Only connect…

Only connect…

Having lived and worked on 4 continents, I have been amazed by the enormity of the challenges and the opportunities that international trade presents.

Meeting these challenges requires courage and agility – encouraging nuanced, emotionally intelligence leadership skills. When companies get it right, they generate brand loyalty, admiration and “stickiness” – but when they get it wrong it can spell total disaster.

What can brands like Skoda and Home Depot tell us about the fragile divide between success and failure in international markets?

Some examples of effective international engagement can be found in brands such as Skoda which, as a Communist-era stalwart found itself drowning in vitriol and derision once the Iron Curtain fell. Jokes such as “how do you double the value of a Skoda? Fill the tank” defined its reputation on Western markets. Eventually bought by VW, Skoda built up its reputation by recognising how markets perceived them – cheap, shoddy, communist – and rather than fighting this perception through “we’re not shit!” toe-to-toe marketing, they, with incredibly agile and well-informed leadership & advisors, embraced their reputation, drew on their pre-Soviet history, took on the jokes, engaged with joy and became a much-loved, reliable brand, completely overthrowing their 1980s reputation.

Understanding multiple viewpoints and cultural sensitivities is a definite advantage in negotiation, mapping strategy and collaborating effectively with partners – be they suppliers, legislators, clients, employees or random individuals whose personal decisions can completely upend your supply chain. Whilst Skoda, via the acquisition by VW found a way to make it work, many others failed – despite best intentions. In China, for example, the demographics, stats on disposable income, home ownership and a burgeoning middle class made it a ‘no-brainer’ for Home Depot to set up shop. The numbers and size of market were too tempting but it closed in 2012 having spent millions on launching 7 sites all the while failing utterly to recognise local culture, tastes, and aspirations – let alone attitudes to DIY.

There is no doubt that international engagement fosters personal growth and a global mindset. Developing skills, strategies, compassion and understanding help us to navigate the global market and succeed in an increasingly fast-paced, volatile geopolitical landscape. By connecting with other contexts, we gain a competitive advantage – the ability to be ourselves, but to adapt and communicate globally. In a post-Brexit world, what could be more important?

About the author

Viktoria has a proven track record of fostering growth, innovation, and sustainable practices. She continues to be a transformative leader in international trade and education. If you’d like to speak to Viktoria or anyone on the team, get in touch using the form below!

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