In the last days of May 2017 at the SMX London conference, I had the pleasure of presenting a session about the importance of going global, and the key considerations to ensuring success.
Here is what I had to say:
The world is a very big place with about 7.5 billion humans. And half of those humans are connected to the internet in one way or another.
The distribution of internet users is surprising to many, as only 8% of total users are in the U.S. and 9% in Western Europe; both lower than Africa at 10%, South Asia at 16% and East Asia at 24%. These statistics were compiled in a We Are Social and Hootsuite 2017 study.
Even more impressive is that only 29% of the African population is online (internet penetration ratio), which means that when a larger part of the African population eventually goes online, it will represent an even greater share of the world’s internet population. The U.S. and Western Europe have an internet penetration ratio of about 90%, leaving a smaller growth opportunity.
Looking at eMarketer’s data on projected digital buyers’ growth by continent, it is clear where the growth will continue at a double-digit rate (Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa) and where it will plateau (Europe and North America):
(Image Source: eMarketer)
All of this leads to one clear conclusion: Every company, regardless of size, needs to globalize in markets that make sense.
So how does a company globalize? It all revolves around three core considerations:
A company needs to make sure its brand name doesn’t mean something strange or inappropriate in the target language, and that the correct version of the language is identified and used. Many languages spoken in multiple countries have variations. Even within a single country (e.g., China), languages can have varying dialects. Identifying the right one is key to ensuring success.
Once the language is identified, the tone (formal or informal) must be chosen. French, German and Spanish, for example, have formal ways of addressing people (a politer way, if you will), which can be preferable depending on the company’s industry. Also, the tone may vary by country depending the company’s products. This all must be researched before developing website language.
After the language, tone and format are decided upon, cultural considerations, such as references, preferences, perception, awareness and local competitors, need to be researched.
Cultural references vary from country to country. In the West, babies are brought by the stork, whereas in Japan, babies come from big peaches. In China, red is synonymous with warmth and success, but disliked in South Korea. Movies stars, singers, authors and the like are different throughout the world. Target-audience research ensures cultural references are relevant.
Along the same lines, it is essential to cater to preferences (e.g., payment methods, formats, aspect), local norms and public holidays to avoid any faux pas.
It is also important to confirm if the brand is known and, if so, how it is perceived. If the brand is unknown, it might require a full explanation. If the band is known but misunderstood, it may require a change to affect perception. Doing the research is crucial. It can also help to identify and understand successful local competitors.
Finally, I touched upon the technical elements that should be used to ensure that well-written in-language content makes its way to the right platform and is understood.
Google provides multiple tools, such as geo-targeting, adding “hreflang” tags to signal the availability multiple languages and identifying potential markets.
While Google, Facebook and Twitter are the norm in many countries, different platforms may be more widely used in others. For example, Baidu is the lead search engine in China, Line is the lead social media platform in Japan and Yandex is the lead search engine in Russia.
Ensuring optimization of in-language, culturally relevant content on the right platforms and sites ultimately leads to successful business globalization.
For even more details and visuals, view my deck here.