Case study: 5 key success factors for an award-winning trade portal

Feb 10, 2020

Case study: 5 key success factors for an award-winning trade portal

Feb 10, 2020

Doing international business requires the right tools. One of these tools is a market hub, also known as a trade portal, trade information portal or trade intelligence portal. In this case study, we reveal the five key success factors of the market hub for the Ghana Export Promotion Authority (GEPA).

Over the last years, it became the place to be for international business for and with a large number of Ghanaian suppliers.

THE Trade Information Portal for Ghana

The market hub was launched in December 2017 and has become THE trade information portal for promoting trade from and with Ghana. On the one hand, the hub provides market information and tools to Ghanaian exporters. And on the other hand, it serves foreign buyers who look for reliable exporters and sourcing opportunities in Ghana. UNIDO and SECO supports this project and it’s sustainably managed in-house by GEPA. Exporters increasingly use the tool, the GEPA team enriches the content and the number of visitors keeps growing month by month. Last but not least, the hub is financially viable.

As the cherry on the cake, the hub won a prestigious international prize. In 2018, the International Trade Centre (ITC) gave its World Trade Promotion Organization (WTPO) Award for Best Digital Innovation to GEPA. Obviously, it made team member Joost and CEO Afua Asabea Asare from GEPA smile!

So, what makes the hub so special, and which five success factors have contributed to its success and sustainability? Below we stated the 5 success factors for you to consider when developing a trade portal. And spoiler alert: it’s a long read, so take your time.

Step 1: Strategic approach

To GEPA, the hub is not just a portal. It is an important instrument for delivering services to its clients. That is why several steps were taken to arrive at a sound strategy. First of all, together with GEPA, we facilitated focus groups, one-on-one interviews and round table meetings with exporters, public stakeholders and associations. The respondents made clear they needed practical and easily accessible information, with specific advice tailored to the country’s exportable offer. They were especially interested in potential new export markets, requirements in foreign markets, price levels and practicalities in finding the right buyer(s).

Furthermore, the information of other providers in Ghana was mapped, e.g. Chambers, Ministry of Trade & Industry, Ministry of Agriculture and several industry associations. A few internal working sessions with GEPA also learned that major improvements were possible in the area of analysing trade data and the translation of findings into practical recommendations for exporters. GEPA also realized that within the institution much knowledge exists about Ghanaian exporters and their exportable offer, but that such information was not (yet) disseminated to foreign buyers. A quick-win was within reach.

Finally, a good practice benchmark was conducted with international trade portals from, amongst others, Australia, New Zealand, Colombia and UK Trade & Invest. These are considered leading trade promotion organisations and have had excellent portals for years already. So, GEPA learned from the best.

The assessment was used to feed the strategy for the portal: 

  • Ambition: to be the best trade information platform in the country and even the West African region.
  • Target groups: the two leading audiences, Ghanaian (prospective) exporters and associations, followed by foreign buyers.
  • Optimised technology: online, mobile-friendly, optimizing linkages with external sources.
  • Scope 1: market information on foreign markets (mainly EU), easily presented by sector and product. As well as daily trade-related news, events/exhibitions and practical trade tools.
  • Scope 2: promoting the exportable offer and trustworthy exporters in Ghana.
  • Sector focus: big focus on non-traditional and added value export products, in line with the National Export Development Plan.
  • Collaboration with external stakeholders, e.g. CBI, ITC and domestic partners.
  • Allocation of resources: all content development and management to be done in house by a dedicated team of GEPA staff representing all major departments within the institution.
  • Content and technical management: preferably to be managed in-house as well. That is why WordPress as an open-source software was used to develop the platform.

Step 2: Less is more – to the point content and formats

The stakeholders made clear that they prefer to the point information, with clear advice, as they rather do business than reading piles of reports and documents. That is why GEPA chose for an innovative but effective ‘less is more’ concept with:

  • Two types of market reports only: Potential Market Reports (suggesting new ‘white spot’ markets) and Competitor Reports. All of them template-based and optimized by trade data from ITC’s tools.
  • One-pagers, only in pdf, like the example for mangoes below.
  • Video animations, to enrich the dissemination mode and to engage with stakeholders through social and mobile media as well.
  • Needs-based: sector pages with market reports, market access requirements, trade shows, useful links and buyers.
  • A directory for buyers with GEPA ‘approved’ exporters and bullet-pointed showcasing of Ghanaian exportable offer.

Step 3: No duplication, but a one-stop-shop

From the start, GEPA realized there is no purpose in reinventing the wheel. Instead, it relies on strategic partners to incorporate their tools and information into the hub and enriching the hub’s one-stop-shop concept. The following synergies are incorporated into the hub:

  • CBI’s Market Intelligence with extensive coverage of EU markets.
  • ITC’s tools such as Trademap, SustainabilityMap, Export Potential Map and Market Access Map.
  • Links to existing tools published by (inter)national partners: trade fair participation guides (AUMA) market reports and export guides (TFO Canada, USDA), export registration (Ghana Single Window) and more.
  • Links to relevant databases and resources such as buyer databases, price magazines, doing business guides, e-learning platforms and country factsheets.
  • Sourcing of industry news through automated RSS feeds.

Step 4: Aligning operational procedures (KPI’s)

The hub is now managed by a team of eight persons, headed by one market hub manager. The team represents several departments within GEPA, and it has become a multi-departmental responsibility. Depending on his or her background, each person spends some time per week in updating content, researching, promoting the hub through social media and newsletters, writing news articles or technically maintaining it.

It speaks for itself that these tasks were new to all of them, and for sure they were considered ‘additional’ on top of the regular workload. To sustainably embed the new trade portal related tasks, GEPA incorporated the performance indicators of staff and departments into the quarterly activity plans of everyone involved. That way the hub related work became a regular output for each one involved. Deliverables are monitored quarterly as part of the Monitoring & Evaluation procedures.

Also, it is good to see that increasingly GEPA’s departments realize the value of the online tool. In addition to disseminating market information, the hub is also used by its export advisors in rendering advice to (potential) exporters. They use the online export readiness checkers, for instance, which indicate the specific needs of each exporter involved. Also, GEPA uses the hub in promoting events and exhibitions in which it participates with companies.

Step 5: Promotion and financial sustainability

GEPA actively promotes the benefits of the hub through its media and PR channels. It especially uses social media to engage with stakeholders. To reach out to Ghanaian businessmen and drive significant traffic to the hub, they regularly post on Facebook and built a base exceeding 10.000 fans. GEPA communicates to EU and USA based buyers mostly through LinkedIn. Hereby showcasing the value of the Exporter Directory and promoting Ghana as a preferred source for doing business. Furthermore, video animations are disseminated through YouTube as well.

Moreover, GEPA distributes a bi-weekly e-newsletter to over 2.000 subscribers. It engages with the audience by sharing highlights of the latest news and market reports and converting them into visitors of the hub where more information can be found.

Last but not least: GEPA has managed to attract third party sponsorship to the hub. The National Investment Bank (NIB) in Ghana has paid a significant amount of money to sponsor the hub with online advertisements. With the incomes generated, GEPA sustains the content so it can be further enriched and promoted to their target group. A great win-win!

Bonus tip

Still hungry for more? You can find more details on developing and sustaining a trade intelligence portal in the Online Guide towards the Next Generation Trade Intelligence Portal that we developed on behalf of ITC. The methodology which we applied for the GEPA market hub largely follows the steps that this guide describes.

If you are curious about what we can do for your organisation in terms of export promotion, contact Joost van der Kooij. As lead consultant for this project, he can tell you all about it. Or have a look at what Globally Cool has to offer in terms of trade intelligence portals.

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