It's not such a small world after all

Monday Mar 1st 1999 by Dana Blankenhorn
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Simply translating Web content into other languages won't make your company worldly wise. It takes localization efforts and cultural sensitivity.

Every manager knows that a Web site can be reached from anywhere in the world. But few companies take advantage of that fact.

Terry Lund is an exception. Lund's title is director of Internet Initiatives for Eastman Kodak Co., of Rochester, N.Y. "My primary responsibility has been the globalization of Kodak's Web presence," he says.

His first step was to simply translate Kodak.com's key Web pages into other languages and post them with help from local marketing executives. (Kodak's Brazilian page can be found at http://www.kodak.com.br/.) Lund was lucky in this initiative. Since Kodak has a presence around the world, he was able to do most of the work internally. Still, the job is huge: Kodak's Web site has 30,000 pages.

It doesn't have to cost a lot
If your company is small and you're test-marketing an idea--looking for feedback from a foreign market--you can get a huge bang for very few bucks.

That's what S. V. Braun and his five-year-old company, S.V. Braun Co., of Morris Plains, N.J., found out. The company produces foam that, when injected into a car or truck tire, can protect the tire against going flat. Braun felt his product could sell well in nations with poor roads, such as China and Japan, if he could just reach distributors in those countries. So he paid Multimedia Marketing Group Inc., an online marketing firm based in Bend, Ore., to translate a few Web pages into those languages, paying less than $1,000 in total translation costs.

"By people noticing the Web site overseas, they contact us and we're able to develop new contacts and accounts that would be impossible otherwise," says Braun.

And even when Lund has matched popular content to another language, he's found problems. "In Germany we translated some content--a guide to better pictures--that gets rave reviews on kodak.com," he says. After it was posted, "the feedback was that the translation was accurate, but [the German users] didn't like the content. It wasn't suitable for the audience. They didn't like the style of the writing. That was a surprise to me--it didn't occur to me."

Lund continues, "What we should have done, the lesson we learned, was to draw a circle around that content and say to Germans and others that we'd like to get it localized, is that okay?" That way, the Kodak employees in Germany get to read the English version of the content to be translated, and the corporate office gets their reaction before investing in the translation. Before this clarification, says Lund, "Once we gave them translations, people dug in their heels, thinking it was take it or leave it."

It's more than words

In further analyzing his localization efforts, Lund notes it's important to have counsel from someone who understands the issues. One of the companies he's consulted with for years is Alis Technologies Inc., a software and translation services company based in Montreal.

Steve Allan, Alis' senior director for business development, divides the issues Kodak is dealing with into two categories: internationalization and localization.

"Internationalization is thinking and designing from the ground up so your business can be taken to other markets and languages," Allan says. "At most companies, it's not being done. People are trying to adapt existing sites that weren't considered in a multilingual context. That limits what you can do."

A successful effort will consider pictures as well as words. Instead of higlighting your translated by pages by linking to them with an image of a specific country's national flag, Allan suggests offering a picture of your product and some words in that language, in a font familiar to that country or region's users. For instance, showing Austrians a German flag to claim you understand them doesn't work.

LA Shoppers.com, an online mall that offers its services in both Japanese and Chinese, does a fine job of directing people to its foreign-language services. In comparison, Germanworld, an otherwise-fine English-language mall devoted to German products, doesn't even warn users when it links to news stories written in German.

Executing a strategy through localization doesn't just mean handing your Web pages over for translation. "Electronic commerce requires home pages and templates done by humans. For European languages that will cost 25 cents a word," says Allan, "For double-byte languages [such as Japanese and Chinese] it will cost more like 35 to 40 cents a word." Allan notes you'll probably spend almost $100,000 to translate an extensive site--and that's just the down payment. As the site changes you have to keep it translated.

Once you've done the human translation, things like machine translation can be used at half the cost, says Allan. But when you make that investment, he warns, make sure you're ready for feedback. "Once you open your Web site to a global audience in their language, they'll communicate with you in that language," he notes. "So your customer service needs to respond and understand. We see an increased use of machine translation in terms of incoming traffic to understand an e-mail coming from a customer." The response then runs through a two-step process, first translated by machine and then checked by someone fluent in the target language.

 

 


Spreading the words

But making your Web site actively bilingual or multilingual is just part of the battle. It also has to be seen. That's where Bill Hunt, vice president-international for Multimedia Marketing Group Inc., a Bend, Ore., Internet marketing concern, makes most of his money.

Translation aids
Many companies can help you translate Web pages into English. Here's a sampling:

Alis Technologies Inc.
Montreal, Canada
514-747-2547


Bowne & Co. Inc.New York, N.Y.
212-764-5500


Rubric Ltd.
Berkhamsted, England
617-422-0010 or
818-893-5820


Worldpoint Interactive Inc.
Honolulu, Hawaii
(808)539-3939


The fact is, says Hunt, that most users outside the United States learn about Web sites differently than Americans do. Most Internet use in Asia, Europe, and Latin America carries a per-minute charge. "They don't have time to surf," he says. So techniques including search engine optimization and making sure your site will appear near the top of a Yahoo.jp search aren't the most effective way to market. Instead, says Hunt, "the number-one way people overseas find a site is via e-pubs or a mailing list" that sponsors products delivered through e-mail. "That's used by 90% of such visitors. The second-leading access method is through an Internet magazine," Hunt adds.

So the key to getting international business is through users' e-mail clients, not the Web itself. But for many of those users, the Web is the e-mail client. "About 200,000 people in India use Hotmail," notes Hunt.

Banner ads addressed to these users can be effective, says Hunt, but only if they're written in a local language. When he wrote a banner in Japanese for LA Shoppers, the clickthrough rate was 21%. Hunt got similar rates when he wrote a banner in Hebrew for Golden Ages, a food site. "Indian Hotmail users don't click on ads that are not in Hindi," he adds.

Redefining demographics

Kodak's Lund says he's taken such lessons to heart. For 1999 he's bringing local managers into Web planning, not only to help with translations but also to make sure choices on content are made with cultural sensitivity. In addition, he will also bring local people into the loop to plan the marketing of those sites.

"There's a Web group in each country," says Lund, integrated into the six to eight business units Kodak has in each country, with both marketing and technical people dedicated to the local Web.

< From these people Lund has learned more about what local content he should offer. "There are some things," he says, "like local promotions, seminars, and trade shows we just build in the local language" and don't offer in English. The local sites do, however, track e-mail feedback on English-language content, which is accessed via links, "so we have initiated some efforts to translate or localize those [English pages users want]," Lund says.

"We also took a look at a bunch of demographic data for who's online in various countries, like the number of telephones per 1,000 people, just to gauge where to focus efforts," he says. In addition, Kodak revenues in each foreign market are factored into the equation, and company officials have built a spreadsheet in order to study the data more closely. What Lund has found is, "until you get 10% of the population online you've got to be careful--you could be just niche marketing. At 10% you've got enough people from various population segments online and can do a decent job."

This will be the year when Kodak finally does electronic commerce in other countries, languages, and currencies, Lund says. Accessories for digital cameras--tables, bags, lenses, and memory--are all popular at kodak.com and will be included in its international sites. While Lund admits there are channel conflicts, "it's hard for dealers to stock [the accessories] so customers are frustrated when they can't get them. Making them available on the Web drives customer satisfaction."

And it doesn't just drive customer satisfaction in other countries. U.S. customers benefit, too. About 32 million Americans don't speak English at home, Multimedia Marketing Group's Hunt notes. Speak their language, and you'll find loyal customers. //

Dana Blankenhorn has covered computing since 1983 and now edits a-clue.com (http://www.a-clue.com), a free e-mail newsletter on electronic commerce, from his home-office in Atlanta. He can be reached via e-mail at dana.blankenhorn@att.net.

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