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.
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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?
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