Move over FIGS; Here Comes BRIC

Emerging markets are driving the Web globalization revolution.

Investment bankers use an acronym that is going to have a major impact on the future of the globalization industry: BRIC.

BRIC stands for Brazil, Russia, India, and China, the four countries that pose the greatest opportunities for long-term growth among emerging markets. Of course, the key words are “long term” – these markets are anything but sure bets over the short term.

The localization industry has long used the acronym FIGS, which stands for French, Italian, German, Spanish, the most popular four languages chosen when companies enter Europe. CJK, for Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, is also frequently used when expanding in Asia.

But I see BRIC gaining currency in the localization industry, because where investment bankers see growth so too do the multinationals who hope to capitalize on that growth. And while FIGS and CJK are geographically oriented, BRIC focuses purely on opportunity. This is great news for translators of Tamil, Chinese, Russian, and Portuguese and the vendors who learn to speak “BRIC.”

(NOTE: This essay is from the April issue of Global By Design — on newsstands everwhere!)

Localized Washing Machines

The Reveries Web site has an interesting piece on Whirlpool and its localization efforts in Latin America. Apparently the company has had great success in Brazil by creating a low-cost “people’s washer” with features unique to the marketplace.

Here’s an excerpt:

Whirlpool’s research also revealed that aesthetics were important because washers are considered status symbols. In China, the looks factor is multiplied because “many families keep appliances in the living room.” There’s no place else to put them. In Brazil, Whirlpool jazzed up the control panel with bright yellow buttons and blue lettering. They also carefully selected appliance colors based on by-country preferences . Wash cycles were named on a by-country basis, too (in India, the delicate cycle is called the “sari” cycle, for example). What does one of these machines cost? Just $150 to $200 (about half the average cost in the U.S.). So happy are low-income Brazilians to have these machines that some are said to “treat the washer like a member of the family, referring to her as ‘my little princess’ and my ‘little girl.'”

And here’s a picture of one such machine:

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For the full article, go to: http://www.reveries.com/coolnews/2003/december/dec_9.html

Is Globalization Good?

According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, people around the world generally approve of increased international trade. They also “think positively” of international and multinational organizations, such as the World Trade Organization. (Respondents were not too fond of WTO protestors.)

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The study also notes that “majorities, in most cases strong majorities, in 34 of 44 nations thought the availability of good paying jobs had gotten worse in the last five years. And substantial majorities–82% in France, 67% in the United States, 63% in Mexico–thought the gap between the rich and the poor had worsened.”

What does this all mean? Like all studies, it should be held at arm’s length. After all, a person’s experiences with globalization can vary widely. For intance, it’s not such a bad thing if you save 50% of your stereo equipment, because of increased trade with China, but it’s not such a good thing if you just lost you job to a call center in India.

Globalization is not all good and not all bad, like a lot of forces that have shaped this planet – languages, political movements, technologies. It is a double-edged sword that some countries are more skilled at swinging than others. The U.S., for example, has known how to swing that sword to its advantage for some time, but now other countries are honing their skills — China, India, Russia. It will be most interesting to see how America reacts in the years ahead, as more and more countries start swinging their figurative swords at it.

There is No Such Thing as “Rest of World”

Multilingual Computing has published a very useful supplement on best practices in Web globalization.

You can download a copy here. The following is an excerpt from an article that I contributed:

There is no such thing as “rest of world.”

There is good reason why movie executives in Hollywood often ask if a film with “play in Peoria” before releasing it. The United States may be one country, but it is made up of countless cultures and subcultures, based on region, ethnicity, and income. Marketing executives have learned to tailor — (in other words) localize — their promotional efforts to these various groups. Unfortunately, when these same marketing directors take their promotional campaigns to markets outside the U.S., they often do not realize that just as many subtleties exist in other countries, cultures, and regions. Similar challenges exist in Web globalization.

For example, companies often assume that if they translate their site into Spanish that the new site will reach all Latin Americans. Consider Boston Scientific, which built a “Latin American” Web site (the global gateway is shown below). The first problem presented by the Latin American site is that the gateway uses flags for navigation and there is no such thing as a Latin American flag (a good reason to avoid using flags for navigation).

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Boston Scientific comes up a flag short for its Latin American site

Yet the flag is a minor detail compared with the Latin American site itself. Naturally, the site is in Spanish, but what flavor of Spanish? There is no such as thing as one Spanish, just as there is no such thing as one English. And where is the Portuguese for Brazilian Web users?

As companies expand outside their native countries, they tend to break up the world into regions: EMEA (Europe, Middle East, Africa), Asia Pacific, the Americas, or worse: ROW (rest of world). Although these groupings do offer a sense of order, they can be dangerous because they lead executives to assume that the people within these regions have more in common than just geography.

Granted, companies have a long, long way to go before they provide Web sites localized for every country, culture, and subculture. But what they can begin doing today is working toward a new way of looking at the world outside their native market — a more personal, less regional, less ROW view of the world.

A Brand By Any Other Name

A great interview with Andy Chuang of Goodcharacters.com in Fresno, California. His company specializes in Chinese naming and linguistic evaluation. The interview was conducted by Steve Rivkin; here’s an excerpt:

For example, Toshiba once had a commercial song in China that sang, “Toshiba, Toshiba…” However, it turned out that “to-shi-ba” sounded like “let’s steal it” (tou-chu-ba) in Mandarin Chinese. People really made fun of it.

Fortunately, Toshiba is a Japanese name and its corresponding characters, Dong-Ji, means “the East” and “nobility.” Now Toshiba uses Dong-Ji more and is careful when using the pronunciation of “Toshiba.”

Some brand names travel more easily than others. Here are a few common war stories of brands that didn’t fare so well abroad:

A food company named its giant burrito a BURRADA. Big mistake. The colloquial meaning of that word is “big mistake.”

Ford had a similar problem in Brazil when the PINTO flopped. The company found out that Pinto was Brazilian slang for “tiny male genitals.” Ford pried all the nameplates off and substituted the name Corcel, which means “horse.”

A leading brand of car de-icer in Finland will never make it in America. The brand name: SUPER PISS.