You hire a vendor to conduct a global survey.
And let’s suppose this vendor refers to Taiwan as a country and the email goes out to people in China who believe differently, and they happen to be in a position to punish you by blocking your website within China.
This is roughly what happened with Marriott.
According to Skift it was indeed a vendor that led to this misstep. And the CEO, Arne Sorenson, has vowed to make sure it won’t happen again:
“We should have caught it, even though it was provided by a third party, and we didn’t catch it,” Sorenson said. “We moved quickly to fix that mistake and we are moving as quickly as we can to look at all of the stuff we’ve got exposed out there online to customers in China and customers around the world to make sure we are not making similar mistakes in the future.”
This is a lesson that all companies should take to heart. When you hire vendors to communicate with the world on your behalf — you have to audit their work just as closely as you would your own. Because at the end of the day it’s your brand name that will suffer.
Here we are, roughly six weeks later, and the Marriott website still appears to be blocked. Mistakes happen, but the more educated your marketing and web teams are to global and local regulatory and cultural issues, the fewer of these mistakes you will make.
Which leads me to a new report that we’ve just published: Web Globalization Bloopers & Blunders.
I’ve found over the years that it often helps to highlight the more common mistakes that organizations have made to help other organizations sidestep them. This report is included with the 2018 Web Globalization Report Card.
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 2018 Web Globalization Report Card
The Marriott website was taken down in China and Taiwan on or around January 11th. You can read why here.
And here we are two weeks later and the websites are still blank — or nearly so. Here’s what I’m seeing at the .cn domain — appears to be a “maintenance” page:
Delta, Zara and Medtronic issued apologies for somewhat related infractions and are still doing business in China. So why did Marriott take such a hard hit?
Perhaps the survey they sent out that referred to Taiwan (and Hong Kong, Macau, etc) as countries went to some very high-level people within China’s government. Or there are other reasons that we may never know.
Regardless, the end result is financially painful and it underscores a few key lessons for companies doing business in China:
You may not agree with the rules, but rules are rules. I seem to remember this line from childhood — I have a feeling it was repeated to me quite a few times. Every company that does business in China (or any country) has to be play by that country’s rules. Of course, there are also the rules of one’s home country and this is where things can get complex.
Online travels agencies (OTAs) and other partners are particularly valuable as fallback channels. Based on some cursory searching, Marriott is still doing business in China through OTAs. So even though hotels and other hospitality companies may not love relying on OTAs for revenues, these partners certainly come in handy in moments such as these.
If your organization hasn’t conducted a China compliance audit by now, what are you waiting for? I’m working on the 2018 Web Globalization Report Card right now and have documented a number websites that could be shut down or blocked by China right now. This is serious.