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Forget it, Jake. It’s China.

A timely article in The Wall Street Journal (that I only recently got around to reading): “The future’s not here.” American business people once saw China as dynamic, exciting and wide open. Not anymore.

To which I ask: When was China ever “wide open?”

An excerpt:

For years, American entrepreneurs saw a place in which they would start tech businesses, build restaurant chains and manage factories, making potentially vast sums in an exciting, newly dynamic economy. Many mastered Mandarin, hired and trained thousands in China, bought houses, met their spouses and raised bilingual children.

Now disillusion has set in, fed by soaring costs, creeping taxation, tightening political control and capricious regulation that makes it ever tougher to maneuver the market and fend off new domestic competitors. All these signal to expat business owners their best days were in the past.

Let’s not blame the recent trade and tariff issues. China is a ruthlessly competitive market that, like so many countries, tilts the playing field in favor of its home-grown companies. And intellectual property is (to put it mildly) not well protected. I remember when Bill Gates traveled to China years ago to complain about the epic levels of piracy of the Windows OS (at the time, Windows was the leading operating system in China and yet Microsoft saw little in the way of revenues).

Other companies that have struggled in China include Cisco, Amazon and WalMart. And let’s not overlook the fact that Google and Facebook are still desperately trying to squeeze their way in without selling their souls (and are close to doing just that).

One thing I have been telling companies in the early stages of going global for more than a decade now — if China is your first overseas market, perhaps you should select another. Going global is difficult, no matter what country or culture you target. But add in one of the most heavily and capriciously regulated intranets (China’s Internet is in truth an intranet) and you face a very steep hill to climb. That’s not to say you shouldn’t target China, but go into it with eyes open and a long-term game plan.

And, frankly, that’s true for any market. Every new market is a new frontier — with new rules, cultures, competitors. The experience of going global can be equal parts exhilarating and terrifying. But it is most definitely not boring!

Speaking of… I’m now working on the next edition of the Web Globalization Report Card. Lots of exciting new developments which I will write about in the weeks and months ahead.

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What’s the world’s most multilingual website? (2018 update)

A few months ago, I wrote an essay for Multilingual in which I noted that the world’s most multilingual website isn’t Google or Facebook or even Wikipedia.

It is the website of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

As I noted in the essay:

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.

Here are the top 10 most multilingual websites from the 2018 Web Globalization Report Card:

 

Notice how precipitously the language curve drops; it plateaus at roughly 40 languages for companies such as Audi, IKEA3M, 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.

To learn more about the language leaders, download a free sample of the Web Globalization Report Card.

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Globalia illustrates why your global gateway should be in the header

Globalia is the leading travel company in Spain, generating 3.5 billion euros in revenues across more than a dozen brands.

I visited the global website recently and noticed something missing from the home page — my native language. Not surprisingly, the global home page defaults to Spanish. So I went looking for a link to English-language content.

I first scanned the header.  No luck.

Then I moved down to the footer and, in painfully small type, I found the link to the “English version.”

Clearly, this is not the best place to locate a “global gateway,” even if the gateway itself is simply a link to a second language. Language/location links should always be in the header to save your visitors from needless searching and scrolling.

Globalia could take a page from one its companies, AirEuropa, which does an excellent job of locating its global gateway in the header — and using a generic globe icon, as shown here:

Since so many global home pages default to English, I find the Globalia home page to be a useful case study for many American-based multinationals. Because here in the US, it’s tempting to just assume that the global home page of any company should be in English. While this may be the case for most multinationals, the most sophisticated companies greet users in their preferred languages, whatever that language may be.

Web localization isn’t simply about supporting a set number of languages, it’s about support the most important languages of your customers, whatever those languages may be. And, when you do invest in all those languages, don’t let them waste away by burying your global gateway in the footer.

To learn more check out Think Outside the Country and the 2018 Web Globalization Report Card (free sample available).

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Speaking in Tongues: Corporate America needs to get religious about languages

I was happy to have an essay published in the recent issue of Multilingual.

In the essay I write:

While Wikipedia, Google and Facebook are among the leaders in languages at 298, 172 and 107 respectively, they don’t come even close to the website of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

That’s right. The world’s most linguistic website is managed by the Jehovah’s Witnesses and can be found at www.JW.org.

You can read the essay here.