Global e-commerce business-to-consumer sales are set to soar past the 1 trillion euro ($1.25trillion) mark by 2013, according to a recent report.
The IMRG concluded “the future of ecommerce is global”, with strong growth in Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East.
For businesses of all sizes, the internet is a relatively low-risk, and cost-effective way to test the waters in new markets. But it’s all too easy to go wrong, by failing to take cultural differences into account.
Here are a few common mistakes to avoid…
1. Not localising marketing
Marketing campaigns, like humour, don’t always translate well. A recent Millward Brown study found that adverts that were very popular in one country rarely achieved the same success abroad – in fact only one in ten did equally well.
They concluded that cross-border campaigns weren’t always the most cost-effective option.
Big brands often succeed by being “globally local”. For example McDonald’s adapts both its menus and marketing campaigns for each country, and recently opened an entirely vegetarian restaurant in India.
2. Getting the name wrong
We’ve all heard entertaining examples of brand names that got lost in translation. While Microsoft’s Vista might conjure up images of open windows and scenic views in some countries, the name means “chicken” or “frumpy woman” in Latvian.
This can be particularly tricky to get right in some languages. A study by Auckland University of Technology and Hong Kong Baptist University found that only 22% of major foreign brands had optimised their names for the Chinese market.
One good example was Nike which became Nai Ke. Not only does it have a similar sound, but the characters mean “Endurance Conquer”.
3. Not translating SEO
Search engine optimisation (SEO) is an essential tool to get seen around the world, but keywords don’t always translate across languages and cultures.
It’s best to research them separately, rather than assume the same ones will automatically work. For example a direct Italian translation of “low cost flights” – “voli a basso prezzo” would get relatively poor results compared to the more commonly used “voli low cost”.
4. Not integrating campaigns
The most effective online marketing uses a combination of SEO, pay-per-click (PPC), social media, and other methods to communicate a message.
However, many global brands fail to take this integrated approach in foreign languages, for example by not having separate social media accounts for each market. One solution is to hire locally-based social media managers, who can keep up with the latest trends and boost customer engagement.
5. Not being mobile friendly
In many countries, mobile phones account for a large proportion of internet connections. Smartphones are expected to outsell PCs this year, with more of the world getting connected on the move.
This is also a growing trend in emerging markets, where mobile internet connections far outnumber fixed broadband connections.
Surprisingly, many global companies still don’t have fully optimised sites for the small screen. Finding a site doesn’t display properly or takes too long to load is a fast way to lose customers.
6. Ignoring cultural differences
From tone of voice to payment preferences, there are numerous differences between cultures. It pays to get the details right at the start – for example researching whether people feel comfortable paying by credit card on the internet, or would rather use checks or Paypal accounts.
The design of websites, including level of formality, and use of color, images and videos tends to vary in different parts of the world. In many countries, such as China, people are much more likely to trust accompany that appears “local”, with an in-country domain name.
7. Neglecting non-English speakers closer to home
Spanish speakers make up an increasing minority of the United States, while the UK has large minorities speaking Polish and other languages.
While most speak English as a second language, shoppers overwhelmingly prefer to browse and make purchases using their mother tongue. American businesses that fail to reach out to Spanish speakers are losing a large number of potential customers.