That old adage, "Think globally, act locally." was dramatically redefined during the 3rd annual Internet Strategy Forum Executive Summit, where the theme this year was "Global Perspectives".
As geographical boundaries evaporate into Internet ether, companies expand into a global marketplace fraught with new challenges. Languages, customs, and currencies that are foreign to us are local to customers abroad. So how does a company sell products and services in multiple countries, but present a uniquely local face wherever they go?
That question was the focus on July 13th when over 250 attendees gathered for the Executive Summit conference at Portland's Governor Hotel.
This year the event brought top level executives together for a full day of informative and lively presentations in which their peers discussed the most effective ways of leveraging the Internet on an international basis and integrating it into their overall business strategy.
Executives from Google, IBM, Symantec, Wipro Consulting Services, MyStrands, Byte Level Research, One Economy, and others revealed steps involved in becoming a successful global company and discussed how current trends indicate continued and explosive growth.
When John Yunker, President of Byte Level Research surveyed over 300 global companies he found that on average, those companies do business in 13 languages, with the top ten sites supporting an average of 30. He explained how global leaders must excel in more than language translation; they also deal with the complexities of cultures, economies, politics, and colloquial nuances.
Google's Director of International Product Management, Adam Freed understands the importance of language management now that the company speaks 117 languages. He discussed the advantages of creating international teams of freelance translators who take pride in localizing the content. When developing content and functionality for a new market, Freed says to expect a process of iteration. "Sometimes it's OK to wait for feedback about what's not working and make changes from there," he said, "instead of spending development costs on features that might be irrelevant in a particular market."
Rey Ramsey, CEO of One Economy and former Chairman of Habitat for Humanity International gave an inspiring and rousing talk on the importance of being culturally competent. "If someone tells you, 'I see all people the same.' they are destined to fail," Rey noted. "We have to recognize and respect our differences if we expect to succeed in a global market. It's also important to turn our concept of a digital divide into digital inclusion."
All presenters agreed on many of the same points as being key to building, maintaining, and growing a successful global presence. Some of highlights included:
- Design: Global design means less design. Keep the pages light. Build a global framework but allow those who manage the local sites to customize and localize. Distill the elements of your brand so it will "travel" well. Be aware that even the smallest details like colors and icons could spell the difference between winning or offending an audience.
- Language Translation: Work with smart local language experts to minimize errors. Build teams of volunteers. Weigh the advantages of translation memory (reusing strings of translated text you've already paid for) versus machine translation (less expensive, less accurate, but getting more sophisticated.).
- Developing Content Copy: Consult with local experts to insure that your content is suitable and appealing to the culture and environment.
- Customer Loyalty: Build community, encourage interaction, strengthen support services.
- Global Business Logistics: Research foreign tariffs, legal and regulatory issues, currencies, payment and refund functions, and customer expectations.
Businesses can no longer afford to think in terms of the U.S. and ROW (rest of the world). For evidence of the rapidly changing face of Internet usage and the expanding global marketplace, consider this: Less than 30% of all Internet users today are in the U.S. and in 1995 about 12% of Intel's market was in the Asia Pacific region; today it's over 50%.
To play and stay in the game, companies must scale their business to a global audience. As John Yunker summed it up "It's no longer enough to be a US company selling globally. You have to be a global company selling to global markets".
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