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Posted by on May 16, 2017 in Digital Industry News

Amazon Enters the Calling and Texting Battlefield

On May 10th 2017, Amazon announced that they were rolling out a new feature for their digital personal assistant, Alexa – free calls and texts between users of Amazon Echo devices.

While it is not the first time that Amazon is trying to penetrate a new market, or create one, this is a complicated one to enter. They have tried to join the travel industry, but did not succeed. They have also been pioneers in drone delivery, and I would not be surprised to see it become the norm in a few years. Amazon was also part of the firsts to join the digital personal assistant race with their Alexa product, which they keep improving at a very fast pace.

What is Alexa?

Alexa is the name Amazon gave to its voice-commanded digital personal assistant, which people interact with through the Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Tap or Echo view devices.

You may have read my post about Chatbots; Alexa is a very powerful and sophisticated Chatbot. While commands are still a little strict (not yet a fluid conversation), you can have fun: if you tell her “Alexa, see you later, alligator” she WILL reply, “in a while crocodile!”

Amazon Echo Dot

Amazon Echo Dot (Image Source: Amazon)

Alexa can do a wide variety of tasks, from setting up a timer, to playing your favorite song, reading the news, telling you a joke, turning on the lights, playing games or even ordering from your Amazon account the latest item you need. All of this by simply talking to the device.

Amazon allows developers to build Alexa capabilities in a similar way to how they would develop apps for iPhone or Android; allowing the world to create capabilities for their devices, providing scale instantly.

And now, they even allow you to call and text through Alexa!

So why does it matter that they offer calling + texting functionalities?

With approximately 65 million Amazon Prime users (paid subscription to get free deliveries, access to music and films plus more) and an overall estimated 300 million users in total, Amazon is a gigantic ecosystem of its own. When rolling out new features, Amazon instantly touchs hundreds of millions of people; similar to Facebook or Google rolling out a new feature.

The battlefield for calling and texting is crowded however, with very large players already heavily in it such as Facebook with both WhatsApp and Messenger, Apple with iMessage, Microsoft with Skype, the Japanese platform Line and many others.

With approximately 4.9 billion mobile users across the world (WeAreSocial + Hootsuite 2017 report) the opportunity to attract and retain users – and then monetize the relationship one way or another – is gigantic.

By offering this new service, Amazon is trying to take a piece of this pot, getting deeper in day-to-day lives, gathering more data and knowledge about their user’s habits which they can then aggregate into insights for the advertisers on their platform allowing for more personalized experiences and recommendations.

The more actions you can do in one ecosystem, the fewer things you have to get into another ecosystem to get done. When Amazon allows you to seamlessly make lists, order items online and listen to the news, that’s a wide array of other third party apps and systems they have now rendered useless.

By allowing users to call and text, they are – to some extent – replacing your need for a smartphone.

How is this applicable to the hotel industry?

Marriott International is a pioneer in the technology actually, always looking into creative ways to integrate technology in their hotel rooms. Currently Marriott is testing multiple variations in a few hotels, enabling guests to request services, manage their room (lights, tv, etc.), and learn about the local area through voice commands, talking with Alexa.

Wynn Hotels also jumped into it, and already offer it across all their rooms in Las Vegas.

Thinking about the future, I wouldn’t be surprised if brands and marketers start leveraging voice-command digital personal assistants more heavily to answer customer needs and enabling faster/more efficient service for all of a guest’s little requests. True luxury will always require a human touch in my mind, but where applicable, technology will take a larger part in the coming years.

As voice-commanded digital assistants become the norm in households, a guest’s expectation will be to experience this in his/her hotel room. Now whether it’s an Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Siri-enabled iPad or another player yet to come, only time will tell.

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Posted by on Jan 31, 2017 in All Matters SEO

The Rise of Chatbots: Will They Replace Humans?

Unless you have been avoiding social media or technology news these days, you will likely have heard of the current enthusiasm around Bots, in particular Chatbots.

While this is not new technology – the first ever Chatbot, Eliza, was created in 1966, Chatbots have been gaining momentum lately, especially in the travel industry. They are given names by their creators – Taylor, Lola, Alisson, Ana, Julie, or Sofia – but don’t be fooled, you are not talking to an actual human, you are talking to something powered by Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) that was only coded by a human.

Let’s have a (human) conversation about this new breed of personal assistants and travel agents.

Chatbots

(Image Source: Christos)

Chatbots? What are you even talking about!?

“Artificial intelligence platforms that use instant messaging as an application interface” …users can “add these bots to friends lists and send messages to bots just like they’d message one of their friends. But with bots, consumers are talking to a database or program and not actually communicating with a human.” -Skift

But Bots are not reserved for the most tech savvy customers; Bots are actually destined to be more user-friendly than any other system. Think of it: they allow you to have a conversation about your research, not to think about how to ask a search engine about what you are looking for.

Most major digital behemoths are investing in Bots. Personal assistants Alexa (Amazon), Siri (Apple), Google’s Allo or Cortana (Microsoft) are commonly known and vastly used nowadays. Instant messaging systems such as Microsoft’s Skype, Facebook’s Messenger and WhatsApp apps, and Kik are part of our day-to-day lives and the backbone of Chatbots’ development.

The latest Chatbots scrape the web for the information you are asking them, and return it to you in a chat-like interface. Most Bots use A.I. and databases to become smarter and evolve over time so that they can respond quicker (rather than searching each query for the first time each time), potentially anticipate your questions, and learn about your preferences. Earlier Bots were designed to answer only specific questions in a specific way, and if the user was not using the right command the Bot would not understand. But these days are (mostly) over as Bot technology has advanced.

Wait a second, actual brands and humans use bots? Get out of here!

 Yes, and many larger brands in the travel industry have jumped on the train:

  • Kayak: Has a Bot for Slack (a team communication tool which has gained major momentum with many companies and teams, including Digital Services)
  • Expedia, Skyscanner and CheapFlights: Each have a Bot for Facebook Messenger
  • Hipmunk: Launched Hello, available on both Slack and Facebook Messenger
  • United, KLM and TAP Airlines: Launched some form of Bot assistant for instant messaging

Other industries are also creating Bots to help you buy stuff, such as: Tacobot from Taco Bell, allowing you to order your favorite Taco from Slack, H&M’s Chatbot on Kik providing you complete outfit recommendations, or StubHub allowing you to discuss your dinner order with a machine. Before many others, in 2005, Ikea launched their Bot Anna to help you find that one piece of furniture you are missing. For the more galactic readers, check out SPOCK which allows you to converse with the Starship Enterprise.

Even globally? That must be a nightmare to localize!

You said it! When figuring out how to teach the Bot to answer “natural language” queries (typing in what you want, not a command) in English is already extremely complicated, imagine doing this for every language and variation of each.

Add this to the different ways of searching (tapping on a prompted option, using voice search, typing the query), some slang or variation of words, formal and informal ways of addressing people and you have a highly complex problem to solve.

It is not impossible though. KLM delivers information in various languages through their Facebook Messenger Chatbot (including flight details, boarding passes, and other straight forward or relatively easy queries). WeChat emerges as the platform to develop such things in Chinese, offering organizations similar options as Skype, Messenger and Kik, to develop Chatbots for their ecosystem. They most recently launched mini-programs – their version of apps which don’t require download on your smartphone, beating Google at the game of instant apps, and opening a world of possibilities for developers.

OK, now, are these things a good or a bad thing?

From a marketer and brand standpoint, Chatbots are a great tool to automate parts of customer service and customer acquisition. There are for now some limitations, such as the lack of empathy when consumers are experiencing issues or the true understanding of potential consumers’ needs. Chatbots allow you to talk to potential clients in apps they use anyway, rather than trying to take them somewhere else. With the current trend of downloading fewer apps, and spending less time in them, it is particularly important for brands to integrate seamlessly into the lives of their consumers.

On the downside, Chatbots owned by metasearch and OTA sites (or simply companies starting out as a Chatbot,) pose the risk of hospitality and travel brands losing a true connection with customers. This is worrisome for established travel brands, as we see an emergence of Chatbots in the travel industry The Bots also put a lot of strain on travel websites as they constantly  retailers sites to answer user queries (looking up for information on hundreds of sites at once and providing a digestible answer to the user of the Chatbot); some say traffic generated by bots scraping retailers websites can represent up to 30% of total traffic to a website. It is also worrisome to note that some bloggers and influencers confirm they would not interact with an app or a website in future, but use a bot (see article by John Brandon at VentureBeat ).

From a user perspective, Chatbots allow you to search faster (save time) for the best option (save money), and have a fun playing with them (at least I do.) While the response time of a Chatbot is slightly slower than a Google search (a few seconds vs. milliseconds), they save you the effort of clicking through many sites to compare options.

Chatbots are not perfect though and the technology is not yet there to have truly perfect, human-like conversational exchanges. The personalization is still relatively limited and sometimes it is still just better to confirm with a human to make sure everything is in order.

I want in! I want in! What’s coming?

Customers are getting groomed to use Chatbots by the largest brands they use every day (Amazon, Google, Apple, and more.)

KLM has human-aided bots on Messenger as said above, so does Booking.com, Uber and Lyft. These brands are all reportedly looking into developing Chatbots powered by A.I. I would not be surprised to see Snapchat figure out a way to allow for Chatbots to be developed specifically for their platform, or even on Line (Japan’s leading social platform with a heavy footprint in South East Asia.)

As related by VentureBeat, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said that Chatbots will “fundamentally revolutionize how computing is experienced by everybody.” Nadella explained that for now, bots will augment apps, but in time, human language will be taught to all computers and become “the new interface.”

Based on my research, I believe that while Chatbots are not yet a make or break decision, given the right technological advancement they are highly likely to become the norm for researching and purchasing (travel or other) from mobile in the future.

That said, I strongly believe nothing can replace the human touch and related emotions. We see younger generations wanting to get back to local, genuine experiences and connecting with other humans in the world. The research and purchase phases might happen with the Bots, but ultimately humans will still take you through the experience.

I would like to leave you with this quote from an important person in this industry:

“In the long run bots won’t only answer questions they will anticipate them” – Erwin van Lun, Chatbots.org’s CEO and founder (source)

Further Resources

  • Medium: Read the extensive review of the most important travel Bots. You’ll also find a recap of just over 20 Chatbots in this article.
  • Chatbot Magazine: Subscribe to Chatbotmagazine.com’s newsletter. To get more technical on Bots, review their Complete Beginner’s Guide to Chatbots.
  • VentureBeat: To learn more about globalizing Bots, read about some of the biggest international hurdles in this research.
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Posted by on Oct 4, 2016 in All Matters SEO, Industry Interviews

All Things APAC: An Interview with Digital Expert, Trevor Higgins

Hi Trevor, thanks for accepting our invite to chat! Can you tell us about your background and how you arrived in Ho Chi Minh?

After a few years writing for newspapers in my home state of Tennessee, I moved to Chicago and jumped into digital marketing full time in the start-up scene. Five years ago I joined Performics, a digital marketing agency, and it was a great fit. I’ve worked for some great brands, like Patagonia and Bose, doing content strategy, SEO and conversion/experience testing.

Then, right as we had our first child and bought a house, my wife was offered her dream job with the US State Department. Her first assignment was in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Fortunately, Performics is a true global company with an office within walking distance from my new home. Now, I lead digital marketing campaigns for clients working in multiple markets across Asia.

Trevor Higgins

Trevor Higgins

What a great career so far! Now, let us grill you on Asia Pacific’s market particularities! With many countries in APAC having multiple official languages (even up to 750 dialects in India) what is your recommendation for a Western company trying to enter the market? Translate from English in all languages or select a few and create natively?

First, I would ask: What language does your target audience speak? Are you targeting expatriates? Locals? Visitors? Understanding your audience segments should make the decision of which languages to include easier. Also, I think you should always have an English version of your content available, as that is the default means of communication when people from different backgrounds come together.

For localization, I prefer an approach we call “trans-creation:” it’s a step beyond rote translation that takes into account colloquialisms and the real ways people talk. Then, work with someone you trust who knows the language and the culture. I see so much bad translation work, even for large brands! It’s everywhere, it’s embarrassing and it’s easy to fix.

How do you recommend companies go about selecting the right languages for their product?

As I mentioned, know your customer and know what is at risk if you don’t communicate with someone in their native language. Tap into your CRM data. Understand the market for your products and services, which might vary widely depending on the country.

Also, be aware of the risks of partial translation. If you translate your homepage but not your shopping cart or check-out forms, are you really servicing your customer? I’ve encountered dead-ends where a company only partially translated their web site and left critical gaps.

Are there any APAC mobile trends that you were surprised by that aren’t as prevalent in the West?

Marketers in the US might be sick of hearing “mobile” tossed around as a trend, but I cannot overstate its importance here in APAC.

First, you have to understand the explosive growth in Internet access in APAC. In the last five years, Internet access is up 250% in India, 101% in Indonesia, 72% in Vietnam, 76% in Thailand, 47% in China. This is all driven by growing access to mobile devices.

So mobile isn’t just another digital gateway, it’s sometimes the only gateway. Your customers may never see your desktop site.

Also, mobile networks in some countries may not be as fast as in the West. I currently only get 3G access here in Vietnam. This means your mobile site speed, load times and experience have to be outstanding. You can’t afford slow load times or unnecessary clicks.

One other related note: I was surprised to learn that in many APAC countries consumers use, on average, nearly 10 social media accounts each, which is well above the rates in USA and UK. Of course, all that usage is happening on mobile.

What amenities or hotel features are APAC guests traveling West expecting to find in the hotel or on the website?

At many hotels in APAC the free breakfasts are really incredible. There’s a mix of dim sum, traditional English breakfast, fresh fruit, local favorites, made-to-order eggs, etc. So if there’s a good breakfast, show it off!

I’ve also been impressed by the service throughout Asia at properties in all ranges. If you have travelers from Asia staying at your property in the West, they will be accustomed to top-notch service and will expect the same from your staff.

When creating campaigns, collateral, etc. were there any striking differences between the East and West? (For example – while green may be the color synonymous with “good” in the west, red is considered to be the color of good fortune in Chinese culture)

China is a great example. Design and experience expectations are very different for Chinese customers compared to what traditionally works in the West. This Smashing Magazine article explains it much more eloquently than I can: https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2016/08/five-rules-app-localization-china-money-dating-app-store.

Bottom line: I don’t think you just assume that your great English ad copy and user-experience design will automatically perform at the same level in APAC.

I do think you need a strong cultural understanding of your marketplace and audience when building campaigns. Seasonality and holidays are different here, as well as accepted social norms. This is especially true when using imagery. Be mindful of your audience, what they aspire to and what they might feel is off-putting. Many cultures, even in the rapidly-growing urban centers here, can still be very traditional and conservative socially.

In a few words, can you describe the WeChat Platform and how it differs from the prevalent platforms in the West such as Facebook, WhatsApp or Twitter?

WeChat is a massively popular platform in China. It has somewhere in the neighborhood of 800 million active monthly users!

In simple terms, it’s a messaging service, not dissimilar from WhatsApp, with lots and lots of features and abilities added on top. Users can do traditional chat functions like sharing videos and photos. Then, WeChat has apps within the app, and this is where it gets important for businesses. Apps allow users to play games, but they can also do business: send money, shop, use and pay for services, order food.

It’s a massive platform owned by TenCent, one of China’s biggest companies, who also owns a large stake in up-and-coming search engine Sogou, microblogging platform Weibo and instant message service QQ. If you’re marketing to consumers in China, you should plan for engaging on WeChat, building a brand presence.

With different cultures, can you provide your top 3 things to do and 3 things to avoid when starting a relationship with partners or clients in the region?

Do:

  1. Make an effort to learn the culture. Read books. Watch movies. Eat the food. Spend time with locals. Learn to say a few things in a new and difficult language.
  2. Test and learn. There are many country-specific platforms here in APAC. Try them out, find what works for you.
  3. Be humble. I thought I had a good resume of digital marketing success, but working here has been a humbling experience. There is a lot to learn about how the digital ecosystem works in APAC. Be prepared to do the homework and learn.

Do Not:

  1. Assume the same approach you use in the West will be equally effective. This extends beyond just how you manage your marketing campaigns, but includes how you build relationships with people
  2. Be rigid. China in particular is a unique market, and you’ll need to be adaptable to be successful.
  3. Lose patience. Hold your teams to a high standard of performance, but don’t lose patience when a campaign misses the mark. Learn from it, and keep moving forward.  

Which APAC-based non-travel companies standout in your mind as doing an outstanding job at digital marketing right now?

I think this spot from Nike targeted at young women in India is one of the best campaigns worldwide. Nike did some similar spots in Korea that reflected the place of sports in that culture. While you may not have big-budget creative, the approach – emotional, local – it reflects can be implemented by any team.

Also, while it pains me to write this as a Liverpool supporter, Chevrolet’s global partnership with Manchester United, tied to this site has all of their digital cookies on me. I regularly see their regionally-targeted paid social, display and out-of-home ads. Their content looks to engage first and sell second, and I know I’m in their target audience.

If our readers come visit Ho Chi Minh, can you share with us your favorite food and/or thing to do so far?

Food is a top attraction here in Saigon, and for good reason. You’ll see fresh ingredients used in one-of-a-kind ways all over town, typically served up in no-frills food stalls with plastic chairs. Personally, I love bun thit nuong and was just introduced to my new love: Chanh muoi, a drink made with pickled limes.

Ho Chi Minh Food

But if you really want to experience and understand Saigon you have to get on a motorbike. Once you’re on two wheels everything else in this big, crazy city makes more sense.

And, if you have time, take a quick trip to the island of Phu Quoc for spectacular beaches. JW Marriott has a new property opening up there in December, which is a great excuse to visit. 

 

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Posted by on Sep 1, 2015 in All Matters SEO

“International Unveiled,” a World Tour in 3 Stops – Third Stop, Caribbean & Latin America

Welcome

Welcome to the third and final post of this series centered around the amazing world of international search and social.

This week I am taking you to the Caribbean and Latin America (CALA). We will be taking a closer look at the Argentinian, Brazilian and Mexican markets.

This fascinating region hosts some of the world’s greatest natural resources, such as the Amazon Basin (Amazonia) covered by the largest tropical rain forest. It is also known for breathtaking wonders like the Andes Mountains, paradise-like beaches in the Caribbean and world-class meats and wines in Argentina.

Most of the countries in this region are still in economic development, slowly closing the gap with the world’s big powers. Brazil and Mexico have some of the lowest digital buyer penetration rates (% of internet users who have made at least one purchase via any digital channel during the calendar year) but at the same time represent some of the largest opportunities for development (source WebCertain/eMarketer).

A look at what is coming up: the region will host some of the world’s largest and most exciting events in the coming years including Formula 1 races in Mexico and Sao Paulo as well as the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympics.

Let’s dive into each market

CALASearchEngines

Still in its “infancy” phase of internet penetration, Argentina is definitely an interesting market to have on your radar for years to come. Indeed, as the current internet penetration rate is only just above 50% and only half of these internet users actually purchase online. There is a lot of room to grow. As a matter of fact, B2C ecommerce sales are projected to grow by 18% in 2015 over 2014 (4th largest growth percentage after China, Indonesia and India) (source WebCertain/eMarketer).

One thing to keep in mind is that Argentinian online shoppers spend considerably less than the global average ($508 vs $1,459) (source WebCertain/eMarketer).

While Facebook leads the pack in terms of social media adoption in Argentina, WhatsApp – the messaging service bought by Facebook for $19B in 2014 –actually has 44% penetration rate in the population.

A local favorite, Taringa, was founded in 2005 and is the largest social media created in Latin America. The network has “only” 27M registered users, which of course appears small when compared to Facebook’s 1B+ user base.

Another local site that is growing rapidly is MercadoLibre which can be compared to a mix of Amazon and eBay with both professional and amateur sellers (eBay is actually the site’s largest shareholder).

To close with Argentina, you should also know that Spain’s Spanish and Latin America Spanish are quite similar yet different. While they understand each other, they have different pronunciations of different words (such as “ordenador” and “computadora” for example, both describing a computer). So when you target Argentina or any other Spanish-speaking country in Latin America, make sure you localize your content to avoid looking like a company that uses a “one-Spanish-fits-all” approach.

Brazil is currently the 7th largest pool of potential online shoppers (in absolute amount of people having access to internet). However, due to challenging economic factors, Brazilians are yet to develop their online purchases volume. Only 39% of potential online shoppers are active digital buyers, and on average an individual spends $800 per year and per person (vs. $2785 in the US for example) (source WebCertain/eMarketer).

The Brazilian population is among the youngest worldwide – 88% of population under the age of 55 – , and they are extremely active on social media, spending on average of 3.8 hours per day on social networks (Source: SocialNomics.net).

Their online content consumption primarily occurs on mobile devices due to the lack of landline internet infrastructure in large parts of the country and therefore requires marketers to either have a mobile site or responsive design to ensure they can experience your brand on any smartphone.

On the search engines front, Chinese internet giant Baidu has realized the potential of Brazil and launched BaiduBusca in 2014, a search engine dedicated to this market. This launch was accompanied by the opening of a small office in Brazil which is intended to eventually include a research and development center partnering with local universities.

To date, Google’s dominance of the Brazilian market is still in place, but as BaiduBusca seems to play the hyperlocal card – creating unique features and adapting existing ones to Brazilian needs and usages – they could grab some percent of market share in the years to come.

To conclude with Brazil, it is important to note that there are quite significant differences between the Portuguese they speak and the one spoken in Portugal (some examples on this blog post and this video).

Finally, with a projected year-on-year growth of B2C online sales of 15.4% in 2015, Mexico ranks 6th among the fastest growing countries after China, Indonesia, India, Argentina and Italy (source WebCertain/eMarketer).

Part of the explanation of this impressive growth rate is once again the relatively low internet penetration rate around 40%. The base of internet users has grown by 3.5M since 2014 and this trend is expected to continue (Source: The WebCertain Search & Social Report 2015).

The online habits of Mexicans are similar to their American counterparts, primarily using Facebook, G+,Twitter and Google. An impressive 96% of millennials in Mexico use social media, making it one of the highest adoption rates worldwide.

They do have local favorites when it comes to travel, using Despegar and Decolar (also widely used across the other Spanish-speaking countries in South America) more often than Expedia or Booking.com.

Another interesting fact about the Mexican market is the important presence of exact domain names. These domains can be owned by various individuals and businesses from tourism boards to OTAs to bloggers. Due to multiple elements, these exact match domains benefit from high organic rankings, often on page 1, for highly competitive terms. As they are very aware of their visibility and power, working with the owners of these sites usually comes at a very high price, up to several thousands of dollars for an article with a link (which on top of it would be considered as buying links, a spammy tactic penalized by Google).

With strong competition from local and international OTAs and exact match domains, ranking on page 1 of Google Mexico is a very challenging feat. To rank, a page needs to provide exceptional value to the user (and have amazing optimization) to have a chance at outranking some of these large players.

CALASocialMediaSites

 My takeaways:

Argentina: Adapt your tone and vocabulary to local flavors to ensure you appear relevant to the local audience. If you are in consumer goods, definitely check out MercadoLibre and its opportunities. You may also want to consider adding a WhatsApp sharing button on your pages to allow them to share your site with their friends.

Brazil: Be prepared to build a robust social media presence if you want Brazilians to hear about you and start buying your products.

Mexico: Look at alternative search terms or more detailed, targeted queries for your website’s SEO strategy rather than going for the higher competition terms (as they might not prove worth the investment in time and budget with an appalling dominance of OTAs and exact match domains).

Across the region: Once again, my global moto is that if your website allows you to localize and input in-language content, that should definitely be your first step. This will allow you to show your audience that you care about them and make efforts to talk to them in their own language. Be human to your audiences, they will like it!

 

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Posted by on Aug 25, 2015 in All Matters SEO

“International Unveiled,” a World Tour in 3 Stops – Second Stop, Europe

Welcome

Welcome to the second post of this international search and social series. This week we will be travelling to Europe and taking a closer look at the UK, French, German, Russian and Spanish markets.

The “old continent” features about 50 countries, 23 official languages and more than 60 indigenous regional and minority languages. Quite crazy, right!? But don’t worry, English is the second most spoken language.

Fun fact: the above mentioned diversity is included in a territory of about half the size of the USA and is smaller than Australia! Now we are talking about having fun with targeting many different customers!

Let’s dive into each market

EuropeSearchEngines

The UK: Let’s start with a market that speaks the same language (almost) and uses the same platforms as U.S. customers. Not surprisingly, Google, Facebook, and Twitter are overwhelmingly present in the UK, one of the most mature markets in Europe, when it comes to digital. UK online shoppers are very confident about online commerce. In fact, they are the top online spenders across the globe with an average annual purchase value of $4,501 (source: WebCertain).

One thing to note is that in this market the power and presence of OTAs on the first page of Google is tremendously powerful. They make it almost impossible to rank organically on the first page for “hotels in London” or other popular search terms.

To make things worse, online bookers are skewed towards OTAs and have a higher propensity to click on Booking.com, Expedia or lastminute.co.uk. They believe that’s where they will have the largest choice and best price.

Moving the needle for your organic rankings will definitely take more effort than in most other global markets. With high competition and creative digital players, you will have to seriously stand out in the quality of your offering.

Ah la France, Paris, the world’s fashion, food and art capital. This lovely country, host to over 350 different cheeses, can basically be divided between Paris and the rest of France (if you ask Parisians), making it a challenging market as well.

First, the language is made-up  of so many rules and even more exceptions to the aforementioned rules that doing your keyword research definitely requires a native speaker. A good example is the translation of “hotels in {destination}.” Depending on the first letter of the destination’s name and its type/gender, the “in” can be “à” or “en” or “aux” – impossible to automate here. This can only be handled manually.

Second, online customers are influenced by a multitude of local communities, local blogs and local media that vary by city and sometimes even districts within the city. This makes reaching your audience quite challenging because it requires marketers to be well versed and connected in as many of these communities as possible.

Third, French people are very biased towards French brands and French-made products – growing your brand awareness will be tough, and you will need to prove your value.

Finally, as in other large European markets, French people use Google, Facebook and Twitter. They also have their own local versions such as DailyMotion (equivalent to YouTube) and Viadeo (LinkedIn wannabe).

France is also known for firm legal actions forcing Google to remove some search results. For example, they initiated the right to be forgotten law and forced OTAs to remove price parity from their contracts with hoteliers, creating legal precedent and entitling other countries to do the same.

If interested, read more about the latest developments on the right to be forgotten law here: Google is fighting back!

The driving economic power in the European Union, Germany is also the largest market in Europe in terms of internet shoppers. It is currently 4th in the world after China, the USA and Japan (source: eMarketer 2015). Place Germany at the top of your list if you’re debating between various European markets to target.

Similar to French, the German language is made of multiple rules and exceptions, and auto-translations rarely do it justice (auto-translation is almost always a bad idea). Add a very strict polite vs. informal form of addressing people and you have your two key arguments to hire a native speaker to ensure you don’t step over the line when talking to this audience.

While Germans go on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, they differ from the rest of the world in the way they use these platforms. German users have increasingly been described as passive on social media. They have an account and browse content (on average 3 hours less per day than the rest of the world) but rarely comment, share or like. It doesn’t mean the content doesn’t reach them, but you might not get similar engagement when compared to other markets (source: eMarketer and WebCertain).

Russian online habits differ quite a lot from the rest of the world as they primarily use Yandex to search online, but also favor VK (local iteration of Facebook) when it comes to interacting on social media. Other local favorites include Mail.ru (email + search engine) and Odnoklassniki (social network service to find classmates and old friends).

As explained in the above linked Yandex article, the Russian language is on its own level when it comes to being complicated. There are very little variations in spelling, and you could unintentionally say something flat out rude. The local favorite platforms seem (unsurprisingly) to be better at understanding the users’ intent and therefore serve up more adequate and relevant results than western companies.

Yandex maps recently opened up for anyone to go and edit listings (similar to Google’s Map Maker). This is interesting as they are limited ways of officially claiming a listing and making sure no one else edits it.

The Russian government is also threatening to take action (but hasn’t acted on most of them yet) against sites that do not respect their rules and/or censorship laws. Sites that received official warnings and threats include Google, Twitter and Facebook. More recently, Reddit was blocked for two days due to their non-compliance with requests to remove posts about the Ukrainian conflict situation.

Part of the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China), Russia is quickly developing and growing, however, due to infrastructure in the country it is “only” projected to grow B2C ecommerce sales by 10.5% in 2015 (source: eMarketer). However, the mobile penetration rate is massive and it is very common for Russians to have multiple smartphones.

Last but not least, Spain is an interesting market to examine. Spain has been going through rough economic conditions for the past few years, but seems to be returning to positive trends with a projected growth of B2C eCommerce sales of 11.9% in 2015 (source: eMarketer 2015).

Spaniards use all the common social media such as Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and YouTube. They also favor Google for their online search (Google owns an impressive 95% share of the market).

However, they do also have their local specialties (why would this market be in this post otherwise, right?).

Castilian vs. Catalan Spanish: The vast majority of Spain speaks Castilian Spanish, which is considered the standard version, similar to the Spanish spoken in Latin America. More to come on Spanish linguistic differences in my next post, stay tuned!

In Barcelona and the greater Catalonian region, Catalan is the spoken language. Catalan is not a derivative language, it is a language in its own right.” Therefore, if you start to tackle the Spanish market, make sure you use the right Spanish for your audience.

Also, as a recovering economy, the travelers from Spain tend to favor other European destinations for short breaks. However, they also travel quite significantly to Latin America thanks to excellent airline connections.

Fun fact: Barcelona is largely debated as one of the smartest cities in the world. With many innovations such as smart garbage cans so that garbage men only come to pick them up when full, smart street lighting to save energy and much more. In line with this, Barcelona hosts the World Mobile Congress every year at which world-premieres are announced or presented (overview of ten years of MWC – in Spanish).

Top3SocialPlatformsByCountry_Europe

My takeaways:

UK: You might be better off doing less tactics, but embracing them 110% to make sure you move the needle. If you decide to go for one social media platform over another, be creative, stand on your own and inspire your potential guests with exceptional content to win the stay if you are within the hospitality sector. Make sure you also use Queen’s English spellings.

France: Start with thorough linguistic research to ensure you use the appropriate terms to reach your audience. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Embrace the culture and explain how your offering is different/better than local brands. Engage in local social channels if you can.

Germany: Keep it at the top of your list if entering the European market. Ensure proper language norms are respected on your site. Bloggers are very expensive to work with but have a large influencer power in this country which passively uses social media.

Russia: Be ready for a roller coaster ride! Regularly check that your Yandex map is correct and make edits if necessary. If possible, build your business page on VK as it is a great way to be found by potential customers.

Spain: Use the correct Spanish language depending on your target audience. Ensure that your site is mobile-friendly.

Across the region: If your website allows you to localize and input in-language content, that should definitely be your first step. This will allow you to show your audience that you care about them and are making an effort to talk to them in their own language.

Next stop: CALA.

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