The 700 Year Partnership
When British companies take their products to market in Germany they might not be aware that they are continuing a trade partnership that extends back seven centuries.The Hanseatic League of German towns began trading nationally and internationally in the late Middle Ages, and by 1320 they had a base in London at the site now occupied by Cannon Street railway station. This pioneering group is still remembered today with airline Lufthansa literally translated as “Air Hansa”.
As eager as British exporters are to make inroads with the “BRIC” economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China, we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of our longest standing partner. In 2011 Germany ranked second only to the United States as an importer of British goods, accounting for a total of just over A27.5 billion, up almost 20% year on year. Opportunities exist across all sectors, with key targets such as aerospace and automotive engineering particularly strong.
Germany’s aerospace industry is famously innovative and has an annual turnover of 25 billion euros. Expansion has been maintained since the 1990s with strong current growth in civil, military and space sectors. Major players with manufacturing sites in Germany include Airbus, Eurofighter and EADS Astrium. Rolls Royce, which produces some of the world’s most advanced aircraft engines, has recently increased its commitment to Germany with a new marine service centre set to open in Hamburg. Rolls Royce already employs 3,200 people in Germany at two aerospace production facilities and a state-of-the-art mechanical testing facility. This standard bearer for British quality views Germany as a perfect base for strategic growth.
Because so many Germans in commerce and public life speak impeccable English, there’s a temptation to ignore possible communication issues. When it comes to a marketing translation or website localisation project, even the slightest misunderstanding can be costly. It’s not just British exporters who need to tread carefully. German companies sometimes make poor language choices too. The word “rucksack” originated in Germany, so a recent campaign to promote camping equipment in the country could have used that word without confusion. Unfortunately a marketing decision was made to adopt the English phrase “body bag” instead. No matter how adventurous the German hiker might be, we doubt they’d relish the prospect of that particular trip.
t’s also important to appreciate cultural nuances. Research has demonstrated that a critical element in German website localization is a focus on the values of self-reliance, achievement, independence and individual freedom. Autonomy, competition, and non-conformity are also cherished qualities. A highly educated population of 82 million has embraced e-commerce, and one fifth of all internet users in the European Union are German. This consumer group is discerning and price conscious, they expect an intelligent, persuasive bid for their custom and above all they expect to be communicated with in their own language.
When the United Kingdom first began trading with Germany, neither country existed in a form that we’d recognise today. Both sets of people quickly found, however, that there was a great deal to be gained by working together. To fully embrace trade opportunities with our oldest partner, British exporters need to fully embrace their language and culture. 700 years later, it remains a step well worth taking.