There are some countries that jump out as almost ‘no brainers’ for UK businesses exploring their export strategies.
A shared language makes the US a popular target. China’s growing middle classes have been a lure for higher-end British brands. And of course, the proximity of Europe and well-established trading routes and distribution channels make countries like France and Germany ever-popular choices.
But what about the more challenging markets? Is it even possible to break into these perceived ‘impossible’ markets from overseas? While the obstacles might be great, for some businesses, the rewards will be greater still.
Adapt or fail
It should be no secret by now that the key to success in exporting is to adapt. Companies that have understood and embraced this fact stand to gain a huge amount from tackling even the trickiest of markets.
Let’s take Japan as an example. The island nation of some 126 million people has a formidable reputation in business, is a major exporter and is classed as the most complex economy in the world by the OEC.
A very formal business culture presides and any trade is subject to strict protocols both within and outside of the boardroom. Combined with the potentially intimidating hierarchy of Japanese businesses, all this has the potential to put many people off even trying to break into Japan.
Those who take the time to conduct their due diligence, however, can find a wealth of potential hidden among the formalities.
The lure of Japan
Japan boasts a wealthy population. They have a strong interest in premium goods, a quality the Japanese associate with British brands.
The country might export a lot, some $694 billion in 2017, but it imports almost as much – $632 billion the same year.
It will come as no surprise that cars and integrated circuits and machinery are among its top exports given the nation’s tech-savvy reputation. But after energy requirements of crude petroleum and gas, its third-biggest import is broadcasting equipment, followed closely by integrated circuits.
Wait for a second, aren’t integrated circuits also a top export? Yes. We did mention this is perhaps the most complex economy in the world!
So, what is it that makes an insular society like Japan buy some of the things that it is perfectly capable of making itself?
In a word, marketing.
Once you’ve spotted the opportunity, your success will be determined by how well you adapt your offering to suit that market. This includes any adjustments to your product and processes. But crucially it hinges on how you adapt your marketing messages to convey your offering to your new audience.
You might be offering something that country already has access to, but if you wrap it up in a manner unique to your business and background, this will give you an edge.
In the 1980s, one German business redefined not only the company’s reputation, but also that of the entire nation on the global stage. The story is almost legendary now within the ad circuit, but it bears repeating.
Today we think of Germany as a nation of superior engineers; it’s one of the first things that jump to mind for many people as a German stereotype. But the UK’s history with the country is dark and violent. Not so long ago a German company seeking to market to the UK had to overcome the horrific legacy of WWII as well as the more recent troubles with the Cold War in the East.
In the 1980s, Audi took on this very challenge and working with BBH, they decided to put the ‘German’ back into the German Audi brand with the iconic phrase ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’.
Ironically it was a Brit, Sir John Hegarty, the ‘H’ of BBH, who delivered the slogan to the global stage after spotting it plastered on the Audi workshop wall from a dated, long-forgotten advertising campaign.
Instead of hiding the company’s German origin, they put it front and centre, blending it adeptly with the slightly sarcastic, lazy and ultimately very British tones of Geoffrey Palmer in the voice over in the advertising campaign.
The results are iconic and they speak to the power of marketing in reframing perceptions with overseas markets. Now of course Audi’s slogan has become synonymous with the high-quality precision engineering we associate with Germany, cementing the brand as an inherent part of the association.
Spot the similarities
If you’re left wondering where to start in your journey of adaptation, look for similarities. Audi and BBH played on stereotypes of both nations to create a campaign that struck the perfect balance.
For UK companies looking abroad now, even a nation as foreign as Japan has similarities to British business and culture once you scratch the surface.
The pace of agreeing on a new contract in the region is notoriously slow with the Japanese placing a great deal of value on relationships – which of course take time to build. The formalities of doing business are inextricably linked to this culture of respect and veneration.
From one angle, this is the polar opposite to the British informal business lunch or even after-work pint! But don’t they come from the same place? A desire to know who you’re working with.
The formalities, meanwhile, are akin to the British ‘stiff upper lip’. Our propensity for politeness is in itself a sign of protocol and respect.
Build messages around these similarities. But do so with your new market front and centre. Consider the UK’s stereotypes of Germany in the 1980s; the ad campaign had to poke a certain degree of fun at Audi in order to be successful. You’re playing a long and difficult game here and you will need the very best localisation and translation experts to help you strike the perfect balance.
The team at Bubbles Translation have helped over 1,300 clients to take their brand and business to new markets. Speak to our team today to find out how we can help with your next expansion.