How Retailers Can Cross Borders
For any business owner or executive who has spent years contemplating international expansion, now is undoubtedly starting to feel like the right time to act. The media is abuzz with stories about the global economy and technology advancements make it seem easier than ever to reach burgeoning new markets. It's true that markets are opening up and there's enormous potential for retailers that make the right decisions about online content and lead generation, but easy? International expansion isn't easy, even in the age of online retail. Growing beyond borders requires the right mix of people, knowledge and technology.
Finding the Right People to Reach the Right Markets
As retailers roll out marketing plans in the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and other expanding economic regions, consumers in those countries will be wary of international companies that don't bother to learn local customs or adequately localize their content. A significant part of that effort hinges on reaching consumers in their own languages across every touchpoint — websites, mobile applications, in-store experiences and more. This takes knowledgeable, skilled translation experts in every stage of the expansion project, but it also requires local staff on the ground.
To ensure that your brand messages come across as intended, you'll need in-country marketing and sales teams. These professionals can measure the efficacy of your brand's messaging and ward off perception problems before they infiltrate local website content, images, advertising or other marketing collateral. For example, Japan-based marketers would have been able to alert the international financial services company that recently featured a Tokyo bridge in its collateral — a bridge that was the topic of heated local debate and conveyed exactly the wrong message to prospects about wealth and value.
A localization team also needs to research the buying habits of prospects abroad. Successful retailers know what time of day their customers like to shop, which devices they prefer to use when they make a purchase and how many times they visit before they buy. That research needs to be conducted in every region in order to inform taglines, product descriptions and other content creation. For example, the No. 1 buyers of luxury items in China are men. That's essential knowledge for any company hoping to sell airline tickets, jewelry or electronics in that country.
Knowledge Informs Localization
Translation and localization require a nuanced understanding of national, regional and dialectical preferences and habits. A seasoned team should know, for example, that Portuguese might be the primary language of Brazil, but consumers in that country are often bilingual. They frequently speak Spanish, German or one of several indigenous languages in addition to Portuguese. That knowledge can contribute to a successful marketing campaign for a retailer that provides prospects with language choices on its regional website.
The multilingual environment is similar in China. The official national language is Standard Mandarin, but there are more than 292 dialects spoken across the country. In the Middle East, consumers expect superior customer service that reflects their language preferences and local customs. The predominant languages in the region are Arabic, Farsi and Turkish, but there are many local dialects and mixing multiple languages isn't uncommon. In Lebanon, for example, residents often blend French and English with the local Arabic dialect. Knowing which consumers prefer which dialects is critical to a retailer trying to break into a new market and earn the trust of that region's consumers.
This need for knowledge goes beyond language preferences. American marketers can craft direct messages about the superiority of their offerings in comparison to competitors’ products. Internationally, however, not all consumers react so well to a brand's claims of being the best. There are cultures in which that approach is deemed distasteful, and some countries have gone so far as to label these claims illegal. Retailers need to know these facts before they begin building their expansion strategy, not after it's been rolled out.
Harnessing Technology for Smart Localization
In search of "easy" localization, too many retailers jump at the promises of simple machine translation solutions. With so much riding on international expansion efforts, brands can't afford to cut corners on the core marketing content that will either attract or repel prospects abroad. It takes knowledge and experience to create content that maintains both the tone and purpose of the original source language while incorporating local preferences. Machines can't manage that process.
When companies adopt machine translation, they often sync their multilingual search engine optimization before their expansion efforts even begin. Many of the same SEO principles retailers use in the U.S. apply internationally. There are, however, some differences. In China and Russia, for example, Google isn't the preferred search engine. Marketers in those regions need to familiarize themselves with the algorithms of local leading search engines.
For many reasons, this is an attractive time for online retailers to expand their marketing efforts to other countries. To do so successfully, brands need the right mix of people, knowledge and technology.
Liz Elting is co-founder and co-CEO of TransPerfect, a provider of international multilingual translation and interpreting services.