Talking Global

The challenges of international communication

The dawn of Globalisation is yesterday’s news. It was fun while it lasted but its novelty value has worn off. After all, the term came into the mainstream in the early 1980’s – an age when mobile phones were brick-sized and the Internet was still a glint in Tim Berners-Lee’s eye.

Talking Global

Today, Globalisation is part of the fabric of modern commerce and few major businesses ignore it. But embracing the phenomenon has brought fresh challenges – difficulties with communication probably being the most significant.

As trading between nations has become more prolific, so has the diversity of the markets we sell to. Even countries that traditionally lag behind in adopting new technologies have made great strides in recent years. The result is that the world is much more closely connected than it was even five years ago.

So what are the challenges?

Communication. The lubricant of global commerce. The conduit to more business or, in the event you get it wrong, less business.

Together, the human race speaks around 6,500 languages. Out of these, there are around 10 major languages with local variances and dialects.

Without spending a fortune on translators, how on earth do you get your head round that if you want to make the most of Globalisation and sell into as many markets as possible?

Sometimes you have to spend a fortune on translators. It pays dividends in the long game.

There are, however, other ways of overcoming language barriers to smooth the path of international communications. Some are fairly simple to adopt whilst others are a bit more complex. Whatever, Google Translate is not one of them. And English is the third most spoken language in the world – behind Mandarin and Spanish – so is not always your easiest option either.

Implications of Culture

But wait. There’s cultural differences too. Another conundrum to add into the mix. How do you navigate the minefield of myriad cultures that can frown upon something we might not even think about? Did you know, for example, that the colour white has very negative connotations in India?

Colour expert Kate Smith writes:

“White is the absence of color, and is the only color widows are allowed to wear. It is the acceptable color at funerals and ceremonies that mark death in the family. It reflects the basic quality of the color itself, in principle; white, as a color, repels all light and colors and therefore, when a widow wears white, she disconnects herself from the pleasures and luxuries of active and normal participation in society and life around her.”

Fascinating, and something to think about if you’re selling bridal garments in Mumbai.

Locally Globalised

As if this wasn’t enough, Google and the like now think local. You type in something into a search engine and the top results will be those that are most closely associated with your location and language.

How, then, do you rank highly in Chinese search engine Baidu if you’re based in Yorkshire and exporting to Beijing? Doable. But complicated and costly.

These are just a few of the challenges presented to the modern-day exporter.

Thankfully, as we’ll see in the next few blogs in this series, there are some pretty smart solutions and some interesting opportunities that go along with them.

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It’s all in the tone

Whatever copy you write, tone matters if you want to get results.

With the advent of the Internet came emoticons. And emoticons have saved the day on many occasions, when what could have resulted in a faux pas was rendered inoffensive with a single smiley face.

Yet emoticons are seen as trivial. This, despite recent research showing that the human brain processes a 🙂 in the same way it does a real smile.

It’s pretty much a given that emoticons are inappropriate for most business communication, which is a shame but there it is.

In its place, we have to resort to using the correct tone. And it’s the tone you take that can make a difference between success and failure in any marketing campaign.

Choosing the right tone for a sales email, for example, is crucial, but even the experts have a hard time getting it right. Should you be quirky and spark the imagination of your readers, while running the risk of alienating them? Or should you be serious and ‘business-like’ at the risk of sounding dull?

The makeup of your audience is key to answering these questions, but so is the type of information you give them.

MECLABS – an organization that conducts marketing experiments – recently ran a test to gauge the response to an email sent to users who had abandoned a free-trial sign up for management software.

In one email, a ‘direct response’ tone was used that focused purely on the benefits of starting straight away. In the second email, a more ‘customer service’ oriented tone was used that placed emphasis on relieving anxiety about seeing through the offer.

Researchers found that the second email generated almost 350% more enquiries than the first.

In copywriting, we are used to focusing more on benefits than features. Yet offering reassurance to consumers that there is nothing to fear can also have an impact, as it did in this case.

The big question is how do you get it right? Looking at the experiment, you could argue that both versions were successful at generating enquiries, so neither had actually failed.

The best policy, if you have the luxury of time and budget, is to do the experiment yourself. Copywriters sometimes offer different versions of a sales email with tweaks to the tone of the copy as well as content. This gives clients the chance to see if one version works better than another, without losing out too much.

Tone is difficult to get right. Human perception is not an exact science, after all. But it should be an important consideration when writing sales copy and ideally shouldn’t be second-guessed.

The benefits of long copy

‘Brief is beautiful’, we’re often told when it comes to writing web copy these days. Or words to that effect, anyway. But this isn’t always the case, even in today’s world where most Internet users have the attention span of a 5 year-old child. Again, so we’re told.

The truth is somewhat different. There are occasions where long copy is perfectly acceptable, and even necessary, if you are to convert words into customers. It may well pay to be snappy and witty with your succinct prose but there are plenty of instances when a customer will want to know more before making a purchase.

When selling your product or service, the decision to go for long or short copy really depends on a number of factors, including:

1)    Price
The more expensive your product, the more information people will want to know about it before they’re confident enough to buy. Even impulse buyers need assurance they know enough to make a sound decision.

2)   Number of customer benefits and features
If your product isn’t just a ‘one-trick pony’, then you’ll need to go into some detail in order to sell it fully. The more benefits we see, the more likely we are to be interested, and this needs to come across effectively in your copy. There are different ways you can do this. If you have ten features, you can list 10 bullet points, which would qualify as ‘short’ copy. But that sometimes isn’t enough to really get the point across.

3)   Complexity
Some products or services are simply too complex to be described in a pithy sentence or two. A piece of industrial machinery, for example, isn’t going to fair well with just a short tagline and a whimsical paragraph, so your reader will need quite a few details in order to fully grasp exactly how your product works. And, don’t worry; people will take the time to browse through this if it is written well.

Your audience will also be a key factor in deciding to go for long copy. If you’re approaching a professional or mature audience, they’re more likely to stay engaged with longer copy, but that doesn’t exclude others. If your product or service warrants it, then you should always go for longer copy to make the most impact.

One other benefit of long copy is that it’s search-engine friendly. Although this factor is one that is steadily losing its pull, it’s still something worth considering.

There are no hard definitive rules for using long copy over short. Sometimes, it pays to experiment – if your analytics suggest that short copy isn’t grabbing your audience, perhaps it’s time to draft in some detail.

An important point to make here; long copy may well be beneficial, but only if it is written well. Check out Copyblogger’s authoritative guide on how to write long copy effectively.

As you’ll see, choosing long copy is not a luxury that affords you the opportunity to waffle on. It still has to be engaging and focused, in much the same way as short copy. It’s just that there’s more of it!

Mission to Japan

Published in ’53 Degrees’ – magazine of the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

The chances of immediate success were minimal, I was told by my UKTI trade adviser. “But,” she said, “if you can afford to take the hit, go for it.” On Dragon’s Den, Peter Jones calls it a ‘punt’ – chancing your arm on that little spark of possibility that could easily fizzle and die, but equally could fire up an exciting opportunity.Japanese-flag

And so it was that I landed in Tokyo, armed with a smattering of Japanese, a pamphlet on business etiquette and some Japanese business cards.

Beforehand, the UKTI office – attached to the British Embassy in Tokyo – had carefully sourced potential clients and produced a comprehensive report detailing who I was to meet and why they were interested. My Japanese trade advisor later told me it had been a challenge sourcing clients for my business. Most companies who go out on these things have a specific product to sell, whereas I was selling a service – in my case, a copywriting service that would improve on the ropey English translation often seen on websites and brochures.

My first meeting was held at the embassy the day after my arrival. Still jetlagged and bleary-eyed, I somehow summoned the energy to cheerily greet my potential clients from a Japanese PR agency. I had been briefed that the Japanese place a high premium on punctuality, expect you to study business cards rather than just stick them in your pocket and take a very formal approach. In the event, I’d ticked the first two boxes but found the atmosphere in the meeting to be very calm and relaxed.

The PR company boss and his colleagues seemed genuinely interested in what I had to offer and even produced a business model detailing how both our companies could work in partnership. I was impressed. This was more than I was expecting. At best, I’d hoped to suss out market potential, but here was an opportunity to work in partnership with a successful PR firm who already had a client base and the infrastructure to deal with it. Jetlag be damned, I was buzzing.

A few days later, the two company bosses attended a UKTI function at the embassy and we talked some more. The opportunities for my service were potentially huge, they said. With an aging society, local competition and economic stagnation, Japanese businesses are being forced to look outward and communicate more with the international community, and they want to get it right. We ended the night agreeing to work towards our common goals.

Other meetings were equally enlightening. Over the course of the week, I made new contacts and won business. Other delegates reported the same. One delegate signed a £40K contract, another had an interview posted on a Japanese website. Even with plenty of social media savvy, you don’t get these kinds of introductions from LinkedIn or Twitter. The British Embassy is well respected in Japan and the kudos that comes from a UKTI contact is invaluable. Added to which, face-to-face meetings count for so much more than an email or a chat on Skype. It lends you credibility and speaks volumes to the host country about your seriousness in doing business.

So, was it worth the punt? Yes, absolutely. I now have a much better understanding of the Japanese market and have already begun profitable business relationships.

The spark of possibility has certainly not fizzled. Instead, a whole new world of opportunity awaits.



Premium business writing service for Japanese companies

Coming soon to


海外への輸出販売を行っている企業では、英文ホームページや会社・製品カタログなど を既にお持ちのことと思います。しかし、内容を翻訳しただけでは、英語を母国語とす る人には御社の商品の魅力が充分には伝わりません。

VOXTREE では、プロのコピーライターが英文のホームページやカタログを効果的なセー ルス・ツールに仕上げます。英語を母国語とする消費者に向けて、御社のメッセージを 効果的に伝え、実際の購買につなげることにより、御社の海外での売上アップに貢献致 します。


1.プロの英文コピーライターが文章を書きます。英語のネイティブ・スピーカーにア ピールするよう、簡潔かつ読み手を引きつける文章で、御社の製品やサービスの魅力を 強調します。

2. 御社のイメージを作ります。ウェブの内容次第で御社のイメージは高まりますし、 ぎこちない文章では、消費者にマイナスな印象を与えます。

3. プロによる魅力的な文章にすることにより、Googleなどの検索エンジンでのヒッ ト率が上がります。海外の消費者には、御社の製品・サービスの検索が容易になります。

次頁で、実際に VOXTREE が手がけたウェブの書き直しの実例をご覧ください。


AL Consulting 社 (英国のコンサルティング会社) Dr Fred Ayres のコメント 「VOXTREE のサービスをカタログとウェブで 2 回利用しました。品質と時間にとても満 足しています。新規開拓のため 42 社にカタログを送付したところ、3 社とビジネスが 成立し、2 百万円の売り上げにつながりました。」

The Power of the Business Blog

Published this month in Chamber of Commerce ‘Business Matters’ magazine:

As a tool for getting your business noticed, the blog is one of the cheapest and most effective methods at your disposal. But it’s important to invest time in producing good content to make it work. By NEIL STONEHAM

It wasn’t that long ago that nobody had ever heard of the word ‘blog’. At some point, one clever wag merged the two words ‘web log’ and you can now find the result in the Oxford Dictionary.

Today, blogs have become the mouthpiece for a whole generation of individuals and businesses alike. It’s a crowded market, for sure. But if you approach creating your business blog in the right way, it can pay dividends and draw potential clients and associates to your website in droves.

That said, blogging does take time and effort. While the actual setting up of a blog can take just a few minutes – using sites such as WordPress and Blogger, for example – deciding on what to write and how to write it can be quite daunting. What’s more, a lot of content must be produced in order to increase your audience and gain some payoff.

It needn’t be quite so painful, however, especially if you work out a strategy. For example, you need to study other blogs in your industry to see what works. And then you need to find the time and inclination (a big ask for a lot of people, I know) to write the content on a regular basis, so that people will start following your blog, sharing it and talking about what you do.

All this seems like a lot of work, so why bother? Well, you could ask the bloggers who make a living purely by writing about what they’re passionate about. You could ask people who are now recognised as an authority in their field, simply by blogging free advice. Or you could ask the thousands of successful business owners whose blogs are so widely read and shared that traffic to their website has soared, bringing along plenty of new clients and business.

Intrigued but not sure how to go about getting it right? Serial bloggers and local entrepreneurs Jane Binnion (Jane’s Social Media) and Neil Stoneham ( will shortly be running a hands-on workshop for beginners to get you going. The workshop will take place at Lancaster Chambers from 9am-midday on Tuesday 19th March 2013. Book your place here.

Well, what do you expect?

Earlier this week, I attended a briefing for a trade mission to Japan. Representatives from UKTI in Manchester and Tokyo gave an interesting presentation on what we should expect from Japanese business culture – cue much talk around the etiquette of swapping cards and the meetings full of awkward silences.


One thing that stood out in a way that I’m sure the speakers hadn’t anticipated was the list of expectations that Japanese business people will have. It was all, quite understandably, placed in the context of us plucky westerners entering into a quite alien culture. Like the L.P. Hartley’s past, Japan is a foreign country – they do things differently there.

But let’s look at those expectations:

1) Japanese people expect you to be punctual. Lateness is frowned upon unless the reason is serious and genuine (such as an earthquake!)

2) If you say you will do something, you are expected to follow it through. 

3) You should produce work of quality. Shabbiness is frowned upon and corners should never be cut.

This is another culture. And yet there is nothing in those three expectations that should be alien. At all.

We in the UK have much to be proud of and, when we do business well, we’re up there among the best. But, in my experience, we could do with having a few of those expectations ingrained in our own business culture.

I’ve encountered countless situations where at least one of these expectations has been flagrantly abused – people turn up late with the lamest of excuses; promises in meetings go ignored; emails go unanswered; services are rendered with barely any thought, and communication is sloppy with virtually no consideration for basic grammar and punctuation.

If you’re meeting a mate, fine. But there’s no excuse in business for not observing any of the principles that, absurdly, are defined as being unique to our friends in the Far East. If we’re to avoid the somewhat scary reversal of fortunes that lay on our horizon (think emerging markets taking over supposedly ‘developed’ countries) we’d better change our mindset. And fast.