For countries with significant exports of commodities and fresh produce, actual and historical price information is of high relevance. Given the nature of this kind of information, and required short response time to act on price fluctuations, this kind of information is increasingly offered by third parties through apps for mobile devices. Leading business news publishers and online channels like CNBC and Bloomberg are examples of parties that offer market data and price information on commodities. Another example is Agrowdata. See below.
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Agrowdata App for mobile devices
Agrowdata is a good practice of an online service that provides up to date, current, historical and futures prices for mobile devices through a special App.
It allows users to compare commodity prices and identify trends and correlations.
Given the nature of this kind of pice information, and the fact that users would like to have it as quick as possible, at the fingertips, any time, anywhere, it is a service that fits well with the concept of an App for mobile devices.
ITC also offers specific price reports through its Market Insider service. For this kind of price information, syndication possibilities can be explored. Also see Step 6 on syndication and affiliation.
Trade statistics: less raw data, more analysis
Up-to date overviews of trade flows and historical trends generally receive a significant interest of exporters. The trend towards adding value to trade statistics by analysing the data and providing short write-ups about trade flow trends at macro level, with partner countries and sector level is foreseen to continue. So, less raw data, but more analysed data. These analysed data are generally published in:
- news section
- the country’s or sector performance sections
- market reports
- country reports
In addition, users can be offered the tools to do their own custom search on specific product level by syndication with Customs trade statistics databases or affiliation with ITC’s TradeMap tool. An example of such affiliation can be found on Mauritius Trade. See also Step 6 on syndication and affiliation.
In accordance with WTO guidelines, WTO member states have to publish information online on:
- Trade procedures and documents
- Applied duties, fees, taxes and charges
- Rules governing classification, valuation and origin
- Penalty and appeal procedures
A good practice of provision of trade facilitation content is offered by Mauritius Trade Easy. See below.
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Mauritius Trade Easy providing relevant content on Trade Facilitation
The website of Mauritius Trade Easy is a good practice when it comes to providing relevant content on trade facilitation by market and industry. The user is already guided to the trade facilitation content on the home page through clear calls to action.
Full details about trade facilitation content, in accordance with WTO guidelines, can be found at UNECE.
- Content needs to be prioritised in accordance with the needs assessment and strategy.
- Information about market opportunities should receive top attention and should be offered by sector and by country.
- Exporter Directories should include searchable, qualitative information enabling foreign buyers to compare suppliers.
- Information about trade facilitation is a must, in accordance with WTO guidelines.
- Advisory and tips are very useful especially for starting exporters. An interactive environment with tools and checkers will increase impact.
- Add success stories to enhance credibility and convincing power.
- Consider content syndication with other providers.
What is the best format of presenting trade information to your user? It is a debate that continues over the years. Interesting enough, the outcome also changes over the years.
Visual content drives engagement
Witnessed by the popularity of social media like You Tube, Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat, you may have seen a substantial change in preference towards visual content. Visuals are processed 60,000 times faster in the brain than text, and 40 percent of people will respond better to visual information than plain text. Including visuals with your update will drive engagement and the flow-on effect of follow-up action.
A good case of visual content by means of video is provided by ICEX, Spain. see below.
ICEX TV Channel
Natalia Peces, from ICEX, shares insights on the popular ICEX TV channel. It features over 30 new videos per month, including videos on sector and market opportunities.
– Natalia Peces – ICEX, Spain
This trend towards visual content is further enhanced by the rapid increase in usage of mobile devices. Together, it means people take less time for reading and want to capture the essence of the content instantly and on-the-go. That means that content has to be presented in the easiest and most digestable way:
- Concise in text
- Infographics for quick insights
- Video for ease of consumption
- Swipe friendly for smart phone and tablet users
While in the recent past, it was not recommended to put too much content on one page, because users were more inclined to click than to scroll, mobile devices have fundamentally changed that. Swiping has become a norm. Therefore, nowadays, it is very much acceptable to create swipe pages with considerable amount of content, as long as headers, illustrations and action buttons are used that have stopping power. More about usability in Step 4.
‘Less is more’
It also implies that downloadable documents in pdf format will become less popular. Instead, the focus should be on ‘less is more’:
- less content,
- more frequent updates
- to trigger more repeat visits and
- more frequent engagement and interaction with the users.
A blog section integrated in the portal, could in that respect be very functional. An interesting example is offered by New Zealand Trade and Enterprise. In its blog and commentary section, experts and Trade Commissioners provide insights in trade and marketing issues and opportunities in target markets. The key issue when talking about ‘less is more’ is: instead of trying to be complete and offer a comprehensive report, it is wiser to offer digestible pieces of content, focused and consumable within the limited time and attention span of the user. After all, the priority user will be a busy entrepreneur.
“Our user research findings show that people want content summarised with the ability to drill down into areas of interest. Infographics provide great visual summaries and they get traction in social and with the media”
– Tim Parkman, Director Channels, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise
Apps for mobile devices
When thinking ‘mobile’ many people automatically start thinking of apps. But that doesn’t really need to be the case. Websites are nowadays generally developed with responsive design technology making it fit for proper display on mobile devices. Besides, websites can be developed in mobile versions with a customized user interface for mobile devices. So, apps may not really be needed.
Do you need an App?
In this video, Gerard O’Brien explains why Apps may not really be needed. Decision makers in trade promotion organizations need to carefully balance pros and cons. There may be more cost-effective options than jumping on the bandwagon of developing Apps. Key question is: What is the added value?
– Gerard ‘O Brien, Enterprise Ireland
Apps may be a good choice when one considers applications that truly add value. Examples can be found in the area of pricing information, learning applications (checkers, games), and location based information. A case in point can be the Apps of ICEX that include specific and practical country information that can be useful in an App format. See below.
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‘Mercados ICEX’: An App with specific country based information
This App from ICEX is a good practice of an App that offers added value. It provides relevant country information of a selection of high potential partner countries with market characteristics, trade flow, and practical tips in a user friendly way, specially designed for mobile applications. Note: The App is in Spanish language.
Social media integration and alerting formats
The concept of ‘next generation formats’ becomes more successful if it is integrated with alerting systems and social media updates. As for email alerts, representatives of Trade Promotion Organisations that we interviewed are quite unanimous in highlighting the continued importance thereof in the next few years.
Engagement in social media channels and through profile-based email (SMS or WhatsApp) alerts should trigger the attention and interest of the users to visit the portal to get more information (read, view), get deeper layers of information though interactive infographics, or act upon the information (subscribe, download, contact, etc.). See Step 5 on social media integration.
- Limit text and use visual content by means of infographics and video as much as possible
- Create mobile friendly formats, anticipating ‘swipe’ behaviour from the users
- Responsive design is a must, Apps may add value
- Stimulate engagement and interaction through blog formats, social media integration and alerting formats
Want to know more about this step or how ITC can support you with your trade intelligence portal?
- Define your ambition level in terms of information and technology
- Set the scope and priorities of your portal, including sector and market focus
- Define your priority target audiences in terms of (prospective) exporters and foreign buyers
- Determine who are your strategic partners for portal content
- Decide on the allocation of human and financial resources
Not just a portal, but an integrated portal strategy
Based on the situational assessment in Step 1, you can now start formulating your strategy. Allowing for further focus and integration of your service portfolio into the Trade Intelligence Portal. Of course, that cannot be done in isolation. It should be embedded in the strategic plan of your organisation and relate to all services that you offer. This second Step assists you in defining key elements of your portal strategy, including:
- Ambition level
- Scope and priorities
- Audiences to target
- Collaboration with external stakeholders
- Allocation of resources
You can consider a number of areas in order to set your ambition level. Some key considerations are presented below.
What is it that makes you special compared to others? A proper value proposition is essential to provide a service that truly adds value to your visitors. Based on their needs and the identified offer of other players, your portal proposition should make a clear difference to what is already being offered by others.
Will your portal provide trade information in a generic way for a wide audience? Or is it supposed to offer different levels of information to different profiles of users?
“You don’t want inexperienced companies ineffectively using key intelligence – which could even lead to damaging a sector’s reputation. So there has to be a filtering process whereby the inexperienced exporters get channelled to the development help they need and premium information ends up with premium clients. Your Trade Intelligence Portal and the service designed around it can be organised such that clients are filtered to the appropriate services”
– Gerard O’Brien – Enterprise Ireland on filtering clients
Information or intelligence…?
You can offer basic ‘information’ on your portal, or go beyond that through offering ‘intelligence’. This is information that has been analysed, provides forecasts, specific conclusions and recommendations. The Centre for the Promotion of Imports from developing countries (CBI) in The Netherlands clearly has defined a high ambition level at this end through its Market Intelligence platform. The information offered is well beyond basic information in terms of analytical insights, considerations for action and forecasts.
Level of actuality
Another key consideration is the frequency of providing and updating your information provision. This is a key consideration since it shapes the nature of the service and also influences the resource picture considerably. Blogging, alerting and the integrated use of social media are examples of online trade information services deployed for a high level of actuality. As a case in point, the UK Department for Foreign Trade twitter feeds are often more frequent than once a day.
Content production: in-house or outsourced
Content production and upkeep is one of the major challenges of your Trade Intelligence Portal. A vital consideration is whether to outsource content. Outsourcing can be done in multiple forms including:
Mauritius Trade Easy has taken the approach of largely outsourcing its content production and maintenance to a technical partner who manages the upkeep of content through a set of data feeders from their own databases fuelled by a set of online subscriptions.
“…We are seeing the value of decentralizing and outsourcing content and believe outsourcing will increase in the near future. We are forming agreements with private sector organisations to take responsibility of certain sectors and where necessary up-scaling their people so they can handle the content production themselves….”
– Ann Hughes, Content Strategy Lead, UK Department for International Trade, on outsourcing
Level of technology
The more complex your portal (in terms of content, technology, external partners, integration with other systems) the more advanced and demanding the project will be. Also financially. Low cost and easy to use content management solutions like WordPress continue to expand in their capabilities. They offer a great affordable fast solution for many smaller trade promotion organizations that do not need integrated solutions. On the other hand, there are many trade promotion organizations that integrate their Trade Intelligence Portal with a CRM system, e-learning applications, statistical databases, company directories, intranet. Examples in this case are ICEX Spain, Prochile and also Apex Brasil.
“One of the key strengths of our Trade Intelligence Portal is the integration with our CRM. The information provided though the portal is customized based on the level of export maturity”
– Maria Paula Sobral Velloso, APEX Brazil, on CRM integration
You also need to take strategic decisions on the scope of information and services that you offer.
Type of information
What type of information will your Trade Intelligence Portal offer? And which of these get more prominence over others? Will the focus be on trade facilitation information, or more towards market opportunities, market access requirements, practical information on doing business, trade statistics, business opportunities? Of course this relates to Step 1 on the situational assessment and your position vis-à-vis other organizations in your country.
Level of detail
Also depending on your resources, your Trade Intelligence Portal can provide information that suffices to get a general overview, or cater to very specific details. The latter can of course be in other forms than what is directly available on the Trade Intelligence Portal and could be offered for example in the form of customized research. New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE), for example, does extensive tailored market research for New Zealand companies.
Type of service
You can limit your Trade Intelligence Portal exclusively to offering information. Alternatively you could also make available e-learning or e-commerce services. Many trade promotion organizations combine the online trade information function with an e-learning function to build the capacity of (prospective) exporters. Examples in case are UK Department for International Trade, Enterprise Ireland, ICEX Spain, Austrade and NZTE.
Beyond defining the scope it is critical to set priorities. Whilst it would be delightful to serve all, nobody has the resources to cater to everyone’s requirements. Above all it is difficult, if not impossible, to dedicate adequate focus in a ‘cater for all’ approach. The most important priority considerations for your Trade Intelligence Portal concern sector focus and market focus.
The choice of which sectors to focus on is rarely a simple choice. It can be dictated by:
- The country’s trade policy and national export strategy
- Your organization’s membership representation
- Your organization’s history and experience with particular sectors
- Competitive advantage
- Export performance
- International market trends
- Potential to add value
- Sector representation amongst the SME sector
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Case: Sector prioritization in The Netherlands
The Netherlands, a truly export oriented country, has a focus on 9 so-called top sectors. These are characterized by international competitive advantage, are knowledge intensive and have great innovation potential and added value to The Netherlands economy and society as a whole. The export support service, including trade information service, is prioritized towards these 9 sectors.
Selection of target markets is usually based on a series of criteria such as geographic or cultural proximity, historical ties, favourable trade agreements, economic growth, interest from the private sector, etc.. Again, your country’s National Export Plan is also influencing this decision. There is little point in dedicating extensive resources to markets of low priority. The required resources per selected market will increase further if the services go beyond information provision and hence all the more important to prioritize.
Some organisations establish priority grades for markets e.g. priority A,B,C and would give minimal or basic information for priority C markets and extensive information and services for priority-A markets. We also see increasingly that the more successful organisations would also be setting up offices in these markets and feeding information researched on the ground by their respective branch office.
On top of that, trade promotion organizations like ICEX Spain, Austrade and Advantage Austria have customized portals for priority target markets, with a specific focus and in the language of the target market.
Case: Austrade prioritizes emerging markets
Austrade shows a very strong orientation towards Asian growth markets to such an extent that market reports offered on their Trade Intelligence Portal almost exclusively cover Asian markets.
Advantage Austria has 110 offices in over 70 countries, effectively translating relevant information into 70 national (nationally fed) sub-portals.
Audiences to target
`Your Trade Intelligence Portal will be more successful when segmented, and designed to cater to more specific target groups.
Even within this target group, there is benefit in further segmentation and related service offering. For example the UK Department for International Trade distinguishes the following 3 categories:
- ‘New to exporting’
- ‘Selling abroad occasionally’
- ‘Experienced exporters’
A target group that is too often neglected is foreign buyers. These buyers look for potential suppliers and your role is to convince them to source in your country. And not in that of the competition! So, add value through offering information on your exporters and your key sectors, including capabilities, comparative advantages, workforce skills, trade volumes, incentives and also the services that your trade promotion organization offers.
Some examples of specific portals that segment to buyers include:
A strategic question to address is how to deal with foreign investors. To reach investors through a generic trade and investment portal or through a separate portal dedicated to investment. It will often depend on how trade and investment are organized at national level. A good example of a combined Trade and Investment Promotion Portal can be found at:
A good example of a dedicated Investment Promotion Portal can be found at:
Collaboration with external stakeholders
An important strategic consideration is your level of co-operation with other stakeholders to avoid duplication. Determine which external stakeholders you would want to include and how they can be integrated. Examples of relevant external stakeholders include e.g. Ministries, sector associations, foreign trade representatives, external consultant networks or simply external content providers.
Mauritius Trade Easy is an interesting example in which a large group of no less than ten stakeholders are collaborating towards one Trade Intelligence Portal. In response to the haphazard nature of information provision by multiple organisations, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs took the lead in developing a single window that brings all the information together into one Trade Intelligence Portal.
CBI from The Netherlands is an important external partner for many trade promotion organizations in developing countries. It serves as an external content provider of European market intelligence by means of an affiliate tool. An example of such affiliate market intelligence tool can be found at the Export Development Board of Sri Lanka.
More about collaboration with other stakeholders in step 6 on ‘Syndication and affiliation’.
Allocation of resources
Deciding on the resources can by no means be ignored in the strategic planning of the Trade Intelligence Portal. Some critical aspects to consider:
- What is the available budget for the Trade Intelligence Portal and how does that compare to the ambition?
- Are there external sources that can contribute financially (sponsoring)?
- What are the staff requirements in terms of quantity and quality (knowledge and skills)?
- How many human resources are you willing and able to allocate to the Trade Intelligence Portal?
- What will be the contribution of the Commercial Attaches? How much time can they dedicate to the Trade Intelligence Portal service?
- Which departments get involved, which role they will play, which department will be responsible? This is in fact a critical success factor. Frequently Trade Intelligence Portals fail because the management of the organisation hasn’t adequately ensured that departments that are not directly responsible for the Trade Intelligence Portal also take on ownership. Without an across the board sense of ownership by all parties involved a Trade Intelligence Portal stands little chance of lasting.
“Management buy-in is essential. Management needs to understand that a Trade Intelligence Portal is not an IT issue, but in reality it’s an information, communication and marketing issue…”
– Gerard O’Brien, Enterprise Ireland, on who should be responsible
Areas for which resources need to be realistically allocated include:
- Design and development
- Licenses and Service Level Agreements
- Research capacity and skills
- Staff training
Apart from not allocating enough (staff) resources to continuous content production, marketing is particularly an area for which resource allocation is frequently overlooked. Especially because it comes at the end of the Trade Intelligence Portal building process. Trade promotion organizations must understand, however, that building a portal without marketing is a waste of time. Without marketing the portal will never get a significant community of users. Step 9 on the Marketing gives you more insights.
- Your Trade Intelligence Portal should be embedded in the strategic plan of your organisation and relate to all services that you offer.
- Key elements of your portal strategy include:
- Ambition level (e.g. added value, customization, level of actuality and technology)
- Scope and priorities (type of information, sector and market focus)
- Audiences to target (prospective, advanced exporters, foreign buyers)
- Collaboration with external stakeholders (Ministries, associations, others)
- Allocation of human and financial resources.
Want to know more about this step or how ITC can support you with your trade intelligence portal?
- Assessment of your priority clients.
- Identification of information need.
- Methodologies for needs assessment.
- Mapping of information service providers.
- Benchmarking of your information service.
- Internal assessment.
Towards added value
Most likely, your organization has a portal for some time already. Nevertheless you sense that improvements are possible. But where to start…? An important step to take is to develop or optimise your portal strategy (Step 2), enabling more focus and priorities. This first Step explains how to conduct a proper situational assessment. It helps you to re-think who your target audiences are and what information requirements they have. Benchmarking against what others offer is also part of this exercise. Learn from the best and determine your added value!
Who is your information client?
First things first. Who do you try to serve with your information offer? It is likely that there are multiple groups, with different needs. For example, your target audience may include:
- Established exporters
- Aspiring exporters
- Policy makers
- Government agencies
- Sector associations
- Foreign buyers
- International donor agencies
The information need of these client groups differs. Assuming you have limited resources, it will be challenging to satisfy the different needs to the same degree. Therefore, it is essential to prioritize and come up with a ranking. For instance, establish a hierarchy of the top three target groups.
What is the trade information need?
Once you have prioritized the target groups, you need to determine their information needs:
- What are the main topics that your priority clients need information about?
- Are there specific markets or sectors that require special attention?
These information areas should then also be qualified in terms of importance. What is the hierarchy?
Full report or highlight only?
Apart from the information need, it is important to determine the preference of:
- Formats, the way the information is packaged
- Dissemination channels
- Frequency of publication and updating
For example: Do your priority target groups prefer concise reports with highlights over comprehensive and detailed reports? Do they prefer to receive trade information via the website, social media or email alerts? Do they prefer to have weekly or daily updates for example through blog posts?
Methodologies for needs assessment
There are different ways to identify needs among your priority client groups. These range from:
- Conducting questionnaires
- Holding interviews
- Organizing focus group discussions
- Registering requests for information
- Tracking of search and browse behaviour
The problem frequently faced with questionnaires, whether they are conducted online or off-line, is that response rates tend to be low, in the range of 5-10%. Besides that, answers given may not reflect actual behaviour. Personal interviews are more effective, yet costly and time consuming.
“We combine focus groups, reports from our call centres and online analytics to gauge the needs of our users. We wish we could conduct more focus groups, especially with our international customers…”
– Emma Palmer, Website Manager, Austrade
Conducting focus group sessions with a selected group of priority users may be the best alternative. It is also a widely used methodology by leading trade promotion organisations around the world. Especially in combination with other approaches like:
- registration of requests for information that your organization receives (subject and intensity)
- tracking of website searches and actual browse behaviour on the website (most popular pages, downloads, frequently asked questions etc.).
Customer satisfaction and your performance
Once you have determined the priority clients and their most important information needs, it is time to reflect on your current trade information offer. Is what you offer in terms of scope, depth, and the way you offer it in terms of formats and frequencies, in accordance with the needs of your priority clients? What is their rating of your performance in terms of customer satisfaction?
Your added value: be different from others
Equally important, you should determine to what extent the information you provide – and the way you provide it – has added value over the information offer of other service providers. In other words: What is the added value of your information offer?
In that respect, it is very valuable to invite your target customers to map and qualify the information services, which are available to them. It will put your trade information service in perspective and offer insights into areas where your service could be optimized, where there are gaps and where syndication with other parties could be pursued to minimize duplication of efforts.
As part of assessing your online trade information performance, you are also advised to go through some usability testing. Ideally, this takes place in a focus group setting whereby you confront a selection of your priority customers with your Trade Intelligence Portal. The main purpose is to find out whether they can easily find the information they need and whether they use the functionalities and your calls to action effectively. By providing assignments to find specific pieces of information or to apply specific tools or checkers, and by observing and discussing the navigation of the users and the end-results, you will receive valuable insights into what works and what doesn’t.
A methodology that can be used for usability testing is so-called eye-tracking. It gives detailed insights into what draws the attention of the user when browsing a website. As a result one develops a better understanding of how the presentation of information, navigation and calls to action can be improved. It is a methodology used by several trade promotion bodies around the world including Netherlands Enterprise Agency in The Netherlands.
Benchmarking against other information service providers
You are strongly advised to benchmark against other trade information providers. This process results in good practices, lessons learned and, last but not least, inspiration for further improvements.
You can benchmark against organisations in your country, in the region, or even other continents. Ideally, the benchmarking takes place against similar organisations, with a similar target group, and portfolio of services. However, you can off course also learn from other organisations that differ in scope, sector, service portfolio, size and budget.
“When benchmarking other Trade Intelligence Portals it is important to go beyond the design and look and feel aspect and consider the content (who is the contributor, in-house or outsourced), the technology (Content Management System) and functionalities (like e-learning, ecommerce) that may require customization and hence impact on the required budget…”
– Gerard O’Brien – Enterprise Ireland on benchmarking of Trade Intelligence Portals
Once you have conducted the external assessments with your user groups and the benchmark with similar organisations, it is time to do your internal assessment. Some of the key issues to assess are:
- Do you have a strategy with SMART objectives for your Trade Intelligence Portal including customer satisfaction?
- Do you have an effective management structure and work processes in place for the technical, content and quality management of the Trade Intelligence Portal?
- Do you actively monitor and evaluate usage/performance of the portal by means of online analytics?
- Do you have adequate human resources with the required knowledge and skills to achieve the objectives?
- Do you have an active involvement of your overseas foreign trade network (commercial counsellors) in producing trade information?
- Do you have an adequate budget to achieve the objectives, including staff training, maintenance, and promotion?
- Do you have a user-friendly content management system and adequate technical facilities in-house or outsourced to sustain a reliable performance of the online service?
- Do you have an integration of the Trade Intelligence Portal with a Customer Relations Management (CRM) system to allow for effective and efficient customization of information services (e.g. alerts) ?
Determine gaps and improvement areas
On the basis of the external and internal assessment, you will be able to identify gaps and improvement areas. This will be the basis for defining your Trade Intelligence Portal strategy. Of course a lot will depend on your level of ambition and resources available. More about the strategy in Step 2.
- Prioritize your target customers
- Determine the information need of your priority customers through a combination of focus groups with semi-structured interviews, questionnaires, registration of information requests, and online analytics of search and browse behaviour
- Evaluate customer satisfaction and your added value
- Benchmark against other trade information providers
- Carry out usability testing
- Conduct an internal assessment focusing on the strategy, structure, systems, skills and management of the Trade Intelligence Portal
- Determine gaps and improvement areas
Want to know more about this step or how ITC can support you with your trade intelligence portal?