Tips and Best Practices for Targeting an APAC Audience (Part II)

Here’s my latest post for client Pitney Bowes:

Any company with global aspirations cannot afford to ignore the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region. It’s a region that includes more than two billion people across more than 20 countries, ranging from Australia to Indonesia to China and Japan.

This article (the second of two) offers a few web localization tips to keep in mind.

An excerpt:

Don’t Be Colorblind
Colors carry cultural and emotional significance. And sometimes colors mean very different things depending on the culture. At a Chinese wedding, for example, the bride typically wears red, not white. This alone should underscore just how important red is in the Chinese culture.

White is more often associated with death, and some companies go so far as to avoid packaging their products in white (though Apple seems to have done quite well in spite of this perceived hurdle). One key point to keep in mind is that red is positive and green is not so positive, at least so far as the stock market is concerned.

china_stockmarket

Shown here is a daily summary of the Shanghai Composite Index. While the red text may appear ominous to a Western investor, the stock market actually finished up 12 points this day.

Here’s the full story.

And here’s Part I.

When does localization become capitulation?

I begin this post with a question because I don’t have an answer.

A book making news these days is The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler. It’s about Hollywood’s active self-censorship to appease German censors during Hitler’s reign.

According to the book, movies critical of the Nazi regime were killed because they would have threatened all Hollywood exports into Germany at the time.

According to this NY Post piece, Hollywood is making the same sort of deal with the devil with China.

Changing plot lines, adding characters and scenes, changing the “bad guys” from  Chinese to Russian — all to appease Chinese censors.

China is very careful about what movies it allows in its large and lucrative  market. And this gatekeeper role gives it enormous power over Hollywood.

Which leads me to the question at hand: At what point does localization become capitulation?

This is question every company must ask itself when trying to expand into new markets and cultures.

A Hollywood studio would no doubt argue that it is simply localizing its product to comply with local laws and to succeed with customers.

Which means that Hollywood may end up one day localizing the “bad guys” for each market it enters.

Is this a bad thing? Or is this just good business?

Localization is, after all, about adapting to the market.

I do believe there is a line there, somewhere, that you shouldn’t cross.

When you find that you’re changing who you are to adapt to a market, you should pause to understand exactly what you are changing, exactly what you are sacrificing.

As for Hollywood “selling its soul” to succeed in China I would ask: What soul was there to sell? 

But in all seriousness, this is a big issue and it’s not going away. Companies are  desperate to succeed in markets around the world — markets where they may indeed be asked or required to do things they don’t want to do.

I think of Mean Girls and the lengths that Lindsay Lohan’s character went in order to fit in. (Yes, all the great business issues of the world have been addressed by high school movies.)

And then I think of a quote I from the former CEO of Starbucks:

On a country-by-country basis, the largest hurdle we had to overcome was thinking we had to be different.

 

 

 

English-only multinationals are a bad idea

You can decree that the employees of your company speak only English.

You can train everyone.

You can test everyone.

And you can get everyone to speak English in meetings, just as you mandated.

But be careful what you wish for.

Just because everyone speaks English doesn’t mean everyone is communicating.

Doesn’t mean everyone is comfortable.

And, most importantly, doesn’t mean people are as effective as they want to be.

The fact is, global companies have been around for centuries and they somehow figured out how to function with many shared languages.

As this Harvard Business School article points out, the rise of “Englishnization” is causing problems in the workplace.

World 3.0: Making Sense of a Semi-Global Planet

I received an advance review copy of Pankaj Ghemeawat’s new book World 3.0: Global Prosperity and How to Achieve It.

I greatly enjoyed his previous book, Redefining Global Strategy, calling it a valuable counterpoint to Tom Friedman’s book The World is Flat.

In his newest book, Pankaj sets out to chart a course forward that balances global integration (globalization) with regulation.

In light of the global recession, Pankaj does not want to see countries revert to an all-or-nothing approach to globalization — either embracing globalization with no checks or balances or completely closing the door to trade, immigrants, ideas, etc.

Of course, charting such a course requires making sense of a world that cannot be easily summarized in sound bites — something most American politicians seem unable or unwilling to do. The fact is, the globalization “train” has long ago left the station. We’re all connected, whether we like it or not. We can either choose to create relationships that benefit everyone or we can live with the outdated mindset that some countries must win at the expense of others. What I really appreciate about Pankaj’s writing is that he believes that globalization (properly regulated) can benefit everyone and he backs up these beliefs with plenty of data and recommendations for politicians, business leaders, and ordinary folks like myself.

What I most liked about this book was how Pankaj debunks popular misconceptions about globalization, which he calls “globaloney.” For example:

  • We have vastly overestimated how global we think we are. At best, Pankaj writes, we are semi-global. According to Panjak, global exports account for just 20% of global GDP. Cross-border Internet traffic accounts for about 20% of all traffic. And about 20% of VC money is deployed outside of that VC’s borders. And from where I sit, as one who studies web globalization, most companies are still very much in the early stages of figuring out how to expand globally.
  • Globalization has not, in fact, resulted in less diversity of brands, but greater diversity. He cites the auto industry, which is more diverse today than it was forty years ago. He stresses that globalization is not a one-way street towards homogenization.While there are Starbucks and McDonald’s seemingly everywhere, the US has seen its fair of share of international retailers set up shop here as well — from IKEA to Uniqlo. But more important, Pankaj illustrates how global brands are effectively localized to such a degree that they are just as local as they are global.
  • Successful global trade depends heavily on trust. And it’s easier to trust someone who shares your language, culture, and time zone. Pankaj cites data to show how trade levels drop the further two countries are from each other. He devotes quite a bit of ink to just how little trade is conducted between the US and Canada, despite our shared language, time zones, and cultures. Why is that? He cites obstacles like lack of harmonized rules and regulations, customs nightmares that hold up goods, and other seemingly minor details that, in total, give companies reason to rethink expanding beyond borders.

However, I think Pankaj does a bit too much debunking at times. Pankaj says that the “race to the bottom” of countries focusing on low costs at the expense of the environment, human rights, etc. simply does not exist. I disagree. He focuses on pollution largely but there are so many other issues that should be addressed.

For instance, factory farming is, in my view, an absolute atrocity and it is now being exported around the world via US trade agreements. That is, when the US exports meat that has been produced cheaply via factory farming, local farmers in other countries are forced to embrace factory farming to remain competitive or go out of business. A number of Korean family farmers committed suicide in protest of the recent trade agreement between South Korea and the US. Pankaj vastly trivializes these so-called “externalities” and, in doing so, overlooks what is one of the great (and growing) forces mobilizing against globalization.

That said, I recommend this book. Pankaj is one of a handful of writers who are tackling globalization, warts and all, in a thoughtful manner. Globalization is not a black and white argument; there are many shades of gray and this book does a very good job of shedding light on them.

The Top 25 Global Web Sites of 2011

I’m pleased to announce the publication of the 2011 Web Globalization Report Card. This year, we reviewed 250 web sites across 25 industries. The web sites represent nearly half of the Fortune 100 and nearly all of the Interbrand Global 100.

Out of these 250 sites, here are the top 25 overall:

Google, which has held the number one spot for years, was unseated by Facebook this year. Facebook’s recent innovations (multilingual social plugins, improved global gateway, multilingual user profiles) gave it the edge. (I’ve devoted a separate report to Facebook’s innovations.)

Companies like 3MCiscoPhilips, and NIVEA have become regular faces in the top 25. But there are some new faces as well. There are five companies new this year to the top 25: Volkswagen, Adobe, Shell, Skype, and DHL.

Although these 25 web sites represent a wide range of industries, they all share a high degree of global consistency and impressive support for languages. They average 58 languages — which is more than twice the average for all 250 sites reviewed.

The average number of languages supported by  all 250 web sites is 23, up from 22 last year. As the visual below illustrates, language growth over the years has been amazing. Seven years ago, I was thrilled to find a web site with more than 20 languages. Today, 20 languages is below average.

Language is just one element of web globalization, but it is the most visible element. When a company adds a language, it is making its global expansion plans known. If you want to know where your competitors are betting on growth, spend some time looking at their local web sites. More than twenty companies added four or more languages over the past 12 months.

Fast-growing languages on the Internet include Hungarian, Turkish, Indonesian, and Russian. Here is where Russian stands today — now found on nearly 8 of 10 web sites:

In the Report Card, languages account for 25% of a web site’s score. We also evaluate a web site’s depth and breadth of local content, the effectiveness of the global gateway, and overall global consistency. Beginning in 2010, we have also begun tracking how companies promote local social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter around the world. Our goal was not only to highlight the leaders in language but to identify those web sites and services that were globally “well rounded” as well as innovative.

The top 25 web sites are not perfect. The Report Card details many ways these sites could be improved (including Facebook and Google). That said, the executives who manage these web sites and services deserve a great deal of credit. As someone who has worked as both a consultant and an employee at companies such as these, I know how challenging it can be to get the funding to add languages and staff and to educate various teams on the many complexities of web globalization. While it may be the company names that appear on the top 25 list, it is the hundreds of passionate and bright people who got them there.

Congratulations!