In autumn 2019, I had the opportunity to attend EXPO REAL, one of the largest real estate investment exhibitions in the world that takes place annually in Munich right after the city’s legendary Oktoberfest. This year, the event attracted a record number of 2,190 exhibitors from 45 countries. Over 46,000 people from 76 countries attended the event.
Among this huge crowd, Ukraine’s representation was limited to just fifteen real estate companies, all of whom participated at their own initiative. At the same time, various Central and Eastern European countries such as Bulgaria, Poland, the Czech Republic, Romania, and Russia all boasted beautiful and impressive national stands. These flagship positions were typically part of joint promotional efforts combining business and government resources in a bid to attract international partners and investors.
It is interesting to note that these major real estate industry events now offer a focus that goes beyond the specifics of the property market, with attention also paid to trendy topics such as the role of smart technologies, environmentally friendly approaches to urban development, and social impact issues. This year’s EXPO REAL saw the launch of an Innovation Hall, while the annual MIPIM event on the French Riviera next spring will feature a large-scale Innovation Forum and start-up competition.
During the days I spent at this year’s EXPO REAL, my partner and I had about 20 meetings with companies from Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Turkey, Singapore, and Great Britain. During these conversations, I was able to gauge significant interest in Ukrainian real estate investment opportunities, but the overriding impression was of Ukraine’s continuing low profile. In other words, the outside world still knows remarkably little about Europe’s largest country. This is partly due to long-term historical factors, but it is also the result of Ukraine’s relative absence from the international arena at events like EXPO REAL. This lack of awareness about the realities of modern Ukraine is so severe that some of the people we met were surprised to learn Ukraine actually has its own currency.
There always seems to be a good excuse for Ukrainian real estate businesses and the country’s official representatives to pass up on the chance to participate in major international industry events. We appear to exist in a never-ending cycle of constant turbulence marked by pre- and post-election periods interrupted by the occasional revolution. All the while, the country waits for the next hero leader to end injustice and transform everything for the better. Engrossed in this dramatic narrative of endless historic upheaval, we tend to forget that the outside world does not care about our excuses and will not wait for us. The result is missed opportunities for Ukrainian businesses and international investors alike.
There are no quick solutions to this problem. Organizing a major Ukrainian stand at the next big trade fair will not alter international perceptions overnight. Instead, Ukrainian businesses in the real estate sector (and other sectors of the economy, for that matter), need to adopt a longer-term perspective and recognize the value in projecting their brands beyond the domestic market. State support can certainly play a significant role in this process, but governments tend to work with different types of institutional investors at the strategic level. They will not negotiate the kind of individual commercial projects that Ukrainian real estate companies can offer to international investors. Nor is it practical to wait for bureaucratically burdened state agencies to commit to such endeavors.
Whether the task is promoting a country, city, individual project, or specific company, various simple steps can help promote the Ukrainian real estate sector internationally. Much like an iceberg, the bulk of your promotional efforts will remain below the surface and will not be visible. This submerged iceberg includes a detailed analysis of your desired goals and outcomes, as well as a clear understanding of your preferred target audience. The more specific and focused you are in terms of creating a suitable presentation, the more likely you will be to attract the right interest and generate plenty of meetings. This is only the first hurdle. As any marketing professional will tell you, personal communication and preparation for individual meetings are crucial for any successful B2B marketing strategy.
Another important component of effective international marketing is direct messaging. This can take the form of personalized emails, newsletters, or participation in specialized trade publications. While print materials are capable of conveying considerable prestige, it is vital not to overlook both the digital component and the targeting opportunities this brings. Digital strategies are a vital tool for getting the right message to the right audience, and allow you to tailor your messages accordingly. Your digital checklist should include an easily navigable and informative webpage, along with a full range of social media profiles in English. These platforms will help those who you reach out to learn more about who you are and what kind of cooperation options you offer, while also adding credibility to your brand.
The second stage of your homework is developing an engaging presentation and preparing the story you will tell at the event during face-to-face communication. As a rule, Ukrainian companies should start their story with very basic information. “Kyiv is the capital of Ukraine and Ukraine is the biggest country in Europe” may not sound particularly inspiring to Ukrainians, but it is important to overcome the basic obstacles of the country’s anonymity before moving forward to the meatier specifics. Ukrainians attending international trade events need to recognize that they are unofficial ambassadors for their country. In order to promote their own specific businesses, it is in their interest to debunk the many myths surrounding Ukraine and provide key facts about the country as a whole. This is vital if investors are to learn that Ukraine is an attractive option where they can do business both safely and successfully.
The optimum length for introductory meetings at international exhibitions is between 15 and 30 minutes. Anything shorter than this timeframe risks appearing dismissive, while longer meetings should be reserved for detailed negotiations. It is important to be specific and clear with your messaging. Visual materials are a welcome addition to such introductory meetings, as long as they are relevant and in line with the subject matter at hand. However, you should not be surprised (or offended) if people do not keep your promotional materials. People attending international trade events are often overwhelmed with such materials and tend to discard them routinely.
If you choose to present your project via a separate stand, you can consider a range of additional visual channels. These range from print materials to video footage and augmented reality options. A separate stand also allows for more direct dialogue and informal networking opportunities.
At the end of the day, attending trade events is an important part of the international marketing process, but it is in many ways just the beginning. Once you return home, you should begin the next stage of your marketing campaign. This means building up communications channels with new contacts and establishing a relationship as a trustworthy and credible potential partner. This can take the form of tailored personal emails and phone calls. Perhaps the most powerful option is organizing a discovery tour. This is particularly true in Ukraine’s case, as the country is still relatively unknown but tends to impress those who arrive for the first time, typically with low expectations. Bringing people to Ukraine is certainly an effective way of promoting specific real estate investment projects and the country as a whole. However, there is no secret ingredient. Ukrainian companies looking to raise their international profile should consider adopting a long-term approach that takes limited outside awareness of the country into account. Today’s Ukraine has a lot to offer international investor audiences, but it has yet to learn how to market itself effectively.