The Critical Role of Communications for U.S. Market Entry
The United States remains a premier place to do business. The world’s largest economy continues to see a steady flow of inbound investment from Europe and Asia. Across the country, governors take pride in announcing state-of-the-art greenfield projects along with thousands of new jobs: a $940 million plant addition for electric vehicle batteries in Georgia, an $81 million manufacturing and distribution center in Kentucky or a $38 million investment from a cosmetics manufacturer in Tennessee. That is great news for local economies.
Establishing a manufacturing base in the United States has many benefits: access to an even larger customer base, shorter supply chains, just-in-time delivery capability, quicker response to market changes and lower currency exchange risks, just to name a few.
New kid on the block
A multi-million dollar investment along with a few hundred new positions is also a unique opportunity to promote your brand and explain your value proposition to a very large market. This is the time to talk about your products and high-tech manufacturing processes. You’re the “new kid on the block”, you bring the money and the jobs – the spotlight is on you. And everyone is watching and curious: the media, prospective customers, employees, elected officials and the people in your new community. Who are you? And how are you different?
Surprisingly, there are companies that don’t take this logical opportunity to communicate with relevant audiences. Some seem to believe that a good reputation on the “old continent” guarantees they will be recognized and well-known in America as well. Others see no need for sustained communications because ”customers know us” and “we have a great product”. But customers come and go and your American competitor is known for excellent products, too.
The value-add of communications
Think of the substantial benefits of a solid communications plan as you start building your plant. Teamwork makes the dream work! One of the first priorities is hiring the right people for the facility. No easy task, if you’re not well known and located in a rural area not deemed attractive by qualified candidates. A good communications plan will address these challenges and define deliverables to support your HR team from day one. This will include key messages about your company, ready-to-use materials for (virtual) career web sites, job fairs and staffing companies. Please note: More often than not, translated materials from headquarters abroad are not helpful for the hiring process. These documents should be prepared by experienced communicators and native speakers in the United States. The communications plan will also identify ways to successfully engage local and state media during the hiring process, in addition to any recruiting support the state may offer.
A good plan will also define activities to grow your customer base. In these times, (virtual) trade shows are one good way to engage prospects. Interviews with relevant trade media about your products and their value proposition are another effective, low-cost way of getting your name out and prospects interested. To that end, more and more American companies have their executives and key sales personnel media - trained.
Protecting the company brand and reputation is paramount. If you want to be ready, rather than sorry, then prepare for the unexpected. It could be a product recall, a large plant fire, a fatal accident or a labor issue. Any of these events could subject you to intense public scrutiny and media coverage. As you build your new facility, be sure to adopt effective crisis management policies and procedures and make them part of your Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) culture from day one. And a comprehensive crisis communication plan is essential if you want to weather the storm. In the United States the best companies have crisis plans in place and practice emergency scenarios once a year.
Moving into a new market means you should take advantage of every opportunity to build relationships, not just with customers, but with your new community, and with the media that covers your location and industry. A good communications plan will incorporate a means of building relationships with these and other key groups that are relevant for your business. The sooner you open the lines of communication with them, the better. Think of the process as you would think of moving into a new town where you’re not known – you need to get to know your neighbors. You will need them at some point. The time to make friends is early on, not when you need their help.
Christian Koenig is founder of Atlanta – based KOENIG Communications. The firm provides expert planning, market-entry communications, media strategy and crisis management services for C-suite leadership. One particular expertise is crafting communications for connected, autonomous, shared and electric vehicles and for market introduction of electric cars.