Within what dimension is AI communication?

Before I start I have to warn you that this blog is going to be a little longer than you’re used to from me!

Synopsis:

AI is a new buzz word amongst a number of my peers in the language industry and it spans across a variety of other industry sectors too. It has been given an elevated profile in recent months with the introduction of NMT (Neural Machine Translation) by Microsoft and Google. This, in simplistic terms, is machine translation in a large neural network trained by deep structured learning techniques. The results are producing some “human-like” translated content, even if the source of the original content is not entirely accurate. They believe that the accuracy will follow over time, and I don’t doubt that it will get better, but these results could have a more sinister impact in today’s modern communication absorption than on face value. I blogged about this previously. Since writing that piece I’ve been privileged to speak with some highly read individuals on the subject matter of AI, one such person was Marc Cohn who is the VP of Network Strategy at The Linux Foundation, and this has opened up my thoughts to a whole new take on why humans and human contact is so much more important when communicating.

The dimensions of communication:

In order to put this into context, I have broken up the way we communicate and given them dimensions.

Frist Dimension – The written word:

The written word is extremely powerful, as the saying goes “the pen is mightier than the sword” but it lacks in so much in depth and colour. Some of the best authors in the world can evoke these images but each one of those images is personal to you and your own journey to the point in time at which you read the words. How many times have you returned to a book, re-read it, and then seen it in a different way? The point is; we create the texture of what we are consuming from the written word based on our beliefs, state of mind, the speed we’ve read it and numerous other, outside and inside, influences. We’ve no doubt all experienced the social media Keyboard Warriors who then suddenly went silent after something was explained to them over the phone.

Second Dimension – The spoken word:

That leads me quite seamlessly into the second dimension, the spoken word. Our choice of vocabulary, our intonation, our breathing, our volume levels all add another level of understanding to the communication. Unlike the written word, when spoken we can express a simple word like “really” to be one of surprise or one of distrust.  A simple tut after hearing a long explanation as to where you were last night, speaks volumes and evokes feelings in both the respondent as with the receiver not possible without wordy exclamation or emoticons.

Third Dimension – Pictures or images:

The reason so many of us use emoticons is because we need to portrait a feeling visually in accompaniment to the written word. “A picture paints a thousand words” is very true and by coupling the written word together with images or emoticons, we can deliver a richer more lifelike message to the recipient but lacking once again the intonation of the spoken word.

Fourth Dimension – Video and Film:

One of the marketing successes of this generation is creating video content which goes viral. Merging the spoken word with moving images evokes a whole new level engagement with the recipient’s emotions and when done right can create an internet success almost overnight. Sadly it can also be used to evoke emotions such as existential angst, anger and other such ugly feelings resulting in fruitful recruiting grounds for those in society with different moral beliefs than the majority of us.

Fifth Dimension – Live music:

When moving into the direct communication from one human being to another there is nothing more powerful than live music. Thought provoking, beautiful poetry arranged skillfully with musical accompaniment and delivered live on stage is about as intimate as it can get in one-way communication. Yes, there’s an argument that the artist delivering this also get’s their feedback from the reaction of the audience making it a two-way communication of sorts, but this is limited to the message being given and does not diverge greatly from the original message. Obviously, this is very subjective and again the recurring theme of the present moment comes back.

Sixth Dimensions – Group meetings:

Meetings all tend to have some form of agenda, otherwise what is the point of having a meeting right? So when these happen there is generally some steer as to where the conversation is going to go. In a business meeting with more than 3 or 4 people present, it is good practice to have a chair of the meeting and with greater numbers, especially when it comes to negotiations, observers are a must. The communication here is usually divided into pack communication and if there are more than 2 packs they can get very loud and disjointed resulting in them becoming difficult to chair. Rules and guidelines of how to conduct oneself at these meetings will add another level of constraint and complexity to the event and in these cases, a single person needs to provide the authority and purvey over the order of the meeting. – The speaker in the house of commons is a prime example of somebody taking on this role. This communication level is rarely very intimate and emotions are usually evoked by pack mentality and belonging.

Seventh Dimension – Face to Face, or One on One

Before I being this final one, I would like to say that all the dimensions listed do not extend outside of the physical realm. I am aware that there is an etheric level of communications that stretches far beyond the limitations of our physical one, but this is neither the time or place to expand on that. There are also others with far greater knowledge and experience in that field, who can guide you through those if you have the desire to understand more.

Face to Face contact adds the final layer to our cake. Not only do we have the optical stimuli such as eye contact, hand gestures and other body movements, we also have all our other senses, smell, touch, and that all important gut feeling (and yes, this does stretch into the etheric). The power of being in the same room as another human being and being able to converse with one another freely is second to none. Engaging with all 5 (or 6) of the senses immerses one in the full spectrum of available emotions and is by far the most revered form of communication available to any sales professional.

Why AI will never replace human beings in sales:

Taking the above into consideration, it is quite easy to see why AI will not be able to replace sales professionals, but only if both parties value human contact. If you’re a sales person hiding behind social media and emails then you either need to up your game or leave the profession. It really is that simple! AI will certainly become good at recognising some written emotions, and most likely good enough to evoke a purchasing decision in a purely transactional sale such as the purchase of most things you find on Amazon, but it won’t be able to create the content needed to steer people down a purchasing decision that goes beyond that. And it certainly is not good enough to produce the levels of emotions created by books like the Haemin Sunim’s “The things you see only when you slow down”. Similarly, back to my industry, the content created by human linguists in marketing and such like will be extremely difficult to reproduce by the likes of NMT.

Where do you conduct most of your communication?

So far AI has managed to encroach into one or two dimensions of communication making it a fairly flat and mundane form, but they are certainly working on others. However, due to the complexity of the physical realm alone, it will be a long time before they can move it away from this flat communication field. It is in this communication field where I see a large portion of my peers hanging out too and consequently where a large amount of scaremongering content is being produced. This volume of content is clouding the overall reality in my view. There is so much noise about unprecedented job losses through to machines taking over the world with an Orwellian precision that it is often all too easy to just sit back and believe it. Yes, AI can determine your emotion by what you post on your Facebook page, but this is ultimately down to you. So be honest how often are your true emotions revealed on your Facebook page? Right now there are only a select few who know your innermost thought, in fact probably only 1 if you don’t believe, and two or more if you do believe.

So in a business world you ultimately have to ask yourself the following questions:

  • How do my clients what to engage with me?
  • How do I communicate with them right now?
  • In which dimension do I produce most of my content?
  • Can I move clients from one dimension to another?
  • Are my clients wanting to move to another dimension?
  • Does what I provide need a deeper and richer understanding?

In summary, there is a lot of good coming from AI and over the years that follow it will only get better. Yes, there are going to be some job losses, as there were in the industrial revolution, but there will also be new opportunities too. However, despite the quickening of the pace of innovation, things will not change overnight and we will all have the time to adjust, who would have thought 10 year’s ago you’d be reading this on a mobile phone (statistically that’s what 60% of you will be doing), but again there’s nothing wrong with that. But here’s the thing,

So here’s the thing, AI technology is here to stay! It is being used in all manner of ways but the one area I don’t believe it will ever take over is real and in-depth communication.

 

Just as true today as it was 4 years ago

A little under 4 Year’s ago I posted a blog about people’s search activity and when I read it today I thought that it would be a great idea to re-post it, as the content is just as valid, if not more so, as it was back then. Instead I’ve copied the content into a new post so that I could add an interesting little footnote.

MAY- 2013

I recently read a post by Barry Schwarzt that highlighted a decision which Google made to drop a service that they said was rarely used and this action got me thinking about why this might be.

Very simply put the service enabled users to type in search criteria in a their native (source) language and then use a drop down tab to choose a different language to search in.  Google would then use its own Google translate MT engine to fulfil the search request in that language and produce the results, again using Google translate, in the original source language .

It was particularly useful if you were searching for legislation changes in foreign countries, market leading influencers in industry sectors in foreign countries and invaluable when researching companies or individuals in foreign countries.

Now some of you may be asking “what’s the big deal? I only ever search in my own language anyway” well that’s the point.  Google has evaluated this service and decided that its usage is so negligible that maintaining it as a service is not worth it.  In other words “People only search in their native language!”

So why is this?

  • Is it because people don’t trust Google translate? There are enough horror stories around to suggest that this could be one of the reasons.
  • Is it because people didn’t even know the service existed? Another very plausible possibility; I certainly only found out about it through accident and I would consider myself fairly tech savvy.
  • Or is because we humans are just too frightened of making a mistake and therefore adding another potential failure variable into our search for answers is just a variable too far?

My personal belief is that it is predominantly just human nature and that we are predisposed to take the easy, or tried and tested, option.  If we haven’t been shown how to use something or don’t understand how to use something then we just won’t do it, which leads me nicely on to why over 72% of internet users only visit sites in their native language and why over 52% will not buy ANYTHING from a website which is not in their native language and only 30% will buy something if the Ts&Cs are in their native language.

Consider the following:

You are walking down the high street and there are two shops both advertising the same thing in the shop window.  Shop 1 is selling this item at a price which is 10% more than Shop 2. The problem is Shop 2 is selling a Dunstabzugshaube and all the specifications are in German.  Shop 1, however is selling an Oven Extractor Fan with the specifications in English, now which one would you buy???

Transfer this simple logic to a website and suddenly even finding the shop becomes a major task if you don’t speak that language.

February 2017

With the next 2 billion internet users to come online not having English as their primary, or even secondary, language the time to start opening up your shop window to a new audience has never been more critical. If you want to learn how to do this effectively and in line with your budget then just get in touch I’ll be happy to listen.

TGL

English is our lingua franca

It has always been somewhat of a mainstay objection which I come across when talking to potential clients about their need for linguistic services, that English is the company’s lingua franca and therefore all their training and internal documentation is done in English.

How shocking then to see that in one such industry sector (Aviation) that over a 1000 deaths can be attributed to miscommunication between native speaking English air-traffic controllers and non native speaking pilots. Read more here

It was a Harvard Business Report which highlighted this to me in an article last November Upon a more detailed scrutiny of the data there’s actually an alarming amount of non-conscious (I hope at least) arrogance running through the whole idea that everyone in business speaks English. My hat however is most deservedly doffed to the German trade unions, who’s country fair quite highly in the list of proficient English speakers in the work place, but who insist that delivery of company learning material to their German work forces is in German regardless of the level of their English competency.

In fact when I made the decision to study in Germany way back in the mid 90s I was told that before I could embark upon that journey in my chosen subject matter I would have to attain a mark that was within the top 2% in Germany in German, Mathematics and English ; and to do this I personally had to go to night school for nearly 4 years. Fortunately my many sleepless nights were worth it and I managed to get the prerequisite grades required. This level of minimum requirements felt pretty harsh at the time, but I was being retrained by, and entirely funded by, the Union so they weren’t going to just let anyone do it.

All of this is quite eye-opening but what I found most interesting about the results from the Harvard study was not  just the lack of English competency across the board, but the alarmingly low scores in the industry sectors where I repeatedly hear the objection that English is the lingua franca of that industry.

I can personally see that, in light of the recent politic shifts, a new wave of language standards are on the horizon; with many countries from across the globe taking on the German principles that in order to do business with them, although you may be able conduct every meeting in English, when it comes down to documentation and finalising of the contracts then they will want it  all in their own language, bitte!

Now we don’t want any miscommunication now do we?

TGL

The new Machine translation kid on the block

So here’s a quick overview of NMT. If you’ve not heard of it then it might be a good idea to get a little more familiar with it as this is likely to come up in conversations quite a lot over the coming months.

A handy little overview can be found here

And for what it’s worth here’s my take on it.

Neural Machine Translation has been reported to be so good that native speakers can barely tell the difference between that and human translation… Well that’s the headline we’re reading all over the web right now. Fortunately for our industry this is, once again, a very murky window into reality.

If you ask native speakers, as they have done in this study, to review a completed translated text in their own language they will award it merit upon how easy it is to read, both grammatically and contextually. However without having visibility and being able to understand the source text this is a flat and singular viewpoint 2D if you’d like.

Upon deeper investigation this is where the serious flaw of this new art of machine translation lies. In fact it is more dangerous than you can imagine. Let me elaborate.

The translated text is highly inaccurate when compared to the source text, so much so that regular Google MT translated text is significantly more accurate. As we all know the accuracy of Google MT translated material is already decreasing through their own admission of “Garbage in, Garbage out”. So the main issue here with NMT is, unlike regular Statistical Machine Translation, that the way it is written it is conceived to be true; even though it can be a wholly inaccurate account of the source material. Think misleading information from the gutter press. You take a single statement out of context and build a story around it that sounds believable but in reality is devoid of almost all truth.

As it stands right now, this is where NMT sits. It is in the long line of attempts to automate a human process that really cannot be done, particularly if accuracy and accountability are your end goals.

Yes there are very legitimate and viable uses of MT and a number of companies have them. By using a hybrid of human and machine it can eliminate a huge amount of unnecessary overheads, but here’s the heads up. Please be wary of the claims to NMT; it isn’t there yet and for all the good intentions it is not likely to be for some considerable time.

TGL

I’m an Expert

It is very easy to be flattered by figures. A quick glance at my Klout score this afternoon revealed that I’ve been given the accolade of “Expert” in a number of categories including these:

Expert Topics

Last updated December 21, 2016 at 4:27 PM
Sales
99.9%
Translation
99.9%
Globalization
99.6%
Linguistics
99.1%
I’m apparently ranked in the top 1% of the digital world. So that’s it then, job done. If anyone wants to listen to what I’ve got say about any of these subject matters just ask, because I know it all.
Sadly this really is not the case, whilst I am well informed in all 4 of those subject matters I certainly do not know it all. In fact I know a great many colleagues and industry experts who have a far deeper understanding in all of these subject matters and this is where my strengths come into their own.
What I am in a position to be able to do is provide people with a great all round understanding of many subject matters from both within our industry and outside of it, whilst also giving them access to a network of other subject matter experts who can expand on that knowledge and thereby provide an even greater understanding.
So if you want to accept these figures on face value and ask me a question looking for an immediate in-depth response, then you’re likely to feel underwhelmed with the response you get. However if you ask the same question with the expectation that I will get back to you in due-course with a full and proper reply then you’re in luck because that, with a little help from my friends, I can do.
Have a great Christmas and prosperous and peaceful New Year and I’ll see you all in 2017.
TGL

Terry’s takeaway 2016-11-22

Face to face is always better- no really ALWAYS!

A busy few days at the end of last week organising some last minute travel arrangements to Madrid meant I haven’t been able to update here for a couple of days.

Last night I landed in Madrid so that I could meet with one of my clients first thing this morning.

Up until today all our business has been conducted over the telephone, conference call and email due to the distance between our offices. Time zones have also meant that they have an intense end to their day and equally we have an intense start to ours. Quite honestly don’t know which I prefer if I’m honest but either way we both have the ultimate goal to do good business together and it works.

When the client then suggested that we meet in one of our voice recording environments so that they could evaluate first hand our set-up and project progress we were only too happy to oblige.

For some in our industry this would have struck them down with horror. The very thought of a client visiting their environment would induce a cold sweat somewhat akin to being spooked at midnight by a man in werewolf costume, and probably with good reason too. In an industry where there are over 28,000 LSPs (Language Service Providers) it is often easy for one or two people to set up a company, which on face value would seem like a much larger organisation with a majestic office space, but which in reality is a rented cubicle at best. There is a reason why people should do more research when looking for language services and also a reason why some don’t. The truth is you often get exactly that what you pay for and travelling the globe to see somebody’s bedroom is not good use of funds.

When our client met with us this morning they were very pleasantly surprised. In their own words “This makes me very happy”. We’ve had an enormously productive day and tomorrow is also going to be just as busy but we’ve achieved more in the last 10 hours than we would have done in 2 weeks and time really is money.

All of the above plays nothing but second fiddle to the magnitude of the value from actually meeting with the client in this face to face environment. The smiles, the puzzled faces, the frowns and the surprise recognition when the penny drops have all formed part of this meet, and none of which will be forgotten. So that when we all return to our own office spaces in our own countries and have our early morning/ late evening conference calls, the signs, smells and smiles will too be part of those meetings, even if we’re no longer in the same room.

TGL

 

A cultural weekend away with my second family

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I can see for miles and miles

Once a year a multicultural group of over 45 work colleagues arrive in a secret city location to engulf themselves in the culture of that locale. Leading up to the event there is a series of clues released, by the organising committee, with the final reveal around 3 to 4 weeks in advance of the arrival date. As a consequence, by the time we arrive the expectations are usually very high.

It is therefore a mammoth task for the organisers to get everyone there on time, especially as the participants come from all corners of the globe, and each year they excel and exceed all these expectations. This is testament to the talent that we have accrued over the years here are CPSL, in fact over the last 53 years, and to the enthusiasm of all those who attend.

This year was no exception and my work family and I gathered in the amazing city of Granada. A lunchtime reception of tapas and drinks at the Hotel Vinicci Albayzin started the weekend off in style followed by a number of corporate presentations celebrating our successes of this year and setting out the stall for 2017. A short walk later and we arrived at the team building session. What can I say? If you’re not first……. 😉

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And the winner is

With military precision the turnaround time from completion of the team-building to the departure for the pre-dinner walk was limited to 3/4 hour, which for me at least was a good thing because otherwise I would have most likely opted for a catnap and the result of that would have been “CATastrophic (sorry couldn’t resist).

The typically late evening meal was met with welcomed eyes both on the plate and the spectacular night-time view of the La Alhambra from the windows of our dining area.

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Night-time Alhambra

Just as the food and wine kept on flowing so did the tirelessly wonderful view, however those dark night clouds were also the bearers of something far more cleansing and right on cue our departure from this awesome venue was greeted with some torrential rain. Coming from a county in England where this kind of thing is a regular occurrence it didn’t faze me, but there were those who believed that I had purposely brought the weather with me so as not to feel too homesick. – Honestly I would have preferred it not to have rained but it did have the very positive effect of keeping me awake in those final few hours of a long but exhilarating  day.

My colleagues, who were fortunate enough to have been able to spend the previous evening in Granada, informed me about the high standard of the hotel breakfast on the return to the hotel so that when I awoke the following morning feeling that my body could certainly approve of a few more well spent minutes in slumber land I wisely chose not to.

Fuelled with enough energy to climb a mountain, we left the hotel for a guided tour of the city of Granada. One of the most important parts of our corporate culture is to practise what we preach. So each year that we meet we submerse ourselves into the history of the city we visit. Granada has this in buckets and around every corner a whole world of “years gone by” opened up its arms and smothered us in their delights.

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Beauty, beauty everywhere

Almost exhausted from the culture overload we have a small break as we travelled by bus to the top of the hill where the world famous La Alhambra Palace was waiting to take our senses into mind-blowing overload.

Every window had its own unique story, every tree, plant and flower its own smell and every fragment of dust reminded us of a time in the past which we totally connected with. Words are my world but sometimes even they are inadequate when confronted with the beauty of something so spectecular as La Alhambra.

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The importance of this experience within our organisation cannot be expressed enough. We are language and culture experts and the more we learn the better we do our job. The sheer joy of what we were subjected to over the weekend of the 5th November 2016 has taken me to a new level of cultural appreciation and for that I thank my CPSL family.

TGL

Using multilingual employees to translate

I recently listened to a live broadcast titled Coping with Translation which essentially was a panel of industry specialists discussing the need for “instantaneous” translation in today’s fast moving media world.  During the event the subject matter of using multilingual employees was raised and a few guidelines were mentioned as to when, and more importantly, when not to use them.

For me the best answer came from Renato Beninatto and I tweeted as much after he said it.

“If you need to control your message then use a professional translation service great answer.”

It is this statement which I’m picking up on today because it encompasses a great way to begin to understand the impact translated material can have on your business.

At some point in the life cycle of a business somebody comes along and suggests that to expand any further we should look at overseas markets.  I’ve blogged about how to evaluate where your efforts should be focussed before, but this is the next step.

Sometimes having an employee who speaks a particular language becomes a clouding decision making factor in that process but nonetheless it will certainly help when it comes to being able to decipher some of the email communication later down the line.  However using them to build a web presence is not really going to add any value to your marketing strategy.  In most cases quite the contrary! Using these employees to sanity check professionally translated content might also seem like a great idea, however unless they are professionally trained in the art of linguistics they will most likely only be able to offer an opinion from a stylistic position.  Even then, if they’ve not been in the country for some time, they may well not be familiar with some of the more “en-vogue” colloquialisms running through the language at the time.

To give this last argument a little more weight just think about some of the websites you have visited recently.  How many of them do you feel are showing signs of age and how old do you think they are?  Despite dynamic content and a full blown CMS (content management systems) the look and feel of a website, including the vocabulary, becomes dated quite quickly.  I read recently that to stay in tune with your target audience your website needs updating at least every 3 to 6 months, it should be refreshed every 12 to 18 months and given a full makeover every 3 to 5 years.  It is also worth bearing in mind that none of this activity includes the constant updating of your FAQs, blog and social media content.

So if a bi-lingual employee reviews your freshly translated web content for a country they’ve not been living in for a few years, their perception of what is fresh and cutting edge will most likely be at odds with a native linguist from that country who is resident there.  If you then accept the critique of this employee and request the changes based on this critique, you could inadvertently be sending out a dated message on the first day of your launch.  Not a great start I’m sure you’ll agree.

Now you may feel that all this is a little bit extreme but what I’m trying to do is highlight the point Renato was making.  You wouldn’t be engaging with a professional translation agency if you could read and write the content yourself, and you don’t know the language well enough to be certain that what your employee is telling you is correct.  With a professional agency you have far greater security that your message is going to be correct for the target market.  If the LSP you engage with asks the right questions in advance of any work being started, you can also be assured that what you will receive in return will yield a much better ROI in a much shorter time-frame.  This will then free up your bi-lingual employee to continue doing the job which they were originally employed to do.

Some might call this the classic WIN-WIN

Stemming the rot of commoditization

I have been toying with the idea of whether to post this blog for some time now… It was drafted a few months back when I was sat at a crossroads about what to do with my career.  The localization industry hasn’t been particularly kind to me in recent times and I found myself doubting my continuation in this industry.  By far the largest concern I had, and still have, is the state of the commoditization of the services we provide and as a seasoned solutions sales professional this goes against every fibre of my being.  It was only when I came across Empowerlingua that my eyes were opened to how to make a real difference.  The company is a young LSP with a great deal of experience and linguistic pedigree in the management team and being part of that team means that I can help stop this rot of commoditization and make a real difference to an industry which is on the verge of becoming another victim of corporate greed. 

Over the last few years there has been an ever increasing requirement to have things larger/smaller, louder/quieter, faster/slower  but here’s the thing….CHEAPER.  The service industry is one of the ones which has been hit the hardest by this and with numerous “TOOLS” to help facilitate this, fuel has very much been poured onto the fire.  It is only when things go remarkably wrong that the masses stand up to listen to all those who, with hindsight, purport to have warned everyone about it.

Well I’m here to to shout out from the roof tops before this happens!  With the increase in demand for multilingual material everybody wants it faster and cheaper than ever before, in fact if you listen to some of the industry giants they think that previously translated material should be freely available for everyone to access.

The fact remains, regardless of whether you use Google, Bing or any other freely available MT  tool, some poor soul (a linguist) has actually sat down for hours translating that material at some point.  In no other industry is it widely accepted that you can plagiarise somebody else’s work and call it your own!  Even the music industry has got 30 year royalty credits on songs and riffs that the musicians and artists create.

So I’m not going to be able to stop that happening, I am a realist after all, but what I can do is open up the debate.

A qualified linguist spends at least 3 years at university studying linguistics, in most cases it is considerably longer.  Quite often this is not the only degree they graduate from, in fact if they want to specialise in a specific subject matter they will most likely have studied and worked in that area first.  So tell me, if you’ve graduated from university after studying for 3 years, paying up to £27,000 in fees + accommodation and money to live from… Are you going to be happy just giving your talent away for free?  I very much doubt it, so why should the linguists of the translation industry do just that?

  • I believe that all linguists should be paid a fair price for the work they do
  • I believe that ALL translated material should have a price
  • I believe that if somebody has already translated a word, sentence, phrase, document that it should NOT then be freely available for anybody else to use. 
  • And I believe that we need to stop the rot of commoditization in an industry where all too often the only question that is being asked is “how much per word?”

Building with BRICS & MORTAR

If we reach back into our childhood, we’ll probably all be able to remember the story about the Three Little Pigs:  House of Straw, House of Sticks and then a House of Bricks.  The moral of this story runs deep within me and building using bricks and mortar is in the very fabric of my DNA.

Hardly surprising then—when the new internet generation of BRICS came into commonly used vocabulary—that I thought back to this story and produced the follow acronym of how to grow a solid overseas export strategy using BRICS & MORTAR:

B- Brazil
R- Russia
I- India
C- China
S- South Africa

AND

M- Map
O- Opportunity
R- Research
T- Target
A- Action
R- Review

BRICS- These are widely considered to be the new growth areas of business. Unless you’ve been living in an Anglophile bubble, you’ll know that—despite their ability to speak English—most people prefer to conduct business in their mother tongue.  If you’re wanting to sell into these countries, learning a few polite phrases and having material published in both English and their language will take you streets ahead of somebody who doesn’t.

M-MAP:
Quite simply take out a map and look at the geography of BRICS countries.  Can you get there easily enough? What’s the cross-country transport network look like? How many face-to-face meetings does it currently take to secure business in your industry?  How many more would you need when selling to a country that doesn’t speak your language? What would be the cost of these going forward?  Would it be easier to open up a sister company in that country or would partnering with a similar company in that country be a better option?  The initial step of taking out a MAP and understanding the geography of these countries will give you an indication of the size of the task you’re about to embark upon.

O-OPPORTUNITY:
In some ways this goes hand-in-hand with the above, and in a lot of cases it will be the catalyst for beginning your export adventures. But just because one client likes what you have to offer, it doesn’t mean that others will.  Go on a trade mission to the country if you can… UKTI offers so many great deals and subsidies for all types of business which can really give you a feel of what it is like to do business there.  There are usually subsidies to help with overseas marketing too; my advice here would be to engage with a professional company who understands what it is you’re trying to achieve.  Explore each and every avenue you have available to you and if in doubt, ask.  Somebody out there will have the answer – and  if not, they’ll know somebody who does.

R-RESEARCH:
Of all the stages in an export strategy, this is the one you cannot do too much of, primarily because it is an ongoing process.  Is there a market? Who else is in that market? What are your strengths and weaknesses and how do they compare to those of your competition? What percentage of the market share do you have at home? What percentage could you realistically achieve overseas? Have others tried and failed? If so, speak to them and find out why.  Is there a cultural alignment? Are there political differences?  You know your business better than anybody else and only you can establish the answer to these and SO MANY other questions.

T-TARGET:
Once you have found your market(s) you need to set your goals and targets.  Without them, you are going to get distracted.  It might be a distributor network of five strategically placed re-sellers, or it might be a financial target of 10% of your company’s profits. Whatever they are, they need to be written down and a strategy drawn up to achieve them.

A-ACTION:
Get out there and do it.  Exporting for the first time is quite a daunting process but there is a wealth of experience out there and you won’t get anywhere if you don’t take the first step.

R-REVIEW:
Annually, Monthly, Weekly…whatever it is, the review phase is where you take stock of where you sit in relation to your targets.  This is where the hidden things that you will most certainly have overlooked will rise up and show themselves.  Evaluate and revise, but most importantly, keep at it.  If you’ve done the groundwork, this is going to be one of the most exciting business journeys you’ll ever make and the rewards at the end will make it all worthwhile.