The Marketplace Is Outside

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As I write this, I’m thinking back to my previous week delivering four keynote speeches in as many countries to audiences of hundreds. Conference organizer Best Marketing invited me to its Password 2009 events and kept me very busy. I delivered my keynote each morning, then made a quick dash to the airport to head on to the next country: Monday in Zagreb, Croatia; Tuesday in Riga, Latvia; Wednesday in Vilnius, Lithuania; and Thursday in Tartu, Estonia.

During this whirlwind trip, I discovered that all of these countries are amazingly plugged into the web. For example, Estonia, with a population of just 1.3 million, has 806,000 internet users. Everywhere I went, I found free wireless: hotels, airports, even shopping malls, and I found that my high-speed connections were much faster than in most parts of the U.S.

I also found that the successful marketers I met in each of these small countries were particularly impressive in their outward thinking. When you live in a country such as Latvia, your home market is tiny, so you’re required to market your products and services internationally. It also requires thinking deeply about your buyers in the global marketplace.

Consider LessLoss Audio Devices, a company based in Kaunas, Lithuania. LessLoss creates amazing (and fabulously expensive) high-end audiophile products and has become famous for power cords, filters, cables, and other equipment among the most rabid audiophiles worldwide. LessLoss sells all over the world, and its content-rich website is truly global. The ecommerce and SEO platform is managed using GLOBALTUS, also a Lithuanian company.

I spoke with Tomas Paplauskas, CEO of GLOBALTUS, who told me that it is amazing how people from such a small country can reach customers worldwide. The power of the internet gives anybody the opportunity to reach huge markets. In the case of LessLoss, how many Lithuanians would buy a $500 power cable? Few. Maybe none. Yet the company has a thriving global business.

This got me thinking …

My sense is that the bigger a country is, the less likely it is that companies based there will market outside of its borders. Additionally, in my experience, the larger a company is, the more likely it is that its marketers will spend their valuable time managing up to the bosses and presenting PowerPoints to internal audiences instead of focusing on the marketplace.

When I worked as a VP-level marketing professional for several very large econtent companies, I spent the majority of my time focused inward. The corporate culture was to manage upward. However, in the small econtent companies I’ve worked for over the years, I was much more focused on the marketplace.

I spent nearly 10 years working in Asia, based in Tokyo and Hong Kong, for several U.S.-based econtent companies, and I noticed a similar pattern. At the company headquarters, all anybody cared about was the domestic marketplace, even those people in international positions. However, in the international offices we were always looking for the next market to sell into.

This observation is not intended to bash large organizations; nor is it my intention to say that big is bad and small is good. Rather, I want to point out that when one works in a large market (the U.S., for example) or a large organization (such as big, publicly traded econtent companies), it is that much more difficult to have an outward-looking focus. But great rewards come to those who can do it.

I think there are important lessons here. We can all learn from the successful companies in these small countries. And we can all emulate their success.

I’d like to offer some questions for you to ponder:
1. Do you market to your ego or to the external marketplace?
2. Do you focus on your buyers or on your bosses?
3. Do you spend the majority of your time in the marketplace or in your nice, comfortable office?

During the current tough global economic challenges, the econtent companies that emerge as winners will be those who spend their time understanding the needs of the marketplace and building and selling the products and services that people want to buy. Too many people are running scared and spending their time holed up in the bunkers.

If you work in a large company or if your company is based in a large country, you need to make the effort to get out. If you do, you will be rewarded with success and you will be well-positioned for when the global markets turn the corner and we find ourselves in an expanding economy again.