1. Start with Cross-Cultural Competency
Having your site translated into other languages is a huge advantage to marketing to an international audience, but having a deep understanding of your own and other’s cultures is also important.
The first step to improving cross-cultural competency is understanding the cultural barriers within which you and others in your business operate. Having a grasp of the cultural assumptions and biases that you hold will help you identify cultural differences that may jeopardize business abroad.
Only after you understand your own culture can you begin to learn about other cultures and make note of differences. Reading books and essays on a particular culture can only take you so far. These readings often generalize or stereotype a given culture. Once you “learn” these generalizations, take them with a grain of salt and adapt accordingly.
While studying abroad in China, for example, a schoolmate taught me some Chinese Internet lingo for chatting on QQ and MSN Messenger, the instant messaging platforms of choice among young Chinese at the time. Instead of saying “再见” for goodbye, I tested out “88,” which sounds like the English “bye bye” when spoken in Chinese. Among my Chinese classmates, it wasn’t universally used, which makes perfect sense — even in America, only certain age groups and types of people use cutesy emoticons and shorthands to communicate online. My shortsightedness and excitement to fit in abroad had led me to overlook the fact that not everyone in China communicates online in the same way.
Think about how your country or region’s cultural norms differ among age groups, genders, geographical areas and so on, and then consider these differences among consumers in other cultures. Learning about and respecting other cultures will help you localize your brand’s message.
When possible, talk with, learn from and spend time with people who represent the audience you’re hoping to reach.
2. Understand Regional Laws
When marketing to a global audience, your business should be aware of regional regulations on products, advertising and sales tactics.
Advertising Regulations: In some regions of the world, advertising related to certain types of products are subject to approval by various governing bodies. For example, in many countries, advertisements for pharmaceuticals must be approved by local health ministries.
Furthermore, comparative advertising is treated with varying degrees of hostility across the world. While America may be relatively relaxed about using phrases like “best” and “better” to describe products in relation to other brands, Germany, France and Belgium are all known for having very strict principles when it comes to competitive messaging.
Verizon’s commercials that compared 3G coverage across America between Verizon’s and AT&T’s networks, for example, made it to fruition in the States, but this type of comparative, and possibly misleading, sales tactic may not be permissible in other countries.
Regulation of Sales Tactics: Various sales promotion tactics — such as contests, sweepstakes, deals and premium offers (i.e., buy one, get one free) — are usually regulated differently across borders. Make sure your desired promotion tactics don’t conflict with local laws before running them.
Product Laws: If you sell your product online to an international audience, it is subject to product development laws regarding chemical makeup, safety, performance and packaging designs, including languages, sizes and materials used.
3. Customize Search Engine Marketing Based on Local Usage
International search engine marketing is a mixture of choosing the right search engines, localizing content and understanding keywords.
Choose the Right Search Engines: Figure out which search engines are used by the particular markets you are targeting. While you can reach many English-speaking customers via search by advertising on the top three search engines in the U.S. — Google, Yahoo and Bing — international use of search engines varies. Often, local markets are best served via local search engines, because the English-language search engines don’t always suffice for niche, local content.
Localize Your Content: It isn’t enough to simply translate your website into target languages if quality is your goal — don’t serve second-rate content to your international clients. When possible, localize your product, services and messaging for each market you serve. This can be costly, so weigh the options carefully.
Choose Native Keywords: With international SEM, you shouldn’t focus on translating keywords into foreign languages. Instead, work with native speakers trained in search marketing to figure out native keywords that would be best associated with your website and its content. Remember that keywords aren’t words, but instead shortened thoughts used by Internet browsers to find particular types of content. Therefore, keywords are often influenced by culture, which is best navigated by locals.
4. Optimize Site Design
In many cases, the first portal for your online communication with potential customers will be your website. Optimize your site design to allow for ultimate flexibility for global visitors.
There are a lot of considerations when developing a global-friendly website, a few of which are:
Colors and Symbols: Colors and symbols are deeply ingrained in cultures; research perceptions of colors and symbols among your target audience and adapt accordingly. In most of Europe and the Americas, for example, white is associated with purity and marriage. In Japan, China and parts of Africa, though, white is traditionally the color of mourning. But don’t be fooled — in Westernized Asian cities, white weddings are becoming more common. Beyond colors, make sure any icons, logos or graphics you are using are acceptable and looked upon in good light in areas you wish to reach. Check out some resources for working with color on the web.
Currency Conversion: If you are in the e-commerce business and offer international shipping, make sure you also enable users to convert their purchase amount into their own currency. Conversion can be confusing to the average consumer. Giving users the option can only make it easier. There are quite a few currency conversion API tools to choose from, but they can be difficult to sort through — check out Exchange Rate API for starters.
Use of Text: There’s more to worry about than whether your site is easily translated. First off, minimize the use of text in graphics, as these cannot be translated. While it may be impossible to eliminate all graphics with text, read up on other design options made possible by the rise of web fonts. Furthermore, make sure your web design flows to accommodate machine translation. Some elements may be fine, but others may not display properly. Test your site using a machine translation service and make adjustments as needed.
Loading Speed: Check out the Yahoo Developer Network for some best practices on speeding up your website. It’s particularly important, when it comes to reaching a global audience, to use a Content Delivery Network (CDN), which is a collection of web servers around the world. Instead of serving your site from one location, you can improve load times by offering it from the server nearest to your site visitor.
5. Adapt Social Media for Various Languages
If your company already serves multiple markets and your site sees a lot of international visitors, you should consider looking into ways to reach your global audience via social media. Here are a few ideas for some popular social platforms:
Facebook: On the world’s largest social network, there are two key strategies for reaching global audiences — creating one Page or many.
By creating one brand Page, you can target updates by location, demographics and language. This is a good option if you are looking to have one hub for content creation. On the positive side, users will be receiving targeted updates in their news feeds, and they will still be gathered in one place. The downside is the possibility of confusing users who visit your Page and find updates in multiple languages. This could limit interaction on your Page.
Creating multiple regional Pages increases the localization of each Page, but this method requires more time to customize, as various logos and text should be created for each one. You’ll have to figure out the right option for your brand, but considering your strategy before launching is a good start.