Wondering what the colors of a flag actually represent?
Flag Stories includes an impressive collection, dissection and compilation of the world’s flags into a range of infographics. For instance, you’ll get a see a visual compilation of the elements shared by the world’s flags, as well as common colors. This site underscores what I’ve been saying for quite some time — that global gateway menus that rely on flags do not improve usability because so many flags appear similar to one another.
You’ll also learn what the colors themselves symbolize:
The JW.org website supports more than 675 written languages. And it doesn’t stop at written languages; it also supports more than 90 different sign languages as well as downloadable PDFs in languages ranging from Adyghe to Zazaki, for a total of 941 languages.
Apple, by comparison, supports a mere 34 languages. And Amazon, the company now synonymous with world domination, supports just 15 languages. Based on my studies, the world’s leading brands support an average of 31 languages, adding roughly one new language per year.
Religious leaders understand well the power of language. And so do the tech leaders. Sadly, too many other business leaders have not yet come to this realization.
Notice how precipitously the language curve drops; it plateaus at roughly 40 languages for companies such as Audi, IKEA, 3M, Nikon and Cisco. And yet 40 languages is still a significant accomplishment for most organizations. The average number of languages, among the leading global brands, is just 32 languages.
The next great language boom will center around India, but this will take time as even companies such as Amazon and IKEA have been resistant to fully invest in the many official languages of this country.
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.
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.
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.
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 context of how you display this flag can make all the difference; for example, do you display the flag on a global gateway with text that reads Select Country or Select Country/Region?
This may seem like a trivial distinction, but Select Country could cost your company millions in lost revenues if China cracks down the way it recently cracked down on Marriott — whose website is currently taking a forced time out.
Now, as I’ve noted earlier, Marriott did not display the Taiwan flag on its global gateway; this problem stemmed from a customer questionnaire that referred to Taiwan, Tibet, Hong Kong and Macau as countries. I would also not be surprised if this questionnaire was created by a third-party vendor. But the reason how it happened isn’t that important now; what’s important is ensuring that these mistakes don’t repeat — or, better yet, never happen in the first place.
Marriott was not alone. Medtronic, Delta and Zara were forced to apologize for making variations of this mistake, which include referring to Taiwan as a country on the global gateway.
The apparent intensification of efforts to police how foreign businesses refer to Chinese-claimed territories – even if only in pull-down menus – underscores just how sensitive the issue of sovereignty has become in a China that is increasingly emboldened on the international stage.
The involvement of more than one Chinese authority in rebuking businesses across different industries suggested possible coordination at a high level of government.
So what should you do to avoid a similar fate?
If your global gateway is built around using flags, now is the time to leave them behind. I’ve written extensively about the many challenges and risks of using flags — on this blog, in many editions of the Report Card and in my newest book.
The rewards of using flags simply do not outweigh the risks.
And I’ve worked with a few dozens companies that have since redesigned their global gateways to be more geopolitically neutral. Another upside is that these resulting global gateways are typically more efficient — both in page display time as well as in maintenance.
But as I write this post I know a number of multinationals — all Fortune 100 — that currently display the Taiwan flag on their global gateways. And the context of a few of them most clearly send a Select Country message — which is a message no company wants to be sending right now.
If you need me to help you make the case for an immediate global gateway redesign and/or internal audit, contact me; I can bundle this in with the forthcoming 2018 Report Card.
In it, I define the “translation economy” and the opportunities (and challenges) it presents to all organizations.
From the information economy to the translation economy
The internet connected the world’s computers, and the digitization of content enabled the rapid flow of information around the world, which drove several decades of what came to be known as the information economy. But one of the great myths of the information economy – and the World Wide Web, for that matter – was the idea that a company could go global simply by launching a website. While the Internet connects computers, it is language that connects people, and the information economy has for too many years exhibited an English-language bias.