Online marketing is the latest tactic of the Australian Trade Commission (Austrade) to double the number of Australian exporters by 2006.
Via its Web site last week Austrade launched its Export Capability Tool, an online questionnaire for businesses to determine whether they can export.
Users submit their business' details, and answer 22 questions on their aptitude and attitude towards exporting. The tool then processes these responses to determine if the business is 'export-capable'. With this information, Austrade can contact 'export capable' businesses to offer assistance.
According to an Austrade official, an export capable business has overseas contacts, marketing ability, spare production capacity and the like.
"[The questionnaire] is a sourcing tool," said Austrade senior trade commissioner, Michael Abrahams.
Abrahams said the decision to use an online tool was influenced by export-ready businesses being difficult to define.
"How do you use online services to fish in a pond where you haven't fished before? Where do you find them [exporters]? We've found a lot [of businesses] are accidental exporters," he said.
"We're trying to reach [business] traditional marketing methods have been unable to reach."
To help develop the tool, Austrade enlisted Professor Paul Patterson, from the University of New South Wales' School of Marketing. Professor Patterson has worked on previous Austrade marketing promotions.
"We wanted to design an instrument able to distinguish between high and low potential [exporters].
"We looked at studies from around the world, then put them in an Australian context," he said.
Professor Patterson then surveyed 260 local companies, ranging across industries and export experience, using market research firm TNS Sofres for data collection.
Abrahams said the initial questionnaire had 35 questions, but this took too long to complete.
"We then designed a second questionnaire, the final one, with questions that differentiate whether a business is export capable," Professor Patterson said.
The online questionnaire presents answers in a scaled, 1-5 format. The questionnaire gauges business' aptitude and attitude to exporting.
Professor Patterson said the online questionnaire was an effective marketing tool as it captured what he called "the thinkers", businesses thinking about exporting. That the questionnaire was free to use was also important, he said.
Designed to be more than push advertising, the questionnaire uses statistical analysis and is used by Austrade advisers in 70 offices around Australia.
"I think it also has credibility in having my name and the university's associated with it," said Professor Patterson.
The cost of the online questionnaire was "reasonable", Abrahams said.
Austrade's marketing efforts have complemented the questionnaire with telemarketing, mailings, public speaking and trade shows all aimed at doubling last year's 25,000 Australian exporters by 2006.