More businesses are looking past international borders to reach new customers. Research shows that the best way to establish a foothold in a new country is to meet customers on their terms.
One of the observed trends during the global pandemic was a marked upturn in ecommerce sales. The greatest share of this lift came from so-called “emerging markets” — China and other nations in Asia, Africa, Central and South America. Traditionally slower to adopt the many bells and whistles of ecommerce than their Euro-American counterparts, these customers adapted by the necessity brought on by a virus that didn’t play favorites. Stuck at home with time on their hands and basic needs, a new wave of customers with unfamiliar postal codes went online for the first time.
While many of the global giants ignored the emerging market customers, savvy smaller companies — many startups — saw them as opportunities and scrambled to meet their needs. It’s reasonable to assume that the bulk of these ecommerce newbies will continue with their online habits, post-pandemic, to some extent. It’s also a safe bet that the Amazons of the world will eventually take notice of these countries and make their move for market share.
So, how can an emerging market “player” succeed on the international stage?
Go global. Go local.
In the bygone age of the great colonial empires, monarchs dispatched heavily funded explorers to far-flung lands to cultivate new markets. Without diving into the geopolitics of it all, suffice to say that the “company” explorers pretty much dictated the terms of the arrangement with the customers (the locals). Things were very one-sided from the moment the conquerors’ boots hit the shores through their settlements and expansions and assimilations and what have you. A few eventually left and went home, but most stayed and significantly altered the places they “discovered”. This is otherwise known as Imperialism.
Today, the gameboard has flipped. Customers in emerging markets have choices about who they will engage. Competition will come from within the borders as much as without. They key to a company’s success will be to create a pleasant buying experience where the customers feel safe, secure, comfortable and respected. That means doing business with them with the authenticity of a native-country merchant.
Research shows that customers are more willing to buy from a company that speaks their native language. By that I mean verbally, electronically and in print. That is the secret to localization: Tailoring a uniform global message to the specific target audience.
For B2B and B2C companies, a localization strategy entails thoughtful planning and a significant investment of people and dollars.
For example, let’s suppose you run an American manufacturing company, and you plan to expand your markets into Mexico and Canada. You’ve cleared the legal hurdles.
You intend to launch three spinoff ecommerce sites off your US English site: Spanish, Canadian English and Canadian French. Functionality will be identical to your US website, which is top notch in terms if user experience. You also plan printed catalogs in all four languages.
To accomplish the task, you’ll need a dedicated content team, a translation service and preferably a product information management system (PIM) to house all your product data.
In the most basic terms, you’ll want to designate a base layer language that serves as your global “source of truth”. From this language, US English in our scenario, you will translate the content into the other languages using a translation service. If you have a PIM, each translated language resides in its own layer for optimal maintenance.
The devil is in the translations. Most of your products will be American-sourced and translated from US English, but a certain percentage will originate from Canada or Mexico and may need to be translated from the French or Spanish. Even the best artificial intelligence has limits; certain words or phrases can have multiple meanings, so you’ll want to ensure that the translated web or print page copy is reviewed by persons fluent in the native languages for accuracy.
With the proper commitment to localizing your message to the new markets, your website and catalogs have the greatest chance to be successful.
Dan Skantar is Director of Content Services for JP Enterprises Unlimited. The Carnegie Mellon graduate and his wife dote on their cats. Dan collects old comic books and lives and dies with his Pitt Panthers.