As a small business with big ambitions, we at Nemorin are always on the lookout for growth opportunities. Given the Brexit-related uncertainty surrounding the UK economy, it’s not surprising our horizons are expanding beyond our domestic markets and those of our continental European cousins, which is why we recently embarked on a trade mission.
But Brexit is not the only reason for this determination to cast our net wider. It’s been clear for some time that the global economy’s centre of gravity is shifting to the East. We’d be foolish not to get out there.
Pete, our founder and CEO, recently went to Hong Kong and mainland China on a trade mission organised by the Mayor of London’s office (London & Partners) and the Department for International Trade (DIT). These trade missions are designed to help high-growth businesses such as Nemorin explore overseas markets with a view to developing global trade relationships.
They are excellent for building brand awareness globally. The trade missions include meetings with in-market government departments and organisations who can help you establish a physical presence there. They can also advise you on potential pitfalls.
On this trip we had opportunities to meet with Chinese brands looking to speak to Western audiences. We have had meetings with large organisations in Japan, China and Hong Kong. Getting access to senior staff at relevant organisations – Huawei, for example – has been brilliant.
Pete expected to find a vibrant, modern economy. He wasn’t disappointed. But the scale is mind-blowing.
Take Shenzhen. Home to an estimated 20 million people (that’s over twice the size of London), it links Hong Kong to mainland China. And it’s booming. It’s the world’s third-busiest port. Its per capita GDP puts it on par with Germany and Australia. Its economy is growing at about 8% per year.
And that growth is manifest in the built environment: in the 1990s, Shenzhen was said to be building “one high-rise a day and one boulevard every three days”. It now has 82 structures that stand over 200m tall. It makes Canary Wharf look like a model village.
Shenzhen is part of the Greater Bay Area (GBA), which is a metropolis comprising 70 million people. New trade relationships between GBA and Hong Kong are making it easier for foreign businesses to access the Chinese market.
London may be our home but we’re pretty international in our outlook here at Nemorin, and are proud to employ a diverse bunch of people. Australia, Canada, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Spain and Wales are all represented. We have a lovely new Turkish motion graphics designer, and she replaced someone from India. We’ve had interns with us recently from America, Denmark and Russia. Only half the staff are English. That diversity really helps inform our ideas and our responses to client briefs.
But despite this cosmopolitan makeup we have perhaps been guilty of thinking the West is the centre of the economic universe, and London in particular a hotbed of creativity. Indeed many in our industry like to think being British has a certain caché overseas, particularly when it comes to creativity. From music and literature to art, architecture and advertising, the UK has produced some true icons.
But from a Chinese perspective that heritage is simply not relevant. You can’t expect respect. You have to earn it. The cultures and ways of doing business there are so different it can be hard to navigate their market. And with a domestic population of 1.4 billion people and a burgeoning middle class, why should Chinese companies care much about exporting to a country of 66 million – especially when we may no longer be a gateway to the rest of Europe?
But there are opportunities to pursue. We have done business there and will definitely be trying to do more. One of our colleagues can speak a little Mandarin – that’s going to be invaluable. The innovation Pete saw reaffirmed our desire to use technology to stay ahead of our competitors. We’ve been evaluating the potential of AI for a while; those plans are now going full steam ahead. We believe it can play a role in the whole campaign lifecycle, from briefing and strategy through to production and distribution.
China is truly at the cutting edge of the 21st century business world. Pete witnessed a lot of entrepreneurial activity, with a lot of ambition evident. AI is firmly established as a norm across many sectors. 300kph Maglev trains whisked him from Hong Kong to Shenzhen in 15 minutes via train terminals that were more like airports than the rather run-of-the-mill train stations found in the UK. Shenzhen airport is one of the most impressive structures he has ever seen. It almost defies physics. WeChat is replacing email as a way to talk to friends, prospects, clients and family. It can also be used for banking, peer-to-peer payments, ordering cabs, ordering food… it’s like Facebook on steroids.
A mantra we constantly say to ourselves at Nemorin is ‘disrupt, or be disrupted’. That phrase is usually bandied around in large companies to try to ward off the threat of a start-up entering their space. Even though we’re still a small, agile business ourselves, it has relevance for us too. The pace of change is so great in our industry that it’s easy to become yesterday’s news.
Seeing what’s happening in China and Hong Kong really bought that home. For any agency that wants to compete on a global scale, it pays to look East for inspiration.