Kai Kreos-Nemčok, the Head of Estonia-Asia Trade Agency, has been working with the Chinese market for almost seven years. She currently manages Enterprise Estonia's export activities in Asia and the experts who advise companies on the opportunities and risks of various Asian markets. Considering the growing potential of the Asian markets and the growing interest of Estonian companies in Asia, the team of Enterprise Estonia's Asian experts will grow to 12 members this year.
“When I joined Enterprise Estonia four years ago, the Estonia-Asia Trade Agency (EASi Aasia keskus) team consisted of two people and we focused only on the Chinese market. Today, we also deal with Japanese, Singaporean and Indian markets. This year experts from Southeast Asia and South-Korea will join the team,” explained Kai, who started studying Chinese in high school and has advised hundreds of companies on Asian markets.
Despite the growing potential of Asian markets and Estonia's increasing exports to them, there are many myths about how to conduct business in Asian markets. "For example, Asian markets are thought to have very similar cultures, languages and business environments, but this is far from true. There are some similarities between Asian countries, such as the fact that good business cooperation is based on personal relationships, trust and long-term cooperation," says Kai, adding that despite some similarities each country has very different regulations and business culture, which companies should get familiar with before entering the market.
In addition to different regulations and cultures, Asian markets are also characterized by very unique consumers with completely different consumption and taste preferences. "Trying to reach consumers in Japan with exactly the same strategy as in China is the same as thinking consumers in Estonia and Mexico have the same taste preferences and buy products through the same channels," explained the head of Estonia-Asia Trade Agency.
The key to success is adaptation and thorough market research. "Do your homework before rushing to Asian markets. Find out which markets are right for your product, which regions do your potential customers live in, what are the market restrictions and taxes, how you should tailor your product or service to the consumers there, and develop a targeted strategy for the right customer segment,” Kai said. There is no point in targeting all 1.4 billion Chinese consumers at once with the exact same product or service you sell in Estonia.
Familiarity with the market and knowledge of local tips and tricks are certainly important, and the Asia experts at Enterprise Estonia can certainly support companies in figuring out their way. Kai points out an example of the Chinese organic products market: “Although the Chinese market is an excellent market for Estonian organic producers, China does not accept the European Union organic certificate, but requires applying for a separate certificate in China. Due to the lengthy and cumbersome application process, many Western producers have abandoned the use of the word "organic" in China, using the word "natural" as an alternative. However, covering the EU organic logo with a sticker signals to the Chinese consumer that, despite the lack of a local certificate, it is still an organic product. "
According to Kai, many Chinese consumers are very informed already about foreign products and therefore recognize a foreign organic product by a EU logo covered by a sticker, which means that applying for a local organic certificate and using the word "organic" in China is not as important as businesses might think. However, the final decision on applying for an organic certificate and branding one's product should be made by each company themselves after a necessary market analysis.
In order to make life easier for entrepreneurs and to support them in expanding to Asian markets, the Estonia-Asia Trade Agency has top-level experts who can support Estonian companies throughout all the aforementioned steps. Having offered support to hundreds of companies and provided thousands of consulting services, we have not only knowledge about the markets, but we have also acquired the sense of what Estonian companies need, how to avoid mistakes and seize opportunities.
Kai's main advice to Estonian entrepreneurs is therefore to turn their eyes towards Asian markets and get in touch with the top experts in their field at Enterprise Estonia to move towards actual results already. "Asian markets have an enormous potential for Estonian entrepreneurs, and despite the ongoing crisis in the world, there is no better time to start your journey to Asia," Kai Kreos-Nemčok noted.
This year, Kai will move from Estonia-Asia Trade Agency to the private sector but is convinced that the Estonia-Asia Trade Agency will remain in good hands and will continue its work as effectively as before. "The Estonia-Asia Trade Agency has excellent experts who continue to provide world-class expertise and services to companies, and the expansion of the Estonia-Asia Trade Agency will continue also under the new management," Kai Kreos-Nemčok confirmed.