Yesterday, fifty years after Lieutenant John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth, Lieutenant Liu Yang became the first Chinese woman in space.

Her mission as a pilot on the Shenzhou 9 craft  is the latest step in China’s plans to have a fully operational space station by 2020.  As a statement of intent, of literally universal ambition, it could hardly be more powerful.

As we review another set of disappointing trade statistics, how do Britain’s ambitions compare with China’s? How do Europe’s? How do anyone’s?

Wolfestone’s client base is global, but with a head office in Swansea we naturally take an active  interest in the successes of our local partners.  Recent HMRC figures show Wales as the only UK region to register a rise in exports in the first quarter of 2012, with a total sales figure of £3,312m compared with the £3,298m 2011 Q4. Hardly earth-shattering, but more favourable than England, Scotland and Northern Ireland all of which registered a decline.  Encouragingly, Wales also saw exports outweigh imports for the 12 months to the end of March, making the Principality one of only three UK regions, along with Scotland and the North East, to register a trade surplus.

Specific gains for Welsh companies are timely and welcome.  The Q1 figures confirmed that the number of Welsh companies exporting rose by 2.7% year on year, by far the biggest rise in the UK and almost double the percentage rise in the next best region (the  1.5% registered in Yorkshire and Humberside).

With the Eurozone’s ongoing instability, Wales and Britain are looking to make headway further afield. More than a quarter of Welsh exports (26.4%) are now shipped to the United States, and there are positive signs in emerging markets. Latest figures show a doubling of exports to Brazil, for example,  largely driven by petroleum-related products.  The UK is prioritising Brazil as an energy partner and in 2011 UK Export Finance offered a $1 billion credit guarantee to any British company seeking to trade with Brazilian energy giant Petrobras.

Wolfestone is proud to walk side by side with clients in these new ventures. More and more clients are approaching us for website translations, with Brazilian Portuguese an increasingly popular option.  A Wolfestone website translation, marketing translation or interpreting service offers the ideal platform for new ventures in Brazil, or any other target market.

Looking beyond Wales, Scotland’s recent successes indicate a pattern of specialist, high quality goods targeted to emerging markets.  In 2011 the Scotch Whisky Association recorded exports of £4 billion, for a year on year increase of 23%. The boost was fuelled by an affluent, image-conscious middle class in emerging markets in South America and Asia, and the increase in demand raised concerns that  distilleries might even run short of supplies, as whisky production has a “lag time” of at least 10 years.  A recent £1 billion investment in manufacturing from Diageo promises to allay any such fears.

On a similar note, economists have reported a record surge in Scottish salmon exports.  Global sales rose by 22% in 2011, driven by growth of almost 900% in the Far East. Not surprisingly, the quantum leap coincided with China lifting import restrictions on the product.

Taking these as examples, Wolfestone clients are finding that they can use the aspirations of their target consumers to fuel their own economic aspirations.  China’s middle class numbers almost 200 million, the group is communicative and well informed.  Italian luxury goods giant Prada has seen a massive sales increase in China, with recent figures showing year on year growth of 38%.  China now accounts for 20% of Prada’s global sales, and the company’s Deputy Chairman Carlo Mazzi predicts a tripling in Chinese revenue by 2014.

Research by McKinsey Management Consulting confirms the procurement habits of this target market. Chinese consumers  value branded products, perceiving them to be more reliable and of higher quality. This doesn’t always lead to brand loyalty, however.  The average Chinese consumer chooses three to five brands in any given category.  They expect us to impress them and compete for their custom, and why shouldn’t they?

For British exporters ready to meet the challenge, the rewards are clear.  Those of us willing to respect the language and culture of our target clients, can build relationships which safeguard our economic future.  An ongoing flood of new media outlets is giving us unlimited opportunities to communicate, but the crucial question remains, what are we to say and how are we to say it? The content of our message is the key to success, and localising that message to a target audience is the key to success in export trade.  Once we’ve decided what to reach for, we need to measure our grasp.

“Oh I Have Slipped

The Surly Bonds of Earth

Put Out My Hand

And Touched the Face of God ”

(John Gillespie Magee)

Magee, a Canadian pilot was killed at the age of nineteen during World War Two. In 1986 his words resonated with a new generation when President Ronald Reagan quoted them in the aftermath of the Challenger space shuttle tragedy

The Chinese spacecraft “Shenzhou” translates as “divine vessel”.  As China reaches out this weekend to touch the face of God, what are are the rest of us reaching for?

DAVID JONES

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  • Paul Chammings

    We don’t just need to measure our grasp – we need to reach for what’s reachable. Space flight might be reachable for China but for most of us, it’s a matter of targeting incremental sales. We’ve talked about exporting to China before and of course I agree it’s an important target market, but it’s also a very tough nut to crack. Less poetry and more realism needed?

  • Here here Paul, less poetry please David! China is just one of many emerging economies and we ignore that at our peril.

  • Thanks to Paul and Andrew for the comments. I knew the poetry wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea but I don’t accept that poetry and realism are mutually exclusive. Personally I think it’s valid to point out the contrast between an emerging superpower reaching out to touch the heavens and a clutch of EU partners struggling to avoid the embrace of bankruptcy. I also think it’s valid for British exporters to aspire to China as a target market. I agree, Paul, that China is a tough nut to crack but if you’re looking for success stories, they’re plain to see. The export figures for Scottish salmon that I referred to in the article are proof of what’s achievable, and achievable in a relatively short time. That kind of bounce isn’t possible for every product, of course, but for British exporters who localise effectively, this market is a realistic and game-changing target.

  • I loved the poetry, David 🙂 so it certainly is my cup of tea. Although China is a tough nut to crack, as Paul rightly pointed out, I know of several success stories. One of this is an acquaintance with a rather booming wine export venture and his only customers are in China. The country appears to have an appetite for quality goods and consumers in China are prepared to pay.

    Andrew is quite right that one shouldn’t ignore the other emerging economies. One should however bear in mind that each and every country in the emerging world has different needs and while some, like Brazil and China are flourishing, others are still nearly completely dependent on international aid money and foreign government investment. Although there is spend, it is a different kind of spend.

    Hence, if anybody wishes to trade in an emerging country, research the economy and understand the market. As David said, respect the culture, the customs and the language. It will go a long way towards earning respect in return.