How not to fail at going global

Ten years ago, when the world's population was just over six billion, some three and a half million people used the internet. Today, with the population at just under 6.8 billion, that figure is fast approaching two billion, representing growth of over 380 percent. With this exploding global population of internet users, marketers that are not planning to capture foreign markets via the internet are positioning themselves to lose big.

"In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable." Every digital marketer should heed the advice of Eisenhower, and none more so than those who are looking to enter new and emerging markets abroad.

With that in mind, here are three pertinent planning considerations that might also have been addressed in an entirely different context:

  1. Do you have good reason to enter new territory?
  2. Have you got what you need to settle here?
  3. What makes a digital immigrant welcome?

Do you have good reason to enter new territory?

BuddeCom's report on the Global Digital Economy is optimistic: "While the economic slowdown is curbing e-commerce growth somewhat in most markets, there is evidence so far that the online retail market has remained steady due mostly to the lower prices and convenience offered via online shopping. Spending on online advertising also continues to grow in the face of economic uncertainty, and in 2010 online advertising should account for around 13 percent of overall ad spending worldwide". 

In particular, Asia accounts for over 40 percent of the world's internet users and China has 30 percent more internet users than the U.S. But wherever you consider your new target markets to be, your first task will be to check out the online competition. Of course you'll avoid any oversaturated markets, but some competition is exciting: It shows there's a demand for your goods and services.  

Have you got what you need to settle here?

The first rule for capturing foreign markets is to have your brand, slogans, and associations verified -- i.e., checked for negative connotations.

When Colgate launched a toothpaste brand called "Cue" in France, the brand clearly hadn't bothered to do its homework. Unsuspecting bonnes femmes who'd asked for Cue might just as easily been presented with a hardcore porn magazine of the same name that had been on France's top shelves for years.

Next, crank up the search engines with the right search terms. And no, this doesn't mean plonking the key search terms of your own language into some automatic translation device and using the results for each target market. Consider this: The proper French term for computer is ordinateur, though in practice, the term PC is more commonly used. Another example: the term car insurance. A perfectly correct translation would be l'assurance automobile, but a quick trip to Google's keyword tool shows few results for this term, as most people use assurance auto or assurance voiture.

And be aware that keywords on non-English language websites achieve higher ranking far more quickly than on English language sites. In other words, it takes fewer resources for a car insurance company to optimize its French website for assurance auto on Google France than it does for car insurance to be optimized on the U.S., U.K., or Australian Google.

If you don't believe it, use pay-per-click to test the efficacy of key search terms and online marketing techniques in general. 

What makes a digital immigrant welcome?

According to a 2008 report by business strategists Forrester Consulting, global businesses are losing market share worth as much as $1.6 billion USD per year by failing to localize product information.
 
You can make a foreigner smile if he comes to your house by welcoming him in his mother tongue. How much more important, then, is it to communicate in his language if you are to enter his domain?

It is often assumed that English is the principal language of the internet and that most people will therefore search and buy in English. In reality, English is decreasing rapidly as the language of the internet -- which makes perfect sense if you consider that 75 percent of the world's population speaks no English at all.

In 2006, Common Sense Advisory reported on the online language preferences in global buying of more than 2,400 consumers from eight non-Anglophone countries in Europe, Asia, and South America. The research showed that more than half (52.4 percent) of consumers buy only at websites where information is presented in their own language, supporting previous data that showed that internet consumers are four times more likely to buy from native-language websites.

If it is important to market one's products in the local language, replete with the relevant key search terms, it is equally important to ensure that one's website design is also sensitive to cultural nuances. Researchers Gevorgyan & Manucharova found that cultural backgrounds play a substantial role in determining web design preferences and attitudes (2009). For example, Western internet users prefer muted colors and a clean, sharp design, whereas Indian and Chinese users preferred bright colors and flashy effects.

Digital marketers that disregard all these facts do so at their company's peril. For successful foreign expansions, you need to think local, or at least ensure that your translation service can do that for you. And once you have captured your consumers, make certain that your success will carry through by implementing an infrastructure that can cope with foreign language queries (e.g., by employing native-speaking staff). Rolling out the lingo is the best way to win hearts and minds -- and business.

Christian Arno is founder and director of global translations agency Lingo24.

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