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Perspectives on E-Globalization

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By Ashmita Goswami

Published on January 8, 2003

Before pursuing specific recommendations for Ford.com, Razorfish created this document to illustrate the complexity and considerations of the globalization process. The document defines common globalization terms, discusses reasons companies go global and methods of identifying and prioritizing of markets, identifies challenges faced by companies that have pursued global digital initiatives, and analyzes the best practices of globalization, using UPS and Nissan Europe as case studies. In addition, we have outlined the next steps necessary to make tactical recommendations.

Executive Summary

Web globalization is much more than the translation of an organization’s Web site from one language to another. It is about adapting a company’s product and message to meet the varied expectations of markets around the world. Razorfish has identified four best practices to ensure a successful globalization process.

1. Identify key markets in which to roll out and fully localize the digital initiative

2. Implement a strong organizational structure dedicated to globalization

3. Manage technology and mandate design centrally while creating content locally

4. Understand all facets of globalization, and evaluate and integrate tools to help manage processes

Introduction

Currently, non-English speakers make up more than half the total online population (see Figure 1), and by 2003 only one-third of the projected 603 million Internet users will be English speakers. In addition, the Asia-Pacific region is expected to outpace the US in less than five years to contain as much as one-third of all Internet consumers worldwide by 2005 (see Figure 2). Yet according to Forrester Research, only 32% of the leading US companies publish their sites in languages other than English, suggesting missed opportunities.

Figure 1: Number of Internet-connected people speaking different languages, and what this represents worldwide:
Language Population online
(Millions)
Percent
online
English 192.1 47.6%
Non-English 211.3 52.4%
European Languages 111.8 29.2%
German 22.4 5.5%
Spanish 21.1 5.2%
French 14.2 3.5%
Italian 12.3 3.1%
Portuguese 11.6 2.6%
Asian Languages 93.3 23.1%
Japanese 38.8 9.6%
Chinese 29.0 7.2%
Korean 16.8 4.2%
Figure 2
World online users 2000 2005
(projected)
Northern America 45% 27%
Western Europe 25% 21%
Asian Pacific 19% 30%
Latin America 4% 8%
Australia/New Zealand 3% 2%
Other 4% 12%

Many companies are waiting until their North American efforts become successful before attempting to enter other markets, while other companies have gone global by simply translating their North American Web pages into other languages. However, the companies that have truly “gone global” successfully have implemented a solid strategy to guide their globalization process.

Definitions

In order to discuss globalization properly it is first necessary to define the terms associated with it: internationalization, translation, and localization. These three interrelated but very different processes enable the development and design of a global site.

Reasons Companies Go Global

Why go global? A study conducted by Forrester Research of 25 multinational firms that have launched localized sites reports that each firm has an average of 92 localized sites today, and 72% of these firms expect to have even more in-country sites in three years. These companies recognize the opportunities that globalization offers, including:

Identifying and Prioritizing Markets

Before identifying markets to enter, it is important to ensure that the firm’s global and local business goals are both fully evaluated and considered when establishing a globalization strategy. Common global objectives should be communicated and adapted appropriately regionally/locally. Once this has been done, the firm should then proceed to analyze which markets to enter.

In identifying the criteria for target markets for digital globalization efforts, it essential to determine what factors make a country or market attractive for online expansion. There are several such factors, depending on the business model of the digital initiative:

Best Practices Analysis

Based on primary and secondary research, Razorfish has identified UPS and Nissan Europe as two companies that have successfully gone global. Razorfish realizes that the business models of these two companies differ from Ford Motor Company; however it was difficult to find a multi-brand corporation that has successfully gone global. Nevertheless, we believe that these case studies still illustrate the complexity of and issues involved with going global.

Razorfish has identified four best practices among companies that have successfully implemented a globalization project.

Identify key markets in which to roll out and fully localize the digital initiative

A successful globalization strategy is not merely translating an English site into other languages. The questions that need to be asked are why should the site be in those languages and is there a business case that justifies the cost of doing so. After determining the appropriate markets to target, companies need to implement thorough localization that accounts for the subtle nuances across different languages and is sensitive to local cultures. Failure to do so reduces the value proposition to the end user and risks alienating the targeted customer segment.

Both UPS and Nissan Europe (see case studies) made the mistake of rolling out their sites by language as opposed to by market. They believed that having one French site would sufficiently address the needs of all French speakers, regardless of country, failing to recognize that different dialects of French are spoken in Switzerland, Belgium, and Canada—and, moreover, that these differences are important to local users. As a result, they offended many end users, who reacted negatively to the companies’ failure to recognize the differences among their local cultures. In response, both companies more fully localized the language on their sites and proceeded to prioritize future roll outs by market. Each of Nissan Europe’s global sites is available in English as well as in all local languages (for example, the Switzerland site is available in the regional variants of all three of the primary languages spoken there: German, French, and Italian). UPS.com supports 19 different variations of 12 languages, including Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. In addition, both companies made efforts to ensure precise, sensitive language translation.

In addition to allowing regional managers to create local content and modify designs, both companies opted for a human translation company (rather than using automated software) when translating their site for the highest-quality translation.

Implement a strong organizational structure dedicated to globalization

The complexity of going global can easily fail without the right organizational structure and decision-making processes in place. A dedicated team helps ensure that globalization processes are managed effectively. Commitment from senior management is crucial in order to send a signal that globalization is a priority and to help secure the necessary financial commitment. Involving key stakeholders and local business units will ensure buy-in and facilitate the project’s progress.

Some companies attempt to globalize by implementing ad-hoc solutions that generally end up going over budget. A poorly defined decision-making process leads to inefficiencies and high costs. Nissan’s initial lack of organizational structure to support globalization created a political environment where regional managers spent time arguing instead of implementing. Instead, Nissan decided to pursue a distributed organizational model. By creating a single group dedicated to globalization, the company eased some of the tensions among the regional managers. In addition, the fact that Nissan established a decision-making procedure that was agreed to by all stakeholders before the project began made progress more efficient.

Similarly, UPS’s initial attempts at globalization were undermined by organizational chaos. The company had no designated decision-making process, resulting in ad-hoc decisions that required spending more money than initially allocated. UPS has now also implemented a distributed organizational model, which has alleviated many of its problems and allowed the globalization process to run more efficiently.

Manage technology and design centrally while creating content locally

Both UPS and Nissan have a distributed organization model that enables them to manage technology and design centrally while incorporating information and recommendations from their local business units.

Managing technology centrally allows companies to reuse technology infrastructure and leverage knowledge gained from past implementations, thus avoiding costly and incompatible software investments at the regional level. A company can reuse the same platform to launch new sites in new locations, saving licensing and integration costs.

Centralizing design decisions and creating company design style guides yields a consistent brand experience across all global communications. For example, Amazon.com standardizes interfaces so that consumers from countries around the world experience a similar selling process, with necessary changes made for local needs. This way, companies can ensure that regional content is consistent with corporate messaging and brand attributes. By creating content locally, companies ensure that the site’s information is relevant to the end user by leveraging important information that only local business units can provide (e.g., consumer tastes, country-specific promotions etc.).

To date, many successful global sites have pursued the “distributed” or “hybrid” organizational model, which involves having “central control and local empowerment.” This strategy lets firms leverage their marketing and technical advantages worldwide while still maintaining relevance to customers in local markets. It requires close communication between Web managers and local business units. This model allows for the benefits of a centralized organizational structure:

The model also empowers local business units with some decision-making responsibilities in addition to providing content, such as allowing local teams to work in non-ASCII computing environments. This allows for more efficient workflow, but may complicate support and communications. Empowering local offices to maintain offline copies of content may also help the local effort, but may risk confidentiality and process integrity. In some locations, the organization may need to support users with less reliable connections to the central system, which could limit infrastructure.

It is important to note that all centrally managed corporate processes and infrastructure should be designed to fully support the business, market, and legal requirements of every local operating unit. Extending business processes to local operations must be involve sensitivity to any implied or explicit obligations to the local markets and legal systems.

Understand the steps involved in globalization processes, and evaluate and integrate tools to help manage these processes

After establishing an organizational structure and decision-making process, it is imperative to understand the human steps in the established processes and anticipate any issues or potential pitfalls before purchasing and integrating tools to assist the process. A tool is only as good as the process it supports. For example, if the underlying content creation and publishing process is unclear or inefficient, building a content management system will only formalize the problems in the process. It will not fix them. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution.

When the process is well understood, the right technology tool can help significantly with the translation and localization process. Tools can be integrated to recognize units of content that do not need to be updated and to flag those that do. Reports can be run to keep track of work that needs to be done, and workflows can be established to delegate information and tasks to the proper party.

In working out a streamlined process beforehand, UPS realized that most of its site content does not change that often. Most updates occur on two sections of the homepage: the “primary message,” which showcases UPS services or offerings, and the “Latest News” section, where major initiatives, country-specific news, and other important announcements are highlighted. Instead of investing in a costly centralized content management system, UPS realized that most of these modifications could continue to be done manually and coordinated via email.

Nissan’s content, however, needs to be updated frequently. After mapping and understanding the steps involved in the content process, the company created a utility tool that lets regional managers add and modify local information (including currency, specific vehicle models, special prices, and promotions).

Conclusion

It is important to realize that based on our analysis there are no prominent examples of successful globalization of a multi-brand site. The scope of a globalization project for multi-brand companies is much bigger as the challenges of going global are multiplied by the number of sub-brands. Multibrand sites create unique brand and user experience challenges as each sub-brand has unique issues and business requirements. Globalization for Ford.com is not just a bigger undertaking, but also a more complex one due the implementation of Trustmark strategy. However with the right strategy, Ford has the opportunity to differentiate itself as one of the few multi-brand companies that’s sensitively and successfully globalized on the Web.

UPS Case Study

UPS is the world’s largest express carrier and package delivery company and a leading global provider of specialized transportation and logistics services. Its flagship site, ups.com, is one of the most-used business sites on the Web, with nearly 40 million hits a day. In terms of globalization, UPS provides services to 215 countries; ups.com is accessible in 19 languages and dialects and has dedicated content for 110 countries and territories. Of the 12.9 million packages UPS ships every day, about eight million come from customers who are electronically connected to UPS.

Background

The first version of ups.com was launched in late 1994 and contained what most companies were offering at the time: “brochureware” and corporate information. By mid 1995, UPS started offering a tool for what customers really wanted to do: track packages online. The site’s functionality and applications continue to evolve: users are now able to open accounts, find rates and transit times worldwide, request a pick-up or find the nearest drop-off locations, and even order UPS supplies.

UPS began adding new international sites and languages in mid 1997 because it was important to brand UPS as a global company with employees and operations all over the world. The overall mission of ups.com is to help customers worldwide conduct business through the Web. Because UPS serves 215 countries worldwide with a wide array of services, Web globalization is one of the company’s top three strategic priorities (along with enabling customer self-service and migrating customers from the phone to the Web).

At present, UPS maintains sites for 110 countries and territories and supports 19 different variations of 12 languages, including Chinese, Japanese, and Korean—(for which it had to deal with double-byte character issues). It has also developed global applications for all its sites. UPS’s tracking engine is entirely global and is the only one in the industry that provides responses in the local language—for example, when a user visits the German site and enters a tracking number, the tool returns package information and delivery details in German, regardless of the package’s origin. The pricing tool was also completely internationalized on the back end to support multiple currencies, character sets, and languages.

Some of UPS’s Web tools are still in the process of global rollout, such as Internet shipping, which requires users to have an open UPS account and is therefore only offered in certain countries.

Process

Organizational Structure

UPS has established an interactive unit made up of four groups:

Interactive Marketing oversees marketing for all of UPS’s Web presence. Interactive Communication maintains the sites’ look and feel. Information Management writes the site business requirements. Information Systems manages the sites’ technical development.

The interactive unit’s mandate is to create a site for every country in which UPS operates, whenever possible in the local language of business. However, because of economic and resource constraints, UPS must balance these goals with practical business considerations, such as the size of the customer base in a given market.

Branding

UPS is a global brand, so it is important that it position itself very consistently across countries by emphasizing fundamental attributes such as speed and reliability. UPS also maintains a consistent visual design and content structure across all its sites to facilitate interactions for worldwide customers. For example, if a US user is on assignment in London and visits the UK site, he will find it very similar to what he’s used to using in the US and can easily identify the information and tools he needs.

In terms of marketing and communications, content is typically developed locally but reviewed, edited, and published centrally at the corporate level, ensuring that UPS’s marketing messages maintain a consistent tone and voice worldwide while still appealing to the preferences of local audiences.

Marketing and Driving Traffic

UPS has not done much to market its Web site specifically, other than including the URL in all its advertising (both broadcast and print). Some earlier marketing efforts tried to promote what people could do at ups.com, including using other media, such as phone messages, to inform customers about UPS’s Web capabilities.

URL Strategy

UPS recognizes that the ups.com URL is a very US-centric view and is moving toward using country-level domains in countries where it makes economic sense to acquire them. Currently, their country-level URL strategy is a bit confused—for example, right now if a German user logs onto ups.de, a job opportunities site appears, and users get no clear direction for getting to the main German home site. UPS has bought the rights for ups.de and intends to start using this URL to serve their German customers more efficiently. Acquiring other “UPS” domains for other countries has proven difficult because many of them are already taken in other countries (such as France and Italy), but UPS will continue to investigate buying them on a country-by-country basis, if business demands warrant it.

Content Management

From a process standpoint, the structure of UPS Web content is determined at the corporate level, and then local marketing resources aid in its creation. For example, if UPS decides to modify a country site’s information, headquarters contacts the local marketing team to provide updated details. Most modifications are made manually and coordinated via e-mail rather than with a centralized content management system; this process has been sufficient to date because content doesn’t change very often. Most updates occur on two sections of the homepage: the “primary message,” which showcases UPS services or offerings, and the “Latest News” section, where major initiatives, country-specific news, and other important announcements are highlighted.

Key Challenges

Misguided Prioritizing

UPS’s initial rollout of its localized sites prioritized language rather than market—for example, it used the same French language translation for Canada and Belgium as it did for France, without accounting for regional differences in the language. UPS soon realized that its mistake offended certain segments of local populations, and the company recognized that it needed to consider many more details of local markets beyond just literal language translation. UPS responded by using the different variations of languages—for example, several different forms of Spanish and French—to demonstrate its sensitivity to local cultures and awareness of its subtle nuances of language across different cultures.

Poor Global Strategy Planning

UPS’s initial globalization attempts were performed largely ad hoc. The company didn’t implement a structured decision-making process and failed to anticipate several important issues. As a result, UPS went over its initial budget. It learned the hard way the importance of first working out a streamlined process or workflow in order to be able to execute globalization plans efficiently.

Best Practices

Some of the e-business globalization best practices that UPS implemented are:

Centralized publishing: UPS publishes its sites centrally, meaning that content is developed locally and then sent to headquarters for review and approval. This workflow lets UPS maintain a consistent presentation tone and style while still providing relevant and useful local content.

Consistent global branding: In a recent survey by Landor Associates, senior business executives rated UPS as the second strongest business-to-business brand in the U.S., behind Microsoft. These results underscore how crucial it is that UPS maintain a cohesive online message and look and feel. To this end, UPS provides all local development teams with a Web site style guide of precise guidelines for online visual design and content structure.

High-quality translation: UPS supports 19 languages, many in two or three different dialects, including both European as well as multi-byte character Asian languages. By translating into different variations of languages—for example, different regional variants of Spanish for Spain, Mexico, and Argentina and French for France, Canada, and Belgium—UPS demonstrates its sensitivity to local culture and awareness of subtle nuances of language across different cultures.

Detail-attentive localization: UPS fully localized 70 out of its 110 country-specific Web sites; special attention to the following details resulted in high-quality localization:

All creative work and copy is developed in each country and then submitted to corporate for final approval. This process guarantees that UPS’s marketing messages will appeal to local audiences but still be consistent worldwide.

Back-end internationalization: All UPS’s applications and tools are deployed globally by internationalizing back-end technologies to support:

Nissan Case Study

Nissan Motor Co., Ltd., was established in 1933 to manufacture and market the Datsun, a small passenger car, and related automotive components. The company is now Japan’s second largest automobile manufacturer and the world’s fifth largest, with annual global sales of more than two million vehicles. The company markets a wide range of passenger cars, commercial vans, trucks and buses, parts and components. In terms of globalization, Nissan is present in over one hundred and seventy countries.

Background

In February 1999, Nissan Europe recognized that its digital presence was incomplete and inconsistent. It represented 33 countries, yet only 16 had a Web presence, and not a single one of those sites reflected the quality standards of the Nissan brand. Local regions were given free rein to determine the functionality and content of their sites, resulting in an inconsistent online presence across all markets. Along with these problems, Nissan’s Internet development costs were too high.

To address these issues, Nissan Europe wanted to implement a centralized, cost-effective digital solution that would market its brand consistently and be easy enough to encourage dealerships to use it rather than develop their own Internet presence. Nissan Europe achieved these goals by showing regional managers that it would be more cost-effective for them to centralize the process of updating and maintaining their sites. This centralized solution saved Nissan approximately $8 million compared to having each country develop its own product-focused microsite.

At present, Nissan maintains sites for 33 countries and territories, supporting 27 languages for seven vehicles, all through one front-end template. Each site is available in English as well as in all local languages (for example, the Switzerland site is available in the regional German, French, and Italian). Nissan developed a master template that allows for separate but consistent microsites for each vehicle model. Consumers can select the country and language of their choice and then use the Car Builder feature to specify the body type, engine, color, and options they want. A pan-European Dealer Locator feature helps users find a dealer, and the site then calculates the suggested retail price, which the customer can bring to the dealer, who can schedule a test drive and manage the sale. All this is possible through an easy-to-use utility site, accessible through the Nissan intranet, that lets Nissan centrally manage and maintain all Web site content at a significant cost savings.

The final version of the site will be launched April 1, 2001

Process

Organizational Structure

Nissan has a single group dedicated to globalization, consisting of the Director of E-Commerce and regional managers. The regional managers submit content, and the director reviews and approves this content and manages the entire publishing process.

The group’s mandate is to communicate a consistent brand message across all sites regardless of country as well as to better support Nissan’s European sales network.

Branding

Because Nissan is a global brand, it was very important that it have brand uniformity across all its sites. To achieve this goal, Nissan developed a global digital brand strategy for its online presence, providing guidelines for consistent visual design and content structure across all country sites.

Marketing and Driving Traffic

Nissan coordinated the launch of its new global site with the re-launch of its brand. The advertising agency worked closely with the Web group to synchronize their efforts, and all advertising (broadcast and print) directs users to the site’s URL for further information.

URL Strategy

Nissan has no main “.com” portal. Instead, the company had the foresight to buy all the “nissan.” domain names for all countries, so each of the 33 countries has its own country-specific URL (i.e., nissan.de, nissan.fr).

Content Management

Nissan’s utility site allows for centralized management of all content on the sites on both a European and a local level. Content structure is determined at the corporate level, but regional managers can add and modify local information (including currency, specific vehicle models, special prices and promotions) through a Web editing tool. Corporate managers review all local content to make sure it is consistent with the global strategy.

Technology

Nissan developed one front-end template that can be used to create sites for all seven vehicles, all 33 countries, and all 27 languages. Content is published from a centralized database that organizes and stores all the content and business logic needed for the Car Builder feature for all sites. The database is independent of the front end, so it can be internally changed without affecting the front end.

The intricate database system lets Nissan manage everything through the utility site. Data is extracted from the database through a very flexible connection, using stored procedures between the ASP and database, so there’s no need for passing SQL. If necessary, Nissan can easily connect a different database to the same front end (ODBC connections), and vice versa. The system uses a variety of technologies: MS SQL Server 7.0, Active Server Pages (ASP), DHTML, JAVASCRIPT, IIS 4.0, Flash, Visual Interdev 6.0, and Visual Source Safe 6.0.

Key Challenges

Organizational Structure

Initially, Nissan’s lack of an organizational structure to support digital globalization created many problems. Tension between the regional managers (who had created their own sites) and corporate led to internal politicking. By creating a single group dedicated to globalization, Nissan eased some of the tensions. In addition, the fact that Nissan established a decision-making procedure that was agreed to by all parties before the project began made things more efficient.

Misguided Prioritizing

Nissan’s initial rollout of its localized sites prioritized language rather than market—for example, it believed it could use France’s French language site for French-speaking Belgian and Swiss users. After discussing the issues with its dealers, Nissan realized it needed to consider many more details of local markets beyond just literal language translation, and it ended up “localizing” the Swiss and Belgium sites more appropriately.

Best Practices

Some of the e-business globalization best practices that Nissan Europe applied are:

Centralized publishing: Nissan publishes its sites centrally, meaning that content is developed locally and then sent to headquarters for review and approval. This workflow lets Nissan maintain a consistent tone and style while still having relevant and useful local content.

Consistent global branding: Nissan maintains a cohesive online message and look and feel through a global digital branding strategy that is implemented locally.

High-quality translation: Nissan supports twenty seven different languages for thirty-three countries. By translating into different variations of languages—for example, different regional variants of French for France, Canada, and Belgium—Nissan demonstrates its sensitivity to local culture and awareness of subtle nuances of language across different cultures.

Back-end internationalization: One of the most critical aspects of Nissan’s globalization solution is that all information—all text and images, including the many details required by the Car Builder and Dealer Locator features—is database-driven. This publishing system makes it possible to support different languages and other country-specific details, such as vehicle specifications and prices/currencies. The database capabilities also let Nissan manage the country sites from a single utility Web site on the corporate intranet, making updates very easy.

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Related Topics: Globalization and Internationalization, Web Design

 

As a Senior Strategist in the new york city office of Razorfish, Ashmita Goswami brings over six years of strategy, financial, and technology experience. As part of her first hand research on globalization, she tries to travel as often as possible to locations varying from South Africa and India to Ibiza and Sardinia!

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