What’s the ROI of web globalization?


I’ve been meaning to write about this for awhile. A few months ago, Apple CEO Tim Cook reportedly said this at an investor meeting:

“When we work on making our devices accessible by the blind,” he said, “I don’t consider the bloody ROI.”

I love this quote.

And I love any CEO who knows when the ROI argument is an irrelevant argument.

That’s because sometimes the ROI just isn’t there — maybe not initially, maybe not ever. And sometimes NOT doing something is far worse than worrying about the ROI of actually doing it.

Which leads me to web globalization.

What’s the ROI of web localization for a given language or market?

Isn’t this an important data point to have?

Yes. And no.

I have helped companies calculate the ROI of web localization. And I’ve been privy to extremely complex ROI models that look at factors such as GDP, Internet connectivity, macroeconomic trends, political instability, demographics, and internal business priorities.

I don’t want to suggest that these efforts aren’t worth the effort. They usually are worth the effort.

But I also hate to see ROI used as a convenient excuse for saying NO.

More often than not, the ROI of web localization is all too obvious, or it should be to those at the top of the org chart.

And if you’re in a position of arguing for greater localization investment, I suggest you ask anyone who objects:

What’s the ROI of creating an English-language website?

“Isn’t it obvious that we need an English-language website?” would be the likely response from an English speaker.

Using that logic, isn’t it equally as obvious to speakers of other languages that you need to support their languages if you ever hope to sell to them?

Seems obvious to me.

So the question really shouldn’t be IF we should localize but HOW to do so effectively, making the best use of resources and managing user expectations as we expand within new markets. And ROI has a role to play in these discussions as well, but a much more nuanced role.

Questions every marketing team should ask when it comes to using ROI to make web localization decisions:

  • Is ROI being used to justify our pathetically low investment in web localization?
  • Is ROI being used to “kick the can” down the road of making a decision on web globalization?
  • Will we look back five years from now and kick ourselves for not investing in such and such language/locale?

ROI is not the answer. It’s just a tool to help you arrive at an answer. And sometimes, when the answer is obvious, it’s not a very effective tool at all. It can in fact be dangerous.

And on a final note, I can tell you that a number of companies at the top of the 2014 Report Card did not worry about ROI when deciding to invest in, say, Arabic or Chinese or Hindi. They just did it knowing that web globalization was key to their long-term success.


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