When operating in different countries, your business must conduct research before attempting to communicate with its target audiences. Keeping culture at the forefront of your mind when planning for business globalization allows your brand to more thoroughly understand its potential consumers and the behaviors that drive them to buy.
The word "culture" encompasses a variety of lifestyle factors, regional patterns and personal choices that comprise an individual's regional and personal identity. Merriam Webster recently named the term the 2014 word of the year, allowing small-business owners to take the time to reflect on how culture impacts the online habits of their international consumer base.
Varying cultures affect readership
Culture can have a significant impact on behavior. A consumer living in China may be accustomed to a different type of website format than one living in the U.S., as regional sites feature language, times and widgets tailored to one specific geographic location. User experience, or the way website visitors interact with your online ventures, should vary by region, meaning small-business owners should take steps to ensure different cultures have access to content tailored to their preferences.
"Research is the first and most important step when creating an international website."
When developing a website for consumers across different cultures, research is the first and most important step. Your brand should delve into the aesthetic factors of website design that may impact how a person behaves on the site. For example, colors have varying meanings depending on the region or culture in question. Marketing firm Smart Insights conducted a survey among consumers living in different countries, and it discovered that orange held significant buying power in areas with large Buddhist populations like Singapore, as the color is tied to power and religious belief.
Adapting your website for different cultures
Addressing the language barrier is the first step to reaching people with different cultures. Investing in high-quality professional translation services allows your site visitors the ability to read and digest pertinent company information. But developing copy is only half the battle.
According to Geert Hofstede, a social psychologist who specializes in cultural studies, there are five main pillars to consider when researching the behaviors of international consumers.
Femininity vs. masculinity
Power distance (or the authority/expertise presented by a brand)
Collectivism vs. individualism
Long- vs. short-term orientation
Uncertainty avoidance (or shying away from sites that rely heavily on the unknown)
Hofstede noted that these major factors were crucial when communicating with other people, especially when it comes to the professional realm. Understanding your consumers is the first step to providing the highest-quality service to them, as your brand has a more accurate snapshot of the people it hopes to serve. These pillars may impact the way your international partners interact with your site. For example, consumers living in a country that traditionally prides itself on collectivism may be more likely to click on photos with more than one person, while those that value individualism would interact with photographs of one person. Keeping cultural preferences on your mind when developing an international website and adapting content for these consumers could have a profound impact on the international success of your brand.
Expanding your business across international borders opens your company to a range of professional relationships, with regard to both global partners and clients. According to the World Trade Organization's International Trade Statistics 2014, an increasing number of businesses are expanding their operations abroad. In 2013, world merchandise exports grew by 2 percent while commercial services exports increased by 6 percent.
As more companies continue to operate abroad, small-business owners seek ways to adapt their services and products for international consumers. One way companies have sought to accommodate these consumers is by investing in professional translation services, which can ensure any content is accessible across language borders.
In fact, several businesses have seen impressive success immediately after investing in website translation, noting significant improvements in both revenue and relationships following a heavier emphasis on internationalization. Consider three such companies, all of which saw global success after developing translation endeavors.
Music-streaming service Rdio has made impressive strides through its international market over the past several years. While the company was only founded in 2010, it currently operates in 85 countries across the world. But part of what propelled the business to global success was its emphasis on translation – the website is currently available in 24 different languages, but the company continues to translate its website across myriad regional dialects.
In an interview with CNBC, Rdio's CEO Anthony Bay explained that the company will continue to expand globally over the next several years – a venture that has already proven to be successful, as the business recently tapped into the Indian market by opening its second-largest office in the country.
"There's only about three companies offering this kind of service on a global basis, so in that category, it's our goal to be the best," Bay said. "A lot of our emphasis is on the global market."
What helps Rdio stand out among its competition – and no doubt contributed to the company being named one of Time magazine's Top 50 Websites of 2014 – is its insistence on quality translation. In addition to the 24 language settings already available on the site, the company uses its range of international listeners to help translate pages into languages not yet available. While community members can suggest translations, no sites go live until the content has been reviewed by the experts who can ensure the pages are accurately localized. Rdio even has a page where visitors can learn about the translation process and how it can expand in the future.
Rdio is not the only newer venture to see success in its international efforts after translating website content. Wickr is a mobile messaging app that allows users to send encrypted messages or media to one another, then immediately deletes sent information after it has been opened. The company was founded in 2011 and since then, it has expanded to more than 200 countries and now operates on both mobile and desktop devices. Similarly to Rdio, Wickr places a heavy emphasis on translating its content for international audiences. In October 2014, the app announced it would support 22 different languages to accommodate its millions of global users.
This emphasis on high-quality mobile app translation has helped the business further gain international support. It was named the Official Secure Messaging App of the Oslo Freedom Forum in 2014. Co-founder and CEO Nico Sell explained that the app has been instrumental for those living in countries that do not support freedom of speech or those where governmental unrest is rampant.
"As the number of Wickr users based outside of the U.S. continues to grow, this new offering will enable millions of people around the world to communicate securely, using their native language," Sell said.
And the company has no plans to slow down anytime soon – over the next several years, international users can expect the company to continue developing and refining its global language efforts to improve communication among these individuals.
"WhatsApp reached 600 million users last year, thanks in part to its quick global adoption rates."
Another messaging app that has integrated a content translator into its operations is WhatsApp, which allows users to communicate with their smartphones without having to pay standard texting fees. The company was acquired by Facebook in spring 2014 – a partnership that has only contributed to the international success of the app. The app reached 600 million users at the end of 2014, thanks in part to its expansion in countries such as Brazil, Russia, Mexico and India.
Similarly to Rdio, WhatsApp has its own translation website where users can help localize the app's language based on their region. The company asks native speakers to help translate the pages, then notify the brand if any language or setting is incorrect. WhatsApp is presently available in 40 different languages on its website, but as it continues to see success in different countries, the number will continue to rise.
Various companies are poised to go global in 2015. Recovering global economies, paired with a rising number of corporations who have paved the way for international success, have inspired businesses of all sizes to contemplate new global strategies.
Bloomberg recently pointed out that the 2014 Standard & Poor's 500 Index – which represents some of the largest U.S. companies and stocks across all major industries – rose by 12 percent over the past year. Historically, when the SPX has risen, the MSCI World Index has risen dramatically in the following year – poising 2015 as the prime time for companies to invest in their international efforts.
If your company has begun to evaluate whether it should go global, look to the following three businesses that expanded their operations to new countries in the past several months.
Tinder may have been the go-to dating app of 2014, but Hinge emerged as a dark horse competitor toward the end of the year. Similar to Tinder, Hinge allows mobile users to sift through possible dating matches. But unlike Tinder, which permits users to swipe through endless profiles, Hinge matches users based on their online friendships, meaning people are paired with connections of their Facebook friend group. The site launched in 2013, but just recently announced its plans to expand to different countries.
Investment firm Shasta Ventures partnered with the matchmaking app, pledging $12 million to go toward global expansion. The app currently allows people to connect in 28 different cities, but founder Justin McLeod explained to Forbes that 2015 would be all about growth – both expanding profile capabilities for users and reaching audiences abroad.
"France-based BlaBlaCar managed to raise more than $100 million to fuel its globalization efforts."
This digital signature acquisition service is a great resource for companies looking into business globalization. It allows professionals from different companies to collect signatures from both partners and clients who cannot physically sign documents. The company currently operates in several different countries, but it recently raised $30 million to develop and expand its efforts in the Japanese market. Forbes reported that it plans on using the funds to open an office in Tokyo, which will assist the brand as it tailors its features for the Japanese market.
France-based ride-hailing service BlaBlaCar – similar to U.S. companies Uber and Lyft – operates primarily in Europe. People can download the mobile app, enter their location and call a car to come pick them up. The business began in France, but operates in 14 different countries. Last year, it opened branches in both Russia and Turkey. In 2015, the company plans to further expand by operating in India. BlaBlaCar managed to raise more than $100 million for the India expansion – but the company has no plans to stop there. CEO and co-founder Frédéric Mazzella explained to TechCrunch that the funds will help not only develop the India office, but pave the way for other countries, like Brazil, in the future.
Communication is critical for any business relationship, but it becomes even more imperative for businesses seeking to establish connections with international consumers and employees. As business globalization remains a top focus for many small companies, there are several tools that can assist small business owners as they develop global workforces and streamline the flow of information across the borders.
After you have begun working with employees or partners in different countries, start looking for business solutions that can improve communication and ensure operations run smoothly throughout the duration of your professional relationship.
1. Communicate with ease by using UberConference
Managing a phone call between several different parties can be a hassle, especially if you need to include remote employees or those who cannot gather in the same room. In these instances, services like UberConference become necessary. This calling service allows multiple people to join on one line, providing the group with one phone number that allows them to instantly connect. Like most other companies that provide calling services, it permits people to share screens, allowing the organizer to show any participants charts, data or documents that pertain to the meeting.
While UberConference does not offer video calling, it does feature innovative visual services for those connected to a computer. People on the phone can see which speaker is currently talking, mute callers who may have distracting background noises, view social profiles of attendees and text chat with individuals on the line. Additionally, UberConference has international calling abilities that make connecting with global partners much easier.
2. Manage projects and workers with Basecamp
When it comes to developing and managing projects that require the involvement of international workers, trusting a service that can facilitate communication and store online documents is a must for small businesses. Basecamp is a digital service that collects important project data and allows people to work on tasks from across the globe. According to the site, it has been assisting businesses for more than 15 years, with an impressive track record filled with success stories and a wealth of positive recommendations. More than 350,000 companies used Basecamp last year to work on over 4 million projects, something the service claimed propelled it to become the world's No.1 project management tool.
"More than 350,000 companies used Basecamp last year to work on over 4 million projects."
This service is particularly helpful for businesses partnering with people living in different countries, especially if they do not speak the same language. The platform itself offers the perfect place on which managers can post their own project information, whether that be data, discussions or documents. Additionally, companies that are seeking to connect with global partners can post content that has been generated by professional translation services, ensuring international contacts can access and understand important information pertaining to the project.
3. Develop personnel profiles with Nimble
Understanding your business contacts is imperative for executives looking to effectively communicate with partners and clients. Nimble is a digital service that collects information about your contacts – such as email addresses, recent posts, social media profiles and activity – that gives the viewer a comprehensive look at the person and his or her online presence. This particular tool offers a bevy of benefits to small-business owners, from providing them a complete look at candidates who may be vying for employment to developing a more in-depth view of the interests of a potential business partner. Companies looking to expand their business operations to an international audience can use the service to glean information about the interests and capabilities of a potential new partner, including whether or not professional translation services will be necessary to facilitate discussion between two parties.
Nimble offers far more than just basic profiling. According to a case study published on the site, Nimble can increase the efficiency of managing relationships with contacts. The study followed the story of two entrepreneurs who started their own U.K.-based clothing company, A.M. Custom Clothing. Alex Franklin, co-founder of the business, explained that one of its features allowed the boys to discover a deal that would have been otherwise lost.
"We immediately were reminded of a huge deal in our pipeline – several thousand pounds – as soon as we set up Nimble," Franklin said in the study. "We had lost track of this prospect. As we were entering information in Nimble's Deals feature we rediscovered them, reached out, got the deal moving again, and it resulted in a very big sale."
4. Ensure meetings are optimized for mobile with TeamViewer
Similar to other services that streamline data sharing for people in business meetings, TeamViewer allows people to quickly connect online to discuss with screen sharing and multiple participant support. Unlike other companies, however, TeamViewer optimizes information for mobile devices, meaning any people attending the meeting can share information regardless of how they're viewing it, whether they be on a computer, mobile device or tablet.
Enlisting services like TeamViewer is essential for businesses looking to reach remote or international business contacts, as the optimization allows people from any location to view the same content from any platform. It is especially beneficial for the rising majority of small business owners who have integrated mobile technology into their daily operations – according to a study conducted by Constant Contact, more than 77 percent of these professionals use mobile technology while working.
"More than 77 percent of small business owners use mobile technology, highlighting the importance of optimization."
5. Share data with business partners via Box
There are various data-hosting websites available for business partners looking to quickly and safely share information. When it comes to managing relationships with a global workforce, Box is best. Not only does this site ensure any shared content remains confidential, but it offers a range of professional services for business executives, including educational courses to take advantage of features, 24/7 access to IT professionals and customized consulting to help businesses determine how to best use the service. Storage space is particularly useful for executives who need to share with global audiences those documents that have been reviewed by a business localization service.
CIO magazine reported that Box was the best document-sharing service for businesses, noting that its analytical reporting measures, as well as its easy management and integration capabilities, set the company above others that provided similar services.
Providing high-quality customer service is one of the most important parts of running a business. There are many factors that contribute to excellent service, from the way you manage your Facebook page to the speed with which you answer customer requests.
Offering customer support is a necessity, but providing world-class service is a choice that can set your company apart from the throng of businesses producing similar services. Consider how – and why – your brand can integrate the following into its customer service model.
1. Encourage your consumers to speak out
Customers who have positive experiences with your business are much less likely to speak up than those who have had negative ones. According to "Understanding Customers" by customer service expert Ruby Newell-Legner, only 4 percent of dissatisfied consumers reach out to companies, meaning 96 percent of buyers with concerns allow their voices to remain unheard.
"Only 4 percent of dissatisfied customers reach out to customer service departments."
Tapping into the voices of your quieter consumers can allow your brand to not only retain the individual in question, but also improve its overall operations to better serve its consumer base as a whole. Take steps to encourage customers to speak up, such as including a phone number or email address for comments, or updating your social media sites frequently with answers to common questions.
2. Respond in a timely manner
The speed with which you respond to a comment is almost as important as the answer you provide. Social networks and mobile devices have made reaching companies much easier for customers, but they have also affected the expectations buyers have of their businesses. When it comes to digital communication – such as those sent via email or social media – your consumers want a response within two to three days. According to Oracle's 2011 Customer Experience Impact Report, 50 percent of consumers said they would stop using a particular business if they did not receive a response within a week.
3. Speak your consumers' language
If you're marketing to customers located in a region that speaks a different language, it is imperative that your customer service reflects this. Language translation tools may help international consumers tailor their concerns to your language, but ideally, your business should accommodate any concerns that arise in the native language of the particular region. After you have invested in a business localization service to translate your website copy, search for tools that will allow you to provide quality support to customers in international regions. Whether this means hiring a bilingual staff member to field support requests or regularly using a professional translation service, this step is crucial for brands that operate globally.
4. Provide several platforms for communication
Customer service used to be limited to in-person visits or telephone calls, but with the rising adoption of mobile devices, the landscape has drastically shifted over the years. Now, consumers have access to – and expect – customer support provided via email, chat, text message and phone. Your brand should adopt a variety of platforms on which it addresses concerns, as the people in your varied consumer base will have their own preferences.
LivePerson conducted an online study on how customers view service, interviewing more than 5,700 people in six different countries. The report broke down the top eight most commonly used customer support platforms, noting that while certain methods were more widely adopted than others, customers were divided when asked to pick which one was best.
61 percent wanted telephone numbers
60 percent wanted email
57 percent wanted live chat
51 percent wanted access to frequently asked questions
34 percent wanted click to call (or the ability to have representatives call them back)
17 percent wanted online customer forums
12 percent wanted pre-recorded video clips
7 percent wanted live video chat
Though the survey did not ask respondents to remark on mobile technology, many customers have noted their preference toward this format.
5. Assess your tech capabilities
Adopting these customer service platforms into your business operations is key for providing the best support, but before you can integrate these capabilities, you must ensure your company is capable of handling these new types of technology. Forrester Consulting conducted a survey in 2012 and found that neglecting to update technology in customer service departments may lead to inconsistent delivery of support or inefficiencies when speaking with people over various platforms. Businesses should conduct an analysis on the type of service platforms they currently employ, then discover how they can improve them moving forward.
From increasing adoption of smart technology to more highly developed e-commerce sites, 2014 paved the way for better communication and improved business operations between international companies. These rising trends, along with an increased emphasis on leveraging technology to reach consumers in different countries, have made 2015 the year to go global.
Business globalization presents a wealth of opportunities for small-business owners, including a drastically larger pool of potential buyers, greater understanding of global cultures and more streamlined processes across the board. If you are contemplating whether you should take your brand global in 2015, consider how the following five trends could impact your international endeavors.
"The IMF predicted world output will grow by 3.8 percent in 2015."
1. Businesses are poised for economic growth in 2015
Although global economies are still in a state of recovery after a tumultuous decade, many regions have shown impressive financial growth in the past couple of years. The most recent IMF forecast predicts the world output will grow by 3.8 percent in 2015, demonstrating a 0.5 percent increase from the previous year. Specifically, the report noted that Africa as well as South and East Asia are poised for the most impressive growth throughout the new year.
As the world population continues to rise, experts predict businesses will continue to work to meet rising supply and demand levels. The United Nations Population Fund reported that there are more than 1.8 billion youth in the world, noting that in just a few short years, these individuals will have a substantial impact on their nations' economies. As these youths become adults, their increased purchasing power will present significant opportunities for businesses that have taken steps to establish themselves as influential international brands.
2. Companies – and consumers – have increased spending power
Improving global economies have not only equipped international buyers with greater disposable incomes, but also strengthened relationships between companies operating across the borders. David Seaton, the CEO of global engineering firm Fluor, explained to The Wall Street Journal that his firm is optimistic about growth in 2015, as he projects spending will increase during the year.
"Global economic growth continues to improve, leading our clients to spend more on capital, upgrading, maintaining and expanding their infrastructure," Seaton said.
For companies that are looking to take advantage of the increased spending power of international clients – whether they be businesses or consumers – developing high-quality e-commerce sites is key. According to the 2013 Global Consumer Trends report released by Euromonitor International, more than 80 percent of overseas consumers have shopped online. Additionally, the report found that the majority of respondents preferred this form of purchasing, as the convenience presented by the platform was preferable to physically visiting stores. As more individuals look to spend money online, businesses should invest in professional translation services that can generate accurate website copy to best reach specific regions.
3. Mobile continues to reign supreme
There is no denying how greatly mobile devices impacted businesses in 2014. From developing store-specific apps to ensuring sites are optimized for smartphones and tablets, companies placed a heavy emphasis on ensuring consumers from across the world could access and interact with content on mobile devices. Research firm Gartner predicted that by 2020, there will be a 30-fold increase in the number of physical devices connected to the Internet. While mobile adoption may cause businesses to place a greater emphasis on cybersecurity, it presents a significant number of opportunities for consumers who are on the go or purchasing from different countries.
As with your business' website, investing in app translation is equally imperative for companies looking to go global. Researchers have found that consumers are more likely to purchase when apps are in their native language. So as your brand develops an app to reach the ever-growing group of mobile adopters, be sure to create options for consumers who speak different languages.
4. Changes in international policies make business between borders easier
President Barack Obama caused a stir at the end of 2014 when he announced that the U.S. would resume diplomatic relations with Cuba. Since 1960, the U.S. has halted both imports and exports to Cuba, but the president recently announced plans for a deal with the nation that would allow safer passage for travelers and potentially open the door for trade in the future. While Obama still requires approval from Congress to resume business operations, the U.S. is not the only nation that may enact policies that work in international business owners' favor.
China announced that it would crack down on illegal businesses in 2015. This includes shutting down non-sanctioned corporations and disbanding illegal or corrupt companies. Specifically, the nation has placed a heavy emphasis on ensuring any foreign partners are of the highest quality. This means any companies looking to reach the Chinese market should place business language localization toward the top of their to-do list, as one of the best ways to establish your brand as reputable in a new nation is by communicating accurately.
"Research firm PwC predicted the sharing economy will generate $335 billion by 2025."
5. Sharing economy presents growth opportunity for international businesses
Peer-to-peer services have had a significant impact on the global economy. Research firm PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates that businesses that take part in the sharing economy could generate $335 billion annual by 2025. Companies that use a peer-to-peer business model – including ride-sharing business Uber and rental company Airbnb – experienced substantial financial success in 2014.
This sharing economy has impacted the way domestic and international businesses correspond. John Hawksworth, a chief economist at PwC, explained that these companies not only positively impact the economy, but they present valuable learning opportunities to businesses both large and small.
"Looking beyond the sectors where sharing is already well established, there are some very exciting growth opportunities that are yet to be fully realized: Companies need to do an audit of which of their tangible and intangible assets could profitably be shared in the future. We think this model could spread to other sectors such as energy, telecoms and retailing," Hawksworth said.
Adapting your website for your target consumer base is a necessity, so when it comes to reaching an international market, this often means translating your content into an entirely different language. This decision is not just strategic for reaching a wider range of global buyers – it is a necessity for many brands, according to "Can't Read, Won't Buy: Why Language Matters on Global Websites," a study conducted by Common Sense Advisory.
"There is little question as to whether or not your international website should be in a different language."
But when it comes to adapting your content, what is best? Should you trust machine translation, or are you better served by professional translation services? If you are unsure, consider running the following thought exercise to discover whether your business should invest in a high-quality language translation tool.
1. Set up a multilingual site
There is little question as to whether or not your website should be in a different language when reaching across the language barrier. Research firm IDC found that online shoppers are four times more likely to purchase from sites in their own language. You have a few options when it comes to creating a new multilingual site – instead of investing in an entirely new website, create new pages through your website development software that become accessible once a visitor has opted for a specific language. For more details regarding the technicalities of setting up a new site, check out the article "How to Create a Multilingual Website" from Entrepreneur magazine.
2. Machine translate
Once you have gotten the details worked out, it is time to start translating your content. Use a machine translator – such as the one provided by Google – and replace your English content on your new pages. This can be a simple switch for retail sites with short descriptions and words that indicate products, but you will notice that once you get to longer form content, your translations may begin to lose meaning. For challenging content, like detailed services or descriptive landing pages, these improper translations can cost you customers.
3. Measure traffic
But how can you tell whether your machine translations are accurate? If you do not speak the language and you do not have any connections who can assist you, the best way to test the efficiency of your site is by measuring the traffic. Chances are, you will find that your international pages have fewer click rates than your English ones. If you have found that there are significant discrepancies between the sales on your English site and your global sites, it may be worth it to seek a quote from companies that offer localization services. Professional translators can catch the small things those machines may have missed, such as grammar, vocabulary and cultural differences that can impact sales. It is best to spot these concerns in the early stages of website development and launching, as you can establish your business as both reputable and knowledgeable among your targeted global consumers.