It was probably something like a keyword experience: "We had dreamlike click numbers," recalls Simon Gerads, "but from prospective customers who would never become our customers." Motorhome owners and camping fans on their internet search for "fuel cells" are simply not part of the target group of aixcon PowerSystems GmbH from Stolberg. The fact that they nevertheless felt addressed by the web advertisement of the globally active industrial plant manufacturer is due to the not always self-explanatory business of online marketing. For digital competence and international strength: what Simon Gerards, together with his two comrades-in-arms as second-generation managing director, has set in motion on his own initiative is to lead to its goal thanks to a new initiative for companies from the Euregio with professional support. "DigitSME" is the name of the Interreg project launched by the Aachen Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which will be open to companies from all sectors for a good three years.

"The programme offers the opportunity to advance international business through digitalisation, to tap into new potential in previously unreached markets and to get to know partners in the Euregio or even beyond," explains Dr Gunter Schaible, Managing Director of the Aachen Chamber of Commerce and Industry for the "International, Transport and Trade" division. The initiative, which runs until the end of June 2023, is divided into three main areas. It starts with answering a questionnaire to help determine the status quo and the needs of the respective company. Subsequently, the concerns and needs identified by the questionnaires are to be explored in greater depth in individual interviews with the companies. In addition, focal points for workshops are to be developed, in which the companies can participate free of charge. The project will conclude with targeted coaching to support the start-up or expansion of international business. "The special thing about this project is the active exchange with experts as well as the participants with each other," emphasises Schaible.

Among the participants is Simon Gerards, who develops and manufactures power electronics products with his 20-employee training company in Stolberg - such as systems for welding, coating, for fuel cells and many other applications. "This often involves specific custom-made products in order to guarantee each customer the best integration into their perhaps already existing system," explains the 32-year-old young managing director. For a long time, marketing in the 26-year-old company has taken place in the classical way; however, the international orientation has always existed. Founded in 1994, "aixcon PowerSystems" has been in its second generation of management since 2018. "We are active worldwide - accordingly, we also have to do marketing worldwide," says Mr. Gerads: "By far the most effective way is now via the Internet.

For a medium-sized company of its size to present itself professionally at trade fairs - especially during the Corona crisis - means a comparatively "gigantic investment", says Mr. Gerads. Already two years ago, the company therefore attached great importance to redesigning its website and starting with targeted search engine optimisation. "That is a huge effort for a company that is not exactly a specialist in this field," Mr. Gerads sums up. Yet the company can certainly be seen to be doing well: In the field of composite pipe welding, "aixcon PowerSystems" is considered the market leader with its systems, "because we can produce any length from scratch without any production waste," says Mr. Gerads. But how do you let a huge market of potentially interested parties know that?

Mr. Gerads has already answered the "DigitSME" questionnaire. The results were already clear to him beforehand, however: When the company recently underwent its own needs analysis, it became obvious to the managing director "that the German market is no longer our primary target. Rather, there is demand elsewhere - for example in the USA: "They haven't even recognised the product yet," says Mr. Gerads, whose company has already supplied customers on every continent with the exception of Australia. In order to further promote foreign business, Mr. Gerads has launched targeted web advertising campaigns for the international market: After first targeting Germany at the end of May, "aixcon PowerSystems" set its sights on the English-speaking world last July. With a view to international markets and customer acquisition, online marketing offers a much more convenient, because literally more far-reaching, option than the classic instruments of advertising.

The initiators of "DigitSME" were and are aware of this - from the Chambers of Commerce and Industry in the Euregio Maas-Rhein to the "Zuyd Hogeschool", from the "Agence du Numérique" to the "Basse-Meuse Développement". Despite the steps he has already taken himself, Mr. Gerads has high expectations of the project funded by the European Union - and thus also of the upcoming coaching: "Online marketing is ultimately a completely new area for us. That's why it would be ideal if at the end we had a strategy on how to manage it without neglecting our everyday business.

Aixcon PowerSystems GmbH – Mr. Simon Gerads