Pampering Russia

This is a great article about Procter & Gamble’s adventures in Russia.

While currency devalatuations have been challenging, the economy has since stabilized and sales are growing at 50% annually (although revenues are still a fraction of US revenues). Products such as Pampers, Tide and Pantene have been very successful (though they must be priced aggressively).

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Here’s an excerpt that highlights the complexities of marketing in Russia:

…P&G must alter marketing strategies that have worked for decades in the United States.

Alex Nasard of Procter’s Moscow marketing office said the company uses straightforward pitches rather than the entertaining, nuanced ads aired in the United States. Nasard said Russians are more immune to propaganda because of years of communism.

P&G also has left English labels on most products, to maintain the company’s global branding as well as appealing to Russian customers’ desire for anything American.

Here’s the article.

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.

ICANN Goes Global — Gradually

Since its inception, ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) has been criticized for favoring the U.S. over other countries. But with a new president in office, Australian Paul Twomey — the first non-U.S. citizen to be president — ICANN is promising a more global outlook.

Two weeks ago, ICANN took a big step towards making internationalized domain names (IDNs) — also known as multilingual domain names — a reality. Here are what IDNs look like:

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An IDN allows a person or organization to register a domain name in any major language — from Chinese to Russian to Arabic. More important, IDNs allow non-English speakers to navigate the Internet without inputting all Roman characters for every address. While the underlying DNS will continue to rely on a subset of ASCII, the IETF has devised a way to overlay IDNs using the Unicode character set. It’s an imperfect solution, and not all techs are happy with it. For starters, the domain name is the only part of the URL that is allowed to use non-Roman characters — that is, “.com” will remain. Still, it’s a start.

On March 13th, ICANN issued the Standards for ICANN Authorization of Internationalized Domain Name Registrations in Registries with Agreements. These standards formalize four mandatory rules and two recommended rules that registries must follow in order to issue IDNs. Here they are:

Rules:

1. Top-level domain registries that implement internationalized domain name capabilities must do so only in strict compliance with all applicable technical standards.

2. In implementing IDNA, top-level domain registries must employ an “inclusion-based” approach for identifying permissible code points from among the full Unicode repertoire, and, at the very least, must not include (a) line symbol-drawing characters, (b) symbols and icons that are neither alphabetic nor ideographic language characters, such as typographical and pictographic dingbats, (c) punctuation characters, and (d) spacing characters.

3. In implementing IDNA, top-level domain registries must (a) associate each registered domain name with one or more languages, (b) employ language-specific registration and administration rules that are documented and publicly available, such as the reservation of all domain names with equivalent character variants in the languages associated with the registered domain name, and (c) where the registration and administration rules depend on a character variants table, allow registrations in a particular language only when a character variants table for that language is available.

4. Registries must commit to working collaboratively through the IDN Registry Implementation Committee to develop character variants tables and language-specific registration policies, with the objective of achieving consistent approaches to IDN implementation for the benefit of DNS users worldwide.

Recommendations:

5. In implementing IDNA, top-level domain registries should, at least initially, limit any given domain label (such as a second-level domain name) to the characters associated with one language only.

6. Top-level domain registries (and registrars) should provide customer service capabilities in all languages for which they offer internationalized domain name registrations.

Verisign Does Not Approve

IDNs have not evolved in a vacuum. For the past couple years Verisign (and other registries) have developed commercial products for registering IDNs and for making them work in existing browsers. Versign naturally sees signficant revenues in opening the doors to so many additional domain names. But it’s not at all pleased with ICANN’s new rules. Here is what Verisign had to say recently. It remains to be seen how closely Verisign and other registries abide by ICANN’s rules and recommendations.

What Next?

I believe that IDNs are going to become a fact of life on the Internet. The only significant growth of Internet users is coming from non-English-speaking countries, such as China, Korea, Russia, and the Arab Middle East. These people want to register the names of their companies in their native languages. I realize that making IDNs work on a global scale will be difficult and possbily danger to the DNS as a whole — but I also believe we need to move forward. The benefits of multilingual domain names far outweigh the risks of doing nothing at all.

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.

The Globalization of Google

Amy Campbell alerted me to a very interesting graphic on the Google Zeitgeist page. It tracks the languages used to access Google over the past two years:

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Google handles more than 200 million queries a day from around the world. Increasingly, these queries are not in English. Over the past few years, Google has aggressively localized its search engine for more than 60 languages. These language-specific search engines are very important to Google’s continued growth, since the majority of new Internet users are not native-English speakers.

Keep a close eye on that tiny purple streak representing Chinese; it’s sure to expand. While there are only about 100 million German speakers in the world, there are well over a billion Chinese speakers. Also expect to see Arabic (200 million speakers) make an entrance in a few years.

Google began in 1998 as an English-language search engine. My, how times — and the Internet — have changed. And, if you’re interested, Google is looking for an International Webmaster.