China sees the future in Africa (and it’s not alone)

Earlier this year, The Los Angeles Times ran a fascinating series on China and Africa and I only just got around to reading it.

I recommend at least reading Part I.

China is funding a massive railroad project connecting Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, to the port city of Djibouti where most of the country’s exports have previously traveled by way of roads in disrepair.

Clearly, China is not doing this for philanthropic reasons. It need resources. But China has a long game in mind as well — selling products to the locals (which is has been doing quite successfully for a number of years).

Some fascinating takeaways from the article:

By 2034, Africa is expected to have 1.1 billion workers, the world’s largest working-age population, according to economic forecasts. By 2025, the continent’s consumers will be spending $2 trillion a year.

And:

Zhang was proud of his Ethiopian investments. The new rail will knock shipping prices from $5,000 per container to $3,000, he said. And for the cost of one Chinese worker, Zhang can hire five Ethiopians. He plans to employ 50,000 within eight years.

“Ethiopia is like China was 40 years ago,” he said. “Even though this place is pretty tough, we think within five or 10 years, its economic development will be pretty good.”

China has not proven yet that it can build global brands. But it has proven itself adapt at building cheap white-label products. It sees in Africa an emerging base of middle-class consumers, a familiar growth pattern. That’s not to say China doesn’t face cultural and political challenges, but that as other Western countries have pulled back in Africa, China has found itself welcomed with open arms.

The CEOs of Google, Microsoft and Facebook have all visited Nigeria over the past year and have announced investments around training developers, supporting new businesses and increasing Internet penetration.

What The Google CEO’s Visit To Nigeria Means For Africa

So the question for any global company should be: What’s your Africa strategy? 

Microsoft: The best global consumer technology website of 2017

For the 2017 Web Globalization Report Card, I benchmarked the following consumer-oriented technology websites:

  • Adobe
  • Apple
  • Canon
  • Dell
  • HP
  • HTC
  • Lenovo
  • LG
  • Microsoft
  • Nikon
  • Panasonic
  • Samsung
  • Sony
  • Toshiba
  • Xiaomi

Microsoft and Adobe tied this year for the top spot, with Microsoft winning out based on languages supported. Both companies, along with Nikon, made the top 25 list of best global websites. At 43 languages (not including US English), Microsoft leads this category. The web design remains globally consistent; shown below is the home page for Germany:

Microsoft is a conglomerate of loosely related brands, which presents website architecture challenges. That is, how do you support the brand while still letting visitors know that this brand is part of the Microsoft ecosystem?
The following two-level navigation architecture is a clean and lightweight solution, and one that would work well with most companies that support many different brands, while still keeping those brands unified under the parent brand. Shown below are the headers for Surface, Office, and Windows:

The Microsoft global gateway is universal, which means each country/region link is properly displayed in the native language. This gateway is modified for each brand, such as Surface, shown here:

One needed improvement: Promote the global gateway link from the footer into the header (and replace this globe icon with a more generic globe icon):

Adobe
Adobe held steady at 34 languages over the past year.  Adobe continues to support a globally consistent template that is also mobile friendly. Adobe makes excellent use of geolocation to gently alert visitors to the availability of localized websites. Shown here, a French visitor to www.adobe.com is notified that the French website is available, but is also allowed to continue on to the .com site.

This strategy is wise because it leaves users in control; after all, many visitors may indeed want to remain on the .com site, so it’s important to honor that intention.

What about Apple?
Apple made a small but significant addition to its language portfolio last year: Arabic. The website now supports 34 languages, though I believe it should support a great many more, such as Hebrew, Serbian, and Slovenian. Below is the new Arabic-language site for United Arab Emirates:

Apple tweaked its design last week but still, unfortunately, left the global gateway buried in the footer.

More unfortunate, the gateway menu continues to rely on flags.

I’ve been pushing for a number of years to convince Apple to migrate away from using flags. You can read why here. Hopefully we’ll see some movement on this soon.

To learn more about best practices in web globalization, check out the 2017 Report Card.
PS: All purchasers of the Report Card receive signed copies of Think Outside the Country, among other goodies!

Languages are a means to an end, a journey as well as a destination

I recently wrote an op-ed for the Seattle Times about the importance and value of thinking globally. Here’s an excerpt:

Consider Starbucks. In 2003, this aspiring global company supported a mere three languages. Today, it supports 25, which may sound like a lot until you compare it to many other global brands. Among the leading global brands, the average number of languages supported is 31, a new high based on my years of research. And then there are those companies that left 30 languages behind years ago — like Facebook, which supports more than 90 languages, and Google, which supports more than a hundred.

This degree of language growth isn’t just a tech phenomenon. John Deere supports 31 languages, Ford supports 42, and even Jack Daniels is fluent in 22 languages.

So while the U.S. leaders are speaking the rhetoric of isolationism, American companies of all sizes are speaking a different language — in fact, a lot of languages.

And here’s the full article.