It’s been a month since women have been legally allowed to drive in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and I wanted to get a sense for how this massive new audience of drivers was being welcomed by the world’s automakers.
And, so far, I’d say that most global automakers are treading slowly, too slowly, in welcoming their new customers.
There were two notable standouts, however, that I want to mention: Ford and Audio.
As a bit of background, more than half of the websites I benchmark for the annual Report Card now support Arabic. And most of the automakers studied support partially or largely localized websites for Saudi Arabia.
In English, the headline reads: You Drive in Front. Welcome to the Driver’s Seat.
And when you click on the main link you’ll see this visual:
Audi also leads with a bold, welcoming message: Sometimes history is written. This time, it is driven.
Clicking on the main link takes you to a video that features a husband and wife leaving the house and getting into their Audi. But instead of the man getting into the driver’s seat, we see the woman taking the wheel. In most other regions of the world, this would not be an attention-grabbing video; but Saudi Arabia is not most other regions.
Audi also includes a link to a test drive request form, a very nice feature.
Beyond Ford and Audi, there are a handful of positive examples from other automakers responding to this doubling of potential drivers:
Volkswagen features a TV ad that focuses on female drivers, with one behind the driver’s seat.
Mercedes has a MercedesShe global promotional campaign that does a degree of localization for women in the Middle East, but not nearly enough in my opinion.
Subaru and Toyota have been active on social media in welcoming female drivers. Shown below are examples from Twitter and Instagram:
The automakers not mentioned here are not doing nearly enough to welcome their new customers (if anything at all) — and I suspect this is not going without notice. Web localization is about respect and respect is about languages, cultures, and people.
It’s more than a hashtag; it’s a social movement. And it’s growing.
A movement among Indian consumers to force the vendors who depend on their business to actually support their native languages.
As this Times of Indiaarticle notes: From ATMs to deposit slips, withdrawal challans and call centres, most public and private banks feel that service in Hindi and English should suffice their customer base –– Indians who converse in 22 major languages and 720 dialects.
This article is specific to the banking industry, but it’s safe to say that this is the beginning of something much bigger. Linguistically, India has been poorly served by websites.
As I noted in the 2018 Web Globalization Report Card, only 7% of the global websites studied support Hindi, followed by Urdu and Tamil. According to research conducted by Nielsen in 2017, 68% of Indian internet users consider local-language content to be more reliable than English. Facebook certainly understands this; Facebook supports more than half of India’s official languages. And it’s no surprise that Facebook now has more users in India than in the US.
Fortunately, some Indian banks are now becoming more multilingual. The Times of India article notes:
Private banks such as ICICI Bank, Axis Bank and Kotak Mahindra Bank are trying to be more multi-lingual in their digital banking strategy. “For instance, the Kotak Bharat app is aimed at financial inclusion. Users can transfer money, recharge their mobile, buy insurance, etc in Hindi, English, Gujarati, Marathi, Tamil or Kannada. We plan to expand the app to handle other regional languages,” says Deepak Sharma, chief digital officer at Kotak Mahindra Bank.
And as you can see by this excerpt from my newly updated IDN poster, India represents a significant diversity of languages and scripts:
Languages are more than a means to an end; they are a sign of respect.
And companies that invest in languages are not only investing in their customers but investing in their own future.
I’m excited to announce the publication of The 2018 Web Globalization Report Card. This is the most ambitious report I’ve written so far and it sheds light on a number of new and established best practices in website globalization.
First, here are the top-scoring websites from the report:
For regular readers of this blog, you’ll notice that Google was unseated this year by Wikipedia. Wikipedia, with support for an amazing 298 languages, made a positive improvement to global navigation over the past year that pushed it into the top spot. And Wikipedia, due to the fact that it is completely user-supported, indicates that there is great demand for languages on the Internet — and very few companies have yet responded in kind.
Google could still stand to improve in global navigation, as could Facebook.
Other highlights from the top 25 list include:
Consumer goods companies such as Pampers and Nestlé are a positive sign that non-tech companies are making positive strides in improving their website globalization skills.
As a group, the top 25 websites support an average of more than 80 languages (up from 54 last year); but note that we added a few websites that made a big impact on that average.
Luxury brands such as Gucci and Ralph Lauren continue to lag in web globalization — from poor support for languages to inadequate localization.
The average number of languages supported by all 150 global brands is now 32.
The data underlying the Report Card is based on studying the leading global brands and world’s largest companies — 150 companies across more than 20 industry sectors. I began tracking many of the companies included in this report more than a decade ago and am happy to share insights into what works and what doesn’t.
I’ll have much more to share in the weeks and months ahead. If you have any questions about the report, please let me know.
Congratulations to the top 25 companies and to the people within these companies who have long championed web globalization.
The dream is profound — a global company united by one language. Employees communicating freely with one another across border and culture, improving productivity and sharing of ideas.
The reality, however, is quite a bit messier than the dream.
But that doesn’t stop CEOs from dreaming.
Such as Hiroshi Mikitani, the CEO of Rakuten, Japan’s leading ecommerce company (and one of the largest by revenues globally). Here is a screen shot of the Rakuten Japan home page. The company is often referred to as the Amazon of Japan.
In 2010, Mikani announced that the company’s 10,000 employees (90% of whom were Japanese) would transition to English over the next two years, beginning that day. Professor Neeley had a front-row seat to this massive transformation, covering it over a period of five years, resulting in The Language of Global Success.
If you have any interest in the globalization of companies, this book is an absolute must read. Neeley had full access to Rakuten employees. She conducted surveys and interviewed staff in Japan as well as parts of Asia, Europe, the US and Brazil. And she has spent many years studying not just Rakuten but other English-only multinationals, such as Siemens and SAP.
The author successfully captured the cross-border and cross-cultural tensions that I often witness in my consulting engagements. And the anecdotes she collects from this 5-year Englishnization project are entertaining. For example, when an American Rakuten executive hears the big English-only announcement, he exclaims, “Thank God he picked my language.”
But the Americans eventually realize that a common language comes with unexpected challenges. As the Japan HQ becomes more English-literate, it is better able to translate its corporate culture (and rules) to all local offices. Eventually, a phone-book-sized employee manual arrives in the US office, detailing such requirements a wearing your ID badge in a specific location at all times. One can imagine how the American employees felt when they were faulted for employee badge infractions, something trivial to them but not at all trivial to HQ.
In the end, everyone became expats during this transition; Neely identifies three categories:
Linguistic expats: Japanese employees who now feel lost in this new language environment
Cultural expats: Employees who may be fluent in English but lost within this new global (Japanese) corporate culture.
Dual-expats: Employees who are not native speakers of English nor native to Japanese culture, such as employees in Europe.
Dual expats turn out to be the best positioned to adapt to the new “global” culture. After all, they were dealing with a mixture of languages and cultures from day one and felt no loss of status or control along the way.
Englishnization vs. Americanization
The choice of language is both obvious and contentious. English has become the informal second language of the world, but it’s important to differentiate between language and culture. Just because Rakuten chose the language didn’t mean the CEO wasn’t also choosing American or Western culture. Though he was clear that he hoped there would be a change in corporate culture within Rakuten (less conformist, more entrepreneurial), which I’m not sure occurred. By the end of the book, Rakuten is still very much a Japanese company, but one that speaks English.
And I would suggest, in the interests of fairness, that native-English speakers be required to pick up a second language. Perhaps Spanish, for the American office. Doing so would send the message that English isn’t the “best” language, simply the most practical for a global company.
Key takeaways from the book include:
If your CEO isn’t fully committed, forget it. There is no doubt that had Mikitani-san not pushed and pushed during the transition that this effort would have been a failure. It’s not simply a matter of sending out a memo. The CEO offered to train employees himself at one point.
A common language is not the same thing as a common culture. In fact, a common language will illuminate cultural challenges to a degree not before fully seen or understood.
Cross-cultural training should also be included with language training. People need to understand the differences between collectivism cultures (such as Japan) versus individualism cultures (such as the United States.
Employees must have a shared vision of becoming a global company, no longer an assortment of local companies.
The bottom line: Was it worth the trouble?
The CEO says it was, and many employees agree. But productivity suffered along the way. And one could argue that Rakuten did what was inevitable for any global company.
The company has grown over the past five years and is better positioned now to recruit global, English-speaking talent. And the cross-fertilization of ideas between different geographies is now evident, a big plus, and perhaps the greatest upside of all.
While I’ve closely studied travel websites for many years (such as airlines, hotels, travel agencies) as part of The Web Globalization Report Card, I’ve not spent much time looking closely at destination websites, such as for cities, regions and countries. That is, until earlier this year.
For this report we benchmarked 55 country, region, and city tourism websites across six continents. Of those websites, here are the top 10 overall:
Germany emerged on top driven in large part by its support for a leading 24 languages as well as global consistency and local content.
The leading city website is Paris, with support for 11 languages, which may not sound like many languages, but is actually well above the average for city websites.
Which leads me to the key finding of this report: the growing language gap between travel and tourism websites, which I will write about in a later post.
Western Australia came out on top of the regional websites. Shown here, note the globe icon in the header used to highlight the global gateway — a very nice touch.
Tourism websites should lead the travel industry
Language is just one of the areas in which tourism websites need improvement. This report carefully documents the many different types of navigation strategies used by tourism websites and provides best practices that all sites should consider. It also takes a close look at localized content, social media, and support for mobile users (also a weak point).
It’s my hope that this report helps tourism organizations make a stronger case for globalization. After all, the travel and tourism industry is growing at a faster pace than the global economy and by 2017 is projected by the World Travel and Tourism Council to account for 1 of 9 jobs on this planet. Tourism websites play a key role in attracting travelers and more than half of these travelers do not speak English.