Flemish businesses look to conquer niche markets with branding toolkit


HTMS in Mechelen is just one company putting the new branding package developed by Flanders Investment & Trade to use to expand its export business

Strong message

The metallic seals produced by the Mechelen-based company HTMS have to be innovative, and they have to be perfect. Astronauts' lives could depend on it.

HTMS develops and manufactures ring-shaped seals that provide high-tech solutions for spaces that need to be hermetically sealed – like spacecrafts. HTMS technology has been invaluable to international aviation and aerospace sectors.

Now the company is looking to expand its market by using the new “branding toolkit” put together by Flanders Investment & Trade (Fit). The toolkit was developed to help companies in niche sectors successfully break into foreign markets – or grow their market share.

The idea is to present Flanders as a quality label and offer companies more credibility, according to Liesbeth Schwartz, director of HTMS. “Almost all of our activities are export-related,” she says, “so the branding toolkit is very useful in further expanding our business.”

Showcasing strengths

The digital toolkit is made up of a number of materials, such as video, ads and PowerPoint slides, that give a quick overview of the unique strengths of five Flemish economic areas: Life Sciences & Health, Food, Solution Driven Engineering & Technology, Smart Logistics and Sustainable resources and Materials & Chemistry.

The toolkit makes it easier for companies, sector federations, government organisations and research centres to deliver a uniform message to potential clients, partners or investors. This should increase the export and investment opportunities in the region.

With its specialisation in aerospace and nuclear fusion technology, HTMS is a good example of a particular asset of the Solution Driven Engineering & Technology sector: excellence in conquering niche markets.

The success of one Flemish company can reflect on others, creating a unified image of high quality standards

- Liesbeth Schwartz

The company has been involved in several prestigious European Space Agency (ESA) projects, like the Hermes and Orion spacecrafts. It also acts as a consultant to the pioneering International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor initiative, an international nuclear fusion research and engineering megaproject.

Schwartz believes that local companies in niche markets can strongly profit from the toolkit, since it showcases the resources in the region as well as in the specific sector. “Niche sectors are already difficult markets to get a foot in the door,” says Schwartz. “By showing that you are part of a whole eco-system, you have more credibility and can multiply your impact.”

Schwartz says that the tool can help companies build on each other’s work, thereby organically producing a quality label. “The success of one Flemish company can reflect on others, creating a unified image of high quality standards.”

The tools also encourage the sectors to realise their strengths, and emphasise them to potential customers. “We shouldn’t temper our pride,” says Schwartz. “It’s about time that Flemish businesses promote exactly what they’re capable of.”

The tools can also facilitate the internationalisation of start-ups and companies that have focused on the national market. “The toolkit can broaden the vision of businesses and set them on the way towards adopting a global perspective.”

Schwartz also sees specific benefits related to countries with strong links between governments and industry. “We are active in some Asian countries, where aviation and aerospace initiatives are often managed by the government,” she explains. “The branding tools provide proof that the Flemish government sees international potential in engineering and technology, which can lend us a hand in gaining the confidence of new clients or partners.”

The tools were developed during a series of workshops to ensure that they are supported by the various stakeholders. “The workshops, especially those in which we worked per sector, were ideal opportunities to discuss with like-minded entrepreneurs, and it struck me how we had a very similar vision,” says Schwartz. “This experience and the new tools can help us to get out there as a group.”

HTMS will integrate the tools structurally in its communication strategy for business presentations and trade fairs, among other activities. The company plans to use them for the first time during the International Paris Air Show next month.

This is the second in a three-part series on Fit's branding tool. See links below for parts 1 and 3

Photos courtesy HTMS