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Yet another reason to avoid using flags on your global gateway

As readers of this blog well know, I often refer to China and Taiwan when making the case for avoiding the use of flags on a global gateway. There are many others reasons, of course, but geopolitical issues have become more acute lately.

I could also point to the Russia and Kosovo as another case study for avoiding the use fo flags. As this New York Times article notes Kosovo, despite being a FIFA member, cannot fly its flag at World Cup stadiums:

The flag — which depicts a gold map of Kosovo under six white stars on a blue background — is one of more than two dozen barred from World Cup stadiums by tournament organizers.

Here’s a visual of the flags not allowed into the stadiums:

While most countries acknowledge Kosovo and its flag, Russia does not. And because this World Cup is hosted by Russia, well, so it goes.

Which brings me back to your global gateway.

Your global gateway is a tool for helping visitors find (or change) their locale setting, not a geopolitical statement.

So keep you life simple and avoid using flags.

And, yes, I know many companies are still learning this lesson the hard way, but more and more websites are removing flags entirely. You can learn more in the Web Globalization Report Card and Think Outside the Country.

 

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Can displaying the Taiwan flag get your website shut down in China?

The short answer: It depends.

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.

Says this Reuters article:

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?

My recommendation:
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.

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Taking the Great American Pastime Global

MLB Japan logo

I was raised a Cardinals fan. But I don’t live in St. Louis anymore so I must follow the team virtually.

Fortunately there’s the MLB mobile app.

MLB mobile app

Now I can listen to the games — and Mike Shannon — in real time.

And I’m not alone. the MLB mobile app has been hugely popular.

In this All Things D interview, Bow Bowman, who runs digital operations for Major League Baseball, talked about taking its brand and digital properties global.

At about the 16 minute mark (see embed below) Bob mentions that non-US users of the MLB apps make up about 10% of all users, which was more than I expected. Most of the usage is in Asia (Korea, Taiwan, Japan) with the rest located in the Caribbean.

I took a brief tour of the non-US MLB websites.

If you visit MLB.com, you’ll see links to the localized websites right above the main logo — easy to find.

MLB global gateway

Here is the home page of MLB Taiwan, note the smart use of the .tw country code:

MLB Taiwan

Also note that the team names have also been translated.

I believe the Japan website is the result of a joint arrangement, hence the wildly different design.

MLB Japan

But I love seeing the .jp country code merged into the logo.

Here’s the full All Things D interview:

PS: I’m also the proud publisher of a book that has helped many MLB players improve their game: Intangibles: Big-League Stories and Strategies for Winning the Mental Game—in Baseball and in Life.