What would you do to gain 4 more days per year?

Today I wanted to share some insights about personal work productivity. A key topic for all of us which has been very important to me since the start of my professional career.

Why? In my first job I had to quickly realize that my studies hadn’t prepared me well for work life. Among other things, my work productivity was poor. Despite my undoubted motivation and my best efforts, input and output where way out of sync. So, in order to give my career any chance at all, I needed to urgently do something about this.

So I started to look for and adapted many best practices, techniques and tools which over the years helped me to massively improve my own productivity. From zero to hero, you could say – at least within the limits of my personality.

What is personal work productivity?

As you know, productivity is defined as the ratio between output and input (P = O / I).

Consequently, personal work productivity is the ratio between the results of your work and the efforts/hours you had to put in to achieve them.

In practice this means that you can improve your work productivity if you either minimize your input (e.g. the time spent reading emails) and/or if you maximize your output (e.g. by achieving better results).

Why is our personal work productivity so important for all of us?

In line with the above definition, if you increase your productivity, you will either improve your results and/or profit by having more time.

To me, these are very significant, potential benefits. Because better results will help you to be more successful in whatever you are trying to achieve. And more time will allow you to either get even more things done or to invest it in other elements of your life which are important to you.

Consequently, increasing your own productivity will improve your chances to be more successful and/or will make you happier. Which is great, right?

What I really like about this topic: it is a true win-win situation for people and companies. Primarily, the individual person profits from his/her increased productivity. But this will of course also create additional value for who- or whatever they work for. So, we have a 100% alignment of interests and both should jointly strive for more productivity.

The modern (work) life productivity dilemma

Today, more productivity is needed. 2018, a study by the AKAD University in Stuttgart shows that working people feel more stressed out and have less time than ever before:

  • 84% of 1200 participating employees say that they work more than ever before without achieving everything they should.
  • More than 50% feel stressed by the permanent attainability e.g. via email or phone. They complain that they are too distracted to be able to do quality work.
  • Work life and personal life continue to merge. E.g., 2/3 of the participants claim that they answer emails during off-office hours.
  • The average overtime per week has increased from 5.8 hours in 2013 to 7.5 hours 2018.

To summarize: modern work life is very demanding. The fundamental dilemma is that we are constantly distracted by the buzz around us which makes it hard to focus. Ultimately, we struggle to deliver what is expected from us. This – by the way – despite all the new benefits and tools of digitization.

But why aren’t we more productive?

Reasons for low productivity differ but may include:

  • Too much distraction e.g., email, calls, messages, open space offices etc.
  • Lack of organization, planning and prioritization
  • Doing the wrong things, often at the wrong time. Not saying No to unimportant tasks.
  • Unawareness of smart technological tools & processes, or inefficient use of them
  • Lack of discipline, e.g. trying to multitask

What can we do to improve?

There is good news! We can’t change the times we live in but we can definitely deal better with today’s challenges. Here are three simple insights I gained during my career:

  1. Regardless of how productive – or unproductive – people are, everybody can improve.
  2. If you want to, it is quite easy to be more productive. Just be curious and open for better tools & practices.
  3. Being more productive is always better than being less productive. There are no negatives associated with higher personal work productivity.

As a summary: I strongly encourage everyone to optimize their personal work productivity. Just do it, there are only upsides!


So, what would you do to gain 4 more days per year?

Coming back to the title of this blog, well, I really don’t know what you would do…

But what you could do, is to e.g., spend 10% less time on emails. It is that simple. As an average office worker spends about 90 minutes/day on email, saving 9 minutes per day will gain you these 4 additional days. Probably even more.

How? Well, it is actually quite easy. Just apply a few simple changes to your daily routine:

  1. Apply smart automation & rules
  2. Focus on a few email blocks per day. Apart from these blocks, don’t look at your inbox.
  3. Read and/or touch an email in your inbox only once. After an Email block, your inbox should be empty.
  4. Work with quick steps and unsubscribe unwanted newsletters.
  5. Simplify your folder structure and leverage the powerful search tools.

This is just one example. But there are many more which will either make you more efficient or – which I find even more important – more effective. And some of them might just be the ones you have been looking for.

Now, are you motivated to improve your own personal productivity?

I hope so! And I would be very happy if I could help you. This is what I am planning to do:

  • After this broad, initial article, I will continue to regularly write about this subject. The focus will be to give hands-on tips and best practices which you might want to implement. Please continue to read my blogs and/or sign up for my newsletter on my homepage.
  • Under downloads, I provide useful information to download. E.g. a list of effective productivity apps and of relevant productivity literature as well as an overview of the most useful windows key commands. More to come of course!
  • Finally, I am offering trainings to companies and individuals. These tailor-made and entertaining workshops will make participants more productive. Guaranteed! If you are interested, please contact me and/or find more information here.

I hope that this will help you in one way or the other on your path to a more productive, successful and happier life.

If you enjoyed this article, please like it and/or share it with people you know are interested in this subject. As always, I am especially looking forward to your comments and/or your productivity insights! 

Egypt and the Swiss Textile Machinery Industry

Hello out there!

Would you believe it, this is my first blog – initially on LinkedIn. My goal is simple: To share some of my thoughts and/or professional experiences. I hope you will find some of them interesting and – even better – that you add your points so we can initiate a dialogue. I plan to focus on economic topics, opportunities and the positive side of things. My blogs can of course only be snapshots and will never be complete – they need to be short, right? And by no means, do I claim that my thoughts or my way of looking at things are “the eternal truth”. But for what it is worth, they are my thoughts.

The reason for my first blog: I have just returned from the Swiss Textile Machine Symposium 2017 in Cairo. As a mandate, I had the privilege to represent Maag Brothers Machine Works Ltd., a boutique producer of state-of-the-art, tailor-made inspection and making-up textile machines from Zürich.

In some ways quite a familiar activity actually. During the last six years as former head of Europe, Africa and Central Asia for Switzerland’s export and investment promotion agency Switzerland Global Enterprise (S-GE), I was used to travel extensively in my vast region. And together with my team in 13 countries and with many partner organizations I was used to represent and help the Swiss economy abroad.

Our task at S-GE was as simple as it was important: Support the Swiss export industry to access new markets and find foreign companies with an interest to invest in Switzerland. Covering over hundred countries and helping the entire Swiss economy across all major sectors (e.g. Life Science, Machinery, Food, ICT, Luxury Goods, Cleantech, Infrastructure etc.), it is fair to say that I had a very diversified job.

So my first blog could have easily been about e.g. any of the 150+ investor promotion events we hosted in many countries across Europe. Or about a Swissrail fact finding mission to Russia, a cleantech business & science delegation to Germany, our yearly Swiss Pavilion at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, a cantonal delegation to South Africa, a product launch at the Swiss embassy in London, our activities at the World Expo 2015 in Milano, or about opening our new offices in Astana, Lagos, Istanbul, Stockholm, and, and… But now, my first blog focusses on Egypt and the Swiss textile machine industry. And why not?

So coming back to my mandate: I knew a little bit about the textile machine business but taking into account that this was my first professional visit to Egypt, this task was quite a challenge. The Symposium was flawlessly organized by the team of Swissmem, the Swiss industry association representing our important mechanical and electrical machine industry, and their Egyptian partners of Nobletex, the biggest textile machine agent in Egypt. All went very smoothly and we as participants were spoiled with a perfect program at the Symposium and some unforgettable side events. Here are some of my observations:

With its population of approximately 90 million and its strong and unique culture, Egypt is a fascinating country. After difficult years following the revolution in 2011 and the change of power to the current President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, things seem to stabilize and the economy has begun to rebound.

Despite a solid GDP growth rate of about 4%, Egypt faces major challenges such as strong population growth (1.8%), high unemployment (40% youth unemployment), double digit inflation (12%), ever growing government debt (currently 95%), big trade deficit, lack of foreign currencies etc. etc. Not a pretty picture. But after the IMF agreed to a 12 billion USD credit for 2016-2019 and thanks to a very business focused agenda including various reforms by the current government, there are important business opportunities for the right kind of products, companies and mindsets.

For Egypt, Switzerland is the 16th most important source of import (mostly pharma and machines) and 21st most important export partner (mostly textiles). Overall the trade volume is about 1 billion CHF, which is remarkable.

Cairo, this ever expanding, buzzling capital of 20 million and host to our Symposium can definitely not be grasped during such a short visit. Just driving with a bus from airport to hotel, hotel to restaurant etc. doesn’t do the job. But it will amaze you about Cairo’s size and energy, the constant traffic chaos, the waste all over and of course about all the people, animals and street scenes you can observe. Fascinating.

Even after my many professional and personal experiences in most regions of the world, business behavior in North Africa and the Middle East are basically unknown to me. Strongly grounded in its religion, its unique culture and pace of living, the way to do business in Egypt is unique. As always when I travel abroad on business, I tried to prepare myself by reading “Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands”, a great book by Terry Morrison and Wayne Conaway which gives you great insights about the business protocol in more than 60 countries. You know, things like don’t use the left hand, take off your shoes, don’t give flowers as a gift to women, and in general what you should say or do or – as importantly – what you shouldn’t say or do.

However, things onsite at the 2 day Swiss Textile Machinery Symposium turned out to be much less complicated. I found the Egyptian businessmen and -women in general to be very kind, approachable and fairly easy to interact. Amongst the guests at the Symposium, there was quite a variety ranging from very westernized to more Arabic looking and acting counterparts. Also, English or French skills range from perfect to nonexistent. On the other side, I was amazed how many Egyptians speak German. Women are by the way generally covered. If not, you might actually be talking to a Coptic Christian woman (Copts form about 10% of Egypt’s population). What seems to be the same for all Egyptians (and Syrians who become more and more present in the Egyptian textile sector), they all have strong negotiation skills and know exactly what they want. And they like to smoke! Everywhere.

If you do business in Egypt, be patient, expect to spend lots of time and don’t hope for immediate success. In every in-depth business meeting I had, I learned at least as much about the counterpart’s social life, family, history, Egypt and his/her personality than about the concrete business topic. More than once I was invited to a private home of a business partner when I return next time. E.g. one new Egyptian acquaintance explained with pride that he was a great chef and that he would be honored if he could cook his outstanding seafood and pasta for me in his private home in Cairo. There seems to be always a personal note to business in Egypt. I quite like this. But on the downside, this will ask a lot of your personal time and commitment. As a general rule, you cannot achieve your business objectives in just one visit. Meaning, I might actually get to taste the seafood pasta soon!

As for the Symposium: I felt that the attendance of about 200 Egyptian businessmen and women on each day was impressive. Egypt has a traditionally strong textile industry. It is particularly known for its world-class cotton. And with Egypt’s current need for economic growth and for more foreign currencies, additional exports are a very important success factor (together with more tourism, more remittances and more income from the Suez canal and from commodities). And within exports, the textile sector plays a key role. This was reflected in the number and the quality of the Egyptian attendance.

As it is for many sectors in the economy, the Egyptian military is a strong player also in the textile sector. So be aware, many of the large contracts are commissioned by the military/government and are subject to very specific decision processes (public tendering).

Just as everywhere globally, probably the most important key to success for the Swiss textile machine exporters in Egypt is the choice of their local partner/agent. The symposium was a great opportunity for the Swiss to meet old and/or new agents and to deepen their relationship.

There is a longstanding tradition between the Swiss textile machinery industry and Egypt (e.g. Maag brothers exported their first machine to Egypt in 1938) and I feel that despite the weak Egyptian pound and the usually higher priced, top-quality range of Swiss products, the Egyptian textile industry can strongly benefit from the Swiss textile machines. And it seems that I am not the only one feeling this way: Having spoken to some of the participating CEOs or Head of Sales of companies such as Rieter, Stäubli, Saurer, Amsler, SSM, Jakob Müller, Benninger and many more, all of them seemed satisfied and even some new business was done.

So overall I think that this Swissmem format of a yearly Swiss Textile Machinery Symposium in important, new textile markets (last year they were in Iran) is an efficient way to boost business. And it is also a great opportunity for the participants of the textile machinery industry to network and to exchange experiences amongst each other.

As for me, it was a very worthwhile and memorable trip basically because of three reasons. First, I was able to accomplish the objectives given to me by the CEO of Maag (which always comes first). Secondly I profoundly deepened my know-how of Egypt and the textile machinery industry. And last but not least, I returned to Switzerland with a wonderful new network consisting of a very supportive, enthusiastic and fun group of decision makers of the Swiss textile machinery industry and of some new Egyptian business partners.

As a last point: I was thoroughly impressed by what the Swiss textile machinery industry has to offer. I continue to be amazed how our small country can create so many outstanding, innovative and often world-leading products across many sectors. If you want to know more about what the Swiss textile machinery industry has to offer, check it out here: FACTOR+

What do you think about this? Please share your thoughts!

My 10 Key Insights On Digital Marketing

Off I go with my second blog. But before I start, I wanted to sincerely thank all of you who read, liked and commented my first one. Much appreciated and very encouraging! Keep it coming.

Today I wanted to share some thoughts on marketing. Why? I just finished an informative course Digital Marketing Advanced at the Swiss marketing institute SAWI which was co-organized by the Swiss internet industry association simsa. Being an “old” marketer who studied marketing at the University of Zürich in the early 90’s and someone who spent most of his professional career in marketing and sponsorship in a period when the iPhone was not yet invented, I really felt I needed a hands-on refresher. In my last job as Head of Europe & Africa at Switzerland Global Enterprise, I had the overall responsibility for marketing for my area. But the “real” job was done by our marketing team. Even in this setup – and as consumer – I couldn’t help but noticing that marketing & communications strategically and operationally were profoundly changing at a very rapid pace. And boy was I right!

Here are my top 10 key insights and thoughts after having completed my refresher training:

1. Technology is the game changer

Fundamentally it is technology and the underlying megatrend of digitalization that enables today’s new marketing world – and much more. Without fast and seamless connectivity, cloud computing, ever more powerful, smaller and cheaper devices or without smarter hard- and software, sensors, ibeacons etc., almost none of the exciting new marketing innovations would be possible. Or even thinkable.

Therefore, today there exists a large overlap between IT and marketing. In fact all of digital marketing is part of this. I am thinking about topics such as CRM, social media, ERP, CMS, SEO/SEA, analytics, big data, real time data, artificial intelligence, marketing automation etc. Without doubt: today, successful marketing needs to efficiently and effectively master and leverage the best technologies available to us. This is also why when you look at marketing job ads you might think you got lost in the IT section.

2. Customers Rule!

It is indeed because of new technology that today customers find themselves clearly in the driver’s seat. I mean, for many years now, the power has been shifting from producers to consumers. And of course, also customer centric marketing is nothing new. But today’s new possibilities have really fundamentally changed consumer expectations, needs and behaviors. One could summarize this new self-centric attitude as me, everything, now and anywhere. These dominant and very demanding customers again have a profound impact on what products and services are being produced and even on the people, processes and culture of the companies behind.

3. Fragmented Customer Journey & Low Loyalty

Today, the customer journey is more complex than ever before. E.g., customers decide how, when and where they gather product information. And of course when, how and where they buy. Some of this journey will happen online, some offline, usually it is a mix of the two.

Now given that a marketer usually tries to control all possible customer touchpoints e.g., by branding them, creating a seamless client experience etc., this just shows how difficult marketing has become. Well, actually we have to admit that it has become impossible to control all touchpoints. Which of course is a nightmare for classical brand managers. And what’s worse, even if you have done everything you could to positively influence your potential clients, in the end they might still buy elsewhere. Customer loyalty is definitely not a sign of our digital times.

4. Marketing Is More Complex Than Ever

All of the above and more adds up to creating the most complex marketing environment in history. So far of course. The below graphic shows how complex things have become in this new time of digital marketing and how many different topics a company could be considering.

And we need to always remember that most of this comes on top of all “offline” marketing which by the way marketers used to purely focus on until very recently. Mindboggling! And with typically limited resources (time, money, talent) each company, independent of industry, size or location, needs to smartly decide what to focus on to best achieve its marketing objectives. Not an easy task for any company – but even harder for SMEs and startups.

5. Mobile First?

As for most things in life, size matters. And in this case, the small screen seems to be the new champion! Already for a couple of years now, the majority of consumers globally spend more time online using their phones than a desktop (e.g., Americans in 2015 spent around 2.8 hours/day mobile versus 2.3 hours/day desktop). And the rise of mobile will go on. Does this now mean for your business what most digital marketers hail currently: Mobile First?

Well, not necessarily. As always in marketing, each situation is different. And there is more to consider than pure usage time. E.g. people tend to use phones for social media, messaging and catching up on news and gossip and much less for making business decisions and/or product searches (which is still overwhelmingly done via desktop and tablets). Also conversion rates in a mobile environment are much lower than on desktops. And don’t forget: 90% of all mobile time spent are spent in apps. What does that mean for you? Are you interested in more relevant internet usage stats for your market? Check out e.g. Google’s consumer barometer or the Flury mobile analytics.

But without question, mobile is here to stay. So you should at least consider a true multi-platform (mobile and desktop) strategy for your business. Or at least make sure that your online presence works for all devices by using adaptive design methods. Because one thing is clear: If you are not able to reach your audience through mobile search or display, or if you’re not offering an adequate mobile experience you will miss out compared to your competitors who are.

6. If You Want To Sell, You Need To Be Found!

Not only your customers use technology to optimize transparency and control in their buying process but also you as a company have new and great tools to help you sell. Just one example: No matter if in B2B or B2C, your clients use the internet to gather information before and during the buying process. E.g., in B2B, clients search online an average of 12 times before they contact a potential partner.

So it is very important that you are present and found where your clients are searching. And I am of course talking about search engines – another word for Google here in Switzerland. Without going into details, but if you want to be found, it is an absolute must that your webpage is search engine optimized (SEO), that you are active online in other channels (e.g. social media) and that you should definitely try out if search engine advertising (SEA) works for you.

7. Content Marketing Becomes More And More Important!

As in the past, also today people generally don’t want to be sold to. So one possibly successful strategy to avoid too much hard selling is content marketing. The goal is to engage clients into a dialogue by offering them interesting and relevant content. Smart content marketing focusses on the overlap between your brand values and the interests of your clients. And of course, digital tools like social media, blogs, video etc. are very impactful tools for content marketing.

Because consumers don’t want to be sold to, in content marketing it is important to not talk too much about yourself, your products etc. It is much better to engage your existing and potential clients in a dialogue about topics that they are really interested in and which in fact might only have a broad link to your core business. Try to use content marketing to encourage your clients to speak back to you. Offer them reasons and tools to do that which can be as simple as offering them a feedback form, a hashtag or a blog. And of course, very consequently listen to your clients and reply to them if you receive comments. And of course make things better with this new market intel which is given to you for free by your most important opinion leaders.

Good content marketing is a continuous process. It helps you to better engage with your clients, strengthen your brand and thus finally support your business. Yes, people don’t want to be sold to but they might buy from a brand they like.

As everywhere, the return on investment must be favorable. I personally feel that this is not always the case in content marketing where companies often do too much of the wrong things. And as they struggle to properly measure the true impact of their content marketing activities, they continue to invest too much of their scarce marketing resources into this area. But of course, there are also a lot of good examples. Below I’d like to highlight some and underline how good content marketing and especially video can support a brand or sales by being engaging and ultimately by having gone “viral”.

The power of a good story

How to engage 86 million viewers to think about a technical product

Nice and emotional


8. Advertising Has Never Been So Targeted and Relevant!

To attract new customers, marketers try to deliver the right message to the right client, at the right time and at the right place. And for this, digital marketing is a dream!

The main reason why today marketers can target much better is because consumers have become much more transparent and locatable. This can happen offline where e.g., thanks to ibeacons, smartphones, CRM-data and more, retailers can identify customers as soon as they enter a store and provide her/him with a tailor-made customer experience. Or online where e.g. browser cookies allow webpages instantly to know about the context of new visitors (who are they? Age, gender etc.) and about their behavior (what are their interests? Which sites did they visit? What banners did they click on? etc.) which of course allows these webpages to display more personalized information and ads.

Today, this is often done automatically. E.g. programmatic advertising identifies who is visiting a site and subsequently displays in split seconds targeted and often even personalized so-called dynamic banners. This automated process involves a lot of hardware such as specialized ad-servers as well as software like DSP (demand side platform), SSP (supply side platform), external databases, CRM and much more. Quite complex! Which is why most companies will have to rely on external specialists here. Specialized companies that by the way mostly didn’t exist a couple of years ago. But the exciting bottom-line remains for consumer and marketers alike: advertising has never been so targeted and relevant than in this digital age.

9. The Ride Goes On!

This is not the end and things might even accelerate. Technology will further evolve and be the driver for much change to come. Of course, also marketing continues to be affected on- and offline. Some catchwords are: virtual and augmented reality, artificial intelligence, robotics, 3D printing, blockchain, marketing automation, big data and much more. All of these technologies will be used to offer a better and more personalized customer experiences and more tailor-made products. Let’s be open and curious about future developments and smart and fast to best leverage them to become better marketers.

10. It Is Still Marketing To Me!

Even in these times of unbelievable change, I believe that the fundamentals of marketing remain the same. Sometimes I feel that some of today’s marketers are so caught up in technology, optimization, analysis, real-time etc. that they lose a bit track of the big marketing picture. Which based on great consumer insight simplified to me is

  • thorough analysis
  • focused strategy
  • creative/integrated/high quality execution
  • controlling and optimizing

For all these steps, the digital age offers many improvements. Analysis has become much easier with all the information available – often at no cost and real-time. Big data analytics, artificial intelligence and social media engagement with your clients are possible new sources for real, exploitable consumer insights. In terms of execution, many great new digital tools exist to make marketers more successful. We can e.g. better than ever target our clients with individualized messages and reach them at places and times which were previously not attainable to us. And also in controlling, new tools such as google analytics exist to help us better and faster track, analyse and optimize our marketing activities.

However, at the core of all this remains strategy. And a smart marketer who knows how to juggle all these many great new – and old – options without losing focus. A client-oriented person who knows that technology is powerful but yet only a tool to achieve marketing success – and not the only focus. Someone who remembers that today’s people in a digitized, “high-tech” world actually profoundly cherish “high-touch” experiences – such as events, personal contact or real shops. And someone who can master online- and offline marketing alike and who ultimately knows which measures in what circumstances work best.

To wrap up my second blog: My class at Digital Marketing Advanced and the many discussions with the insightful teachers and inspiring classmates have underlined to me how much some of the marketing tools have changed over the last couple of years. But still, I believe that marketing fundamentally hasn’t. To me, marketing remains a mindset. A mindset that should not be affected by the far-reaching developments in digital marketing. But a mindset that is actually truly excited about all these powerful, new tools which enable us to become better marketers.

What do you think about this? Please share your thoughts!

How to select the right export market?

“Where should I export to?”

A very important and a very common question in Switzerland, where exports play such an important role for our economic success. This is why I wanted to write about this in my third blog on LinkedIn. Has it already been a year since I posted my last one? Time really flies!

In any case: approximately half of Switzerland’s GDP comes from exports. The good news is that exports are thriving again, resulting in an all time record in 2017 with over 220 billion Swiss francs. 2018 will most probably be the best year ever.

Locking back, exports have always played a pivotal role for this landlocked, small country in the midst of Western Europe with almost no natural resources to rely on (apart from the beautiful landscapes). To find a way out of poverty, since way over 100 years now, Switzerland had to become innovative, create new products and look beyond its borders to sell them.

So this lack of natural resources was in fact the key to Switzerland’s success and led to our remarkable position in today’s globalized economy. According to WEF, Switzerland is still the most competitive country in the world. And according to other studies, it is in the top 3 countries in regards to innovation. With a small population of 8.4 millions, Switzerland is the 15th biggest exporter globally. And what’s even more incredible is that Switzerland accounts for over 4% of global Foreign Direct Investments (with only about 0.1% of global population).

With the thriving exports being at the core of our economic success, it is no surprise that Swiss entrepreneurs continuously ask themselves: “Which is the best export market for me“? For what it is worth, here are 5 thoughts one should keep in mind when selecting the right export market.

1. It is a very difficult question to answer.

Of course, there is no “one fits it all answer” which market is the best for Swiss exporters, or for you. It is plain and simply a very difficult question and one you need to find the answers to on your own. Here are just a couple of reasons why:

  • Export industries vary: Of course, each target market offers differing market opportunities from one industry to the other. E.g., one country might be very attractive for Swiss food exports, but not at all for pharma.
  • Companies are different: Even within a certain industry, products and companies vary a lot. E.g., competitiveness is different, pricing is different, the whole value chain is different etc.
  • Experiences vary: Some companies are very experienced exporters, others are just starting to export. This affects heavily which markets should be considered.
  • People and cultures vary: In the end it is people with their differing preferences, cultural background and experiences who drive an export project and thus its success or failure.

2. Don’t rely on generic export rankings.

I think that it is fairly useless to generalize which markets or regions are the top export markets for Switzerland, or for that matter, for any other country. Nevertheless, many consultants and government organizations relentlessly publish such generic rankings. As an example which I know well (I have actually been involved in establishing it some years ago…), here is the yearly ranking of the Top 10 Swiss export markets as seen by Switzerland Global Enterprise (S-GE), the official Swiss economic promoter as of Nov 2017.

To summarize, according to S-GE, the Top 10 markets for Swiss exporters are: 1. China, 2. USA, 3. South Korea, 4. Singapore, 5. UK, 6. UAE, 7. Canada, 8. Poland, 9. Japan and 10. Germany. But is that so? For which industries? For what kind of products? For which companies? What people? Which kind of risk appetite and budget? And what does this mean for your company?

Again, I very much doubt the value of such generic, forced rankings for actual export decisions.

To make my point here, let’s have a look at how these top 10 markets have performed in the first half of 2018.

As you can see on this chart, with the exception of the US., Poland and to a lesser extent Korea, the top 9 export market according to S-GE have clearly underperformed. Exports to the UK, Singapore, Japan and Canada have declined or in the case of the UAE and China remained flat.

In fact, some of the big nominal export winners were not on the list such as the Netherlands, France or Ireland. Percentage wise, Netherlands (+ 50%), Ireland (+21%), Poland (+17%) and France (11.4%) lead the way, again with only Poland having been a Top 10 export market according to S-GE. Which brings me to my third thought.

3. Check the “near” markets first.

Why look far, when possibly your best export opportunity might be at your doorstep?

As for the example of Switzerland, in the first half of 2018, many top growth markets in absolute (money) and relative terms (percentage) were in fact “near”, European countries. Still as of today, 58% of all Swiss exports go to Europe. And despite the remarkable rise of the economies in Asia and the Middle East, this number has only slightly decreased over the last ten years.

Europe road sign arrow indicating direction to the old continent travel tourism

Why is this? Why are the somewhat ailing European markets despite all their political, demographic and competitive problems still attractive for Swiss exporters? Here are just a few reasons:

  • Cost advantage: Usually, the closer the export market, the lower the cost. Or the farther away, the higher the cost. This because of logistical cost (e.g., transport and travel), cultural misunderstandings, differing legal systems, differing technical requirements, time differences, regulatory differences, etc.
  • Heterogeneous markets with ample market opportunities for all industries: Europe has many different economies, in different stages and with different needs. From more developed markets such as Germany or the Nordics to developing markets such as e.g., the CEE countries, you can be pretty sure that there is a market opportunity for almost every Swiss exporter.
  • Preferred market for export starters: Exporting is tough! This is why 9 out of 10 new exporters from Switzerland start in Europe.
  • Preferential access: Thanks to the free trade agreement and the various bilateral contracts, Switzerland enjoys preferential access into the EU markets. Or in other words, Switzerland has a competitive advantage over other top export nations such as China, the US or Japan.
  • Europe is a success market for Swiss exporters: In 2015 a research study by S-GE and the University of Zurich has clearly shown that Swiss exporters are highly successful in Europe. Compared with Japan and the US, we have been able to gain considerable market shares from them within the time period of 2002-2015.
  • Stable currency: Believe it or not, despite the very difficult years behind us and the various currency crisis, the Euro – compared to many other currencies – is still quite stable and predictable. And furthermore, with Euros you can buy, produce and sell along your value chain in different EU countries and hence optimize your FX risks (“Natural Hedging”).

Please don’t get me wrong here. I am very much aware of the many issues Europe is facing. And I personally witnessed the game changing dynamics of Asia’s economic rise when I was living in Tokyo and Hongkong. However, if we talk about exports, meaning producing in your home country and selling abroad, my suggestion would be to first start looking into market opportunities in your neighbor countries. Which means Europe for Switzerland.

I’d like to add another point here which is frequently forgotten: For Swiss companies, often our business with Asia is not based on exports but on investments. Meaning Swiss companies produce in Asia to sell in Asia. Like e.g., Nestlé, Schindler or Barry Callebaut who all have tremendous success and growth in Asia. But again, it is not export – but FDI – and the majority of the value is created and collected outside of Switzerland.

4. Don’t trust export statistics.

Export statistics are very tricky to read. And hence a difficult basis to make your market decision on. I am by no means an expert but here are some of the examples I came across:

  • Switzerland has seen a substantial growth in textile exports to Europe over the last few years. If you think that this is only a sign of the reviving Swiss textiles industry (which by the way is rebounding thanks to great new innovations mostly in the technical fabrics sector) then you are wrong. What really boosts these export numbers are the return shipments by Zalando customers from Switzerland to Germany.
  • Did you know that a sustantial part (I heard 60%) of Switzerland’s booming pharma exports to the U.S. is indeed intercompany trade? Meaning that the big pharma companies ship certain substances from Switzerland to a production site in the US where new medication is produced and then exported again.
  • Another example: Looking at export statistics, Swiss watches seem to be very popular in Belgium but not in Luxembourg. One reason for this is that many Swiss watches – which are actually ending up in Luxembourg – are in fact first being imported into Belgium, only to be distributed from there to watch shops in the Grand Dutchy.
  • Much of the Swiss exports to the Netherlands and to Belgium are in fact what we call the “Rotterdam” or “Antwerpen” effect. Meaning Switzerland ships goods to these big harbors to be exported into the world. However in our export statistics they show as exports to Belgium or the Netherlands.

5. Know, talk, see, think, decide and do.

To summarize the above: It is very difficult to find out what your perfect next export market is. Apart from the fact that there are almost endless markets to choose from, it is very hard to find relevant information and even harder to interpret it correctly.

As you and your company are unique, so is your market selection process and your market entry strategy. There is no way around taking a lot of time and putting in your best effort.

It all starts with a clear business strategy (know). Then talk to as many experts as possible. People like e.g. your fellow entrepreneurs, your employees, industry experts (e.g. industry associations such Swissmem) or country experts and export specialists such as Switzerland Global Enterprise or the various Chambers of Commerce in Switzerland. And others, especially also various sources in the potential new export market.

And don’t forget to see for yourself. Go, visit and experience your future target markets and talk and meet your potential partners. Breath in the different culture and the personalities you might be doing business with. Be honest if you really feel comfortable with all this, or not. In the end, all these personal impressions and your gut feeling are as important as all the other facts that might have gathered before.

In the end, think about everything once again. Then make decision and go for it! If you have properly addressed the above five thoughts, your chances of export success will be much higher. Best of luck!

In this blog, I have tried to tackle quite a broad and heterogenous topic. Which means I needed to simplify and leave out many other worthwhile aspects. Nevertheless, I hope you liked it. As always, please do comment! Did you like it? Or not? Do you agree? What do you see differently? I am looking forward to your input.


What can I do for you?

As consultant in my own company, Triple Eight Solutions, I am giving hands-on impulses to companies and government organizations in Switzerland and abroad in the fields of strategy, marketing, internationalization and network with the only goal to create instant added value and new business for them.