Making mistakes in business is natural. Sometimes those mistakes benefit your overall success. Hire the wrong iPhone developer, and you’ll learn what to look for in the next one. Cancel your work from home policy, and you might get faster collaboration, the way Marissa Mayer wanted.
If you take your product global with the wrong color scheme, image or translations, however, your target audience might be shaken for years. Rumor has it that the Pepsi slogan “Come Alive With Pepsi!” translated to “Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back from the Dead” in Taiwan. KFC’s “finger licking good” became “eat your fingers off” in Chinese. In another faux pas, one Beijing Starbucks had to close after setting up shop in Beijing’s sacred and historic Forbidden City — considered a cultural affront.
Poor Assumptions Beget Bad Results
One thing that globalization failures have in common is that companies assumed the world operates in a certain way — and got it wrong. Study a culture in advance, hire a cultural expert and avoid these four most common assumptions.
1. Everyone speaks English
The converse — nobody speaks English — might actually be closer to the truth. There might be over over 300 million people living in the Unites States, but there are 2.5 billion in India and China combined. Across the globe, an estimated 508 million people speak English, while 3.386 billion people don’t speak English, according to the Nations Online Project.
If you don’t translate your content into at least one additional language, you’re missing most of the market opportunities on Earth.
2. Machine translation is enough
It’s only enough in certain cases. Calls to action and basic instructions might go over well, but don’t risk your white papers or confidential memos to MT quite yet — it’s still about as smart as a three-year-old.
3. It’s okay to charge in dollars online
Users need to see their local currency to trust your system. How would you feel if everything you bought from Amazon was charged in Pesos?
4. Yellow is the universal color of hope
Red is the color of excitement; blue is calm. Actually, that only applies in America and a few other places. Colors and symbols vary wildly by country. In Egypt yellow is the color of mourning. Waving two fingers in the air might mean “peace” in America, but it’s something else entirely in England. Have access to local meaning before you even design your global website, and you’ll avoid sullying your brand later on.
Preparation is the Best Defense
Bearing in mind the things that could go wrong helps you prepare to go global successfully, without bad translations or cultural oversights. Build a solid strategy to go global, find translation tools that will guarantee accuracy, and you’re already three-quarters of the way there.
About the Author
Rob Vandenberg is the President CEO of Lingotek, a cloud-based translation management system.
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