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14 February, 2014 - 09:35 By News Desk

Coming to America? Then act American – play fair but play to win!

Rick McKenna, President of Marketing agency WCM Partners

Rick McKenna, President of Marketing agency WCM Partners in Boston MA talks to Business Weekly about the challenges of marketing in the US ahead of speaking at the UKTI event ‘Building success in the US’ in Cambridge on March 6, 2014.

What would be your advice to East of England businesses looking build success in the US?

Don’t panic. Very often I hear the reason for not pursuing a US strategy is being overwhelmed by the shear size and subsequent expense of such an endeavour. There are many options for a UK company to consider for operations, sales & marketing, funding, etc. Be patient and figure out the best fit for you at this point in time.

Explore going it alone, partnerships, a merger or acquisition, etc. Make sure you know the needs of your prospective customers, that your marketing message and materials are relevant to them and that you are establishing a presence for your brand.

Based on what you are bringing to the market - - product or service, you can take scalable small steps into the US through “micro-geography” which can be as small as a cluster of postal zip codes and then expand. Or be strictly on-line and market exclusively with SEM and SEO. Either way, your marketing needs to be Americanised, your website must be optimised for search and you have to clearly differentiate yourself in the market.

Hockey great Wayne Gretsky used to say, “You miss every shot you don’t take.” As a UK company, if you are ready, there is opportunity for you in America.

Why is now a good time for East of England firms to be looking stateside?

The US economy is expanding steadily. Interest rates are shockingly low and with American annual discretionary spending more than $14,000 consumer products companies are showing new signs of life too.

Key verticals markets that are represented well by East of England are doing exceptionally well - - medical diagnostics, energy services, software and gaming, travel, natural foods, fashion and almost anything targeting the affluent consumer seem to be trending up. There persists the intangible “Made in the UK” that always has good popularity with American consumers. Consumer and business confidence is also starting to creep up too.

As the biggest export market for our region and one of the most sophisticated in terms of marketing what do you think are the key factors for a small/medium UK business to succeed in being effective in marketing themselves in the US?

More than half of WCM’s clients are small to mid-sized. One lesson we have learned is that you have to look like a success and deliver what you promise.

Start with rock solid fundamentals. Are you here in the US? Is your marketing message on point? Do you understand your customers and clearly answer a need they have? Are you marketing broadly enough? Do you have a responsive-designed website that captures leads that are then efficiently pursued? Is your advertising compelling, different and run frequently? Are you making a real presence at the right trade shows? And the fundamentals list continues.

The questions sound like common sense but we find the British propensity for understatement doesn’t always translate well in the US. Using an American baseball metaphor, come out swinging and play to win.

A number of large firms have struggled to crack the US market, what would be your advice on what to avoid when approaching the US market? Mt. Everest is surmountable but with Nepalese guides and Sherpa’s. The same is true when cracking the US market. Get local knowledge to critique all the moving parts in your marketing, sales and operations. Changing course midstream may be required but if it’s a necessity do it and do it boldly.

A trusted advisor will open doors, help you to avoid costly mistakes and help to build momentum for your business faster than going it alone.

What would be your advice to companies not gaining the traction in the US they were looking for?

Not every company succeeds in the US. Where there is great reward comes significant risk. If your business in the US is not achieving its goals, the sooner you critique the overall approach the better. We often take clients through a candid SWOT Analysis. (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities & Threats) to see if the company needs to reset its course. Is there a market for your products? Is the pricing competitive? Do you have the right partners? Have you invested enough in marketing? Does your marketing appeal to the American mindset? We share so much alike but also differ in many ways.

What would be your one key piece of advice to companies looking at the US?

If you are coming to America, think like an American. We welcome you with open arms. But you still need to play to win. Play fair. Be aggressive. Surround yourself with great people. Learn from your mistakes. And above all, be passionate about what you are creating because that will carry you through the ups and the downs.

‘Building success in the US’ will take place on Thursday March 6 at the Trinity Centre, Cambridge Science Park, starting from 9:00am to 15:00 with tickets costing £25+VAT.

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