- 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:
- Subcontracting to research firms
- Partnering or syndication with other organisations e.g. specialized sector associations (see Step 6 on syndication and affiliation)
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.
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
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.
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.
Highlights Step 2: Trade Intelligence Portal Strategy
- 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.
Make use of ITC expertise
Want to know more about this step or how ITC can support you with your trade intelligence portal?
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