Things become more complicated when dealing with other countries where English is not the official language. Our main point here is that most everyone accesses the Internet in their own language. If they live in a non-English country, they are most likely not going to access the Internet in English. In order to market to them, you have to determine where they congregate (i.e. other language areas of the Internet) and market to them there. A Web site needs to be able to attract visitors from many countries without them having to wonder whether they will understand the message once they arrive at your Web site. This idea is equally true for translated Web sites. No one overseas could possibly find your it (even if translated) unless you make an effort to make it visible in the language(s) concerned.
The importance of marketing a Web site cannot be overemphasized. Recent statistics show that large American corporations are actually cutting their budget for Internet business, since they did not achieve the results they expected a year or so after they launched their Web site. The real reason for lack of online business goes back to lack of marketing the Web site, not lack of interest from those online. Even in English-speaking countries, there has not been enough marketing and promotion of the existing Websites. It is strongly recommended to budget just as much for promoting one's Web site as for creating it.
Here are some basic points that need to be understood and followed to achieve success in international online marketing. [The basics of multilingual Web site promotion are presented in another article on this web site.]
1. Whether to translate? Which languages?
2. Don't forget email marketing.
3. Make sure you have established your logistics in advance.
4. Promote and advertise your Web site abroad.
5. Other techniques.
1. Choose which countries (or languages) to target:
As you start using the Web to present your company's products or services to the international market, your analysis needs to keep in mind two factors:
• which countries you already sell to
• which countries are sufficiently online to attract clients
A. To translate or not to translate:
Not all Web sites have to be translated. It depends on who your market is and what you are selling, and how much English your target market already understands. For technical products and services, English is commonly understood, and only a "jumper" page needs to be translated (with links to your English pages). A "jumper" page is a summary of your offer, translated, so that the Web page can be registered with the local indexes of the countries you are targeting. Typical translation costs are $50-$100 for a short page (200-300 words).
If you choose not to translate your site, but still want to draw visitors from Northern Europe (where English is widely understood), at least promote your Website in these countries, in their own language(s). They will find their way to your Web site and usually be able to understand it adequately in English.
At the opposite extreme are products and services that are marketed to everyone abroad: entertainment, household products, CDs, etc. Here you need to translate as much as you can afford, to have as much of your site as accessible as possible. You cannot just create your Web site in English for the world market and just assume it will be understood. (The attitude that "visitors will have to read English or nothing".)
Most Websites, however, fall between these two extremes, where it is good to translate part of the Web site. Not translating will always make a portion of your audience click elsewhere, since they cannot understand English or do not want to read it in English at that time.
The importance of language can never be overemphasized. Overall, only 12% of Europe's population speaks English as a first language, and only 28% speaks English at all. A recent major research study of almost 38,000 European Internet users (http://www.blueskyinc.com/langues.htm) found that English is cited as the first language by 52% of all European users (or, not counting the U.K./Ireland, English is used by only 32% of users, followed by German at 22% and French at 17%).
An extremely enlightening article about the international aspect of online business is in Hambricht and Quist's online e-zine, "I-Word", at http://www.hamquist.com/iword/iword23/istory23.html. It is one of the best articles on the subject, underlining the need for American companies to seriously address international markets. Excerpt:
"One of the best ways for maturing U.S. businesses to maintain or exceed their historic rates of growth is to expand internationally by targeting under-served markets overseas. This has been the case for myriad U.S. companies ranging from Ford and McDonald's to US West and Walt Disney. The same now holds true for high-growth U.S. Internet companies. While we would be the last to suggest that growth opportunities for Internet content and service providers in the U.S. market are anywhere close to being fully exploited, many are now investing significant sums of capital to extend their services into regional markets around the globe.
"Because Internet adoption has -- as a whole -- been slower worldwide than in the United States, a number of emerging foreign markets represent unique opportunities for American Internet companies to be first to market, a key competitive advantage. Some will be able to establish their brands at even earlier stages of market development than they were able to do in the United States.
"The international appetite for such services is unquestionable; today most major U.S. Internet companies report that fully 22% to 32% of their customers access their U.S.-based English language services from overseas. Yahoo! reports that users from 110 different countries access its core English language site at www.yahoo.com on a daily basis. While European sources tell us that their markets are anywhere from 18 months to two years behind the United States in terms of Internet adoption, this should be viewed as an opportunity for U.S. Internet companies looking to expand overseas. In fact, we at Hambrecht & Quist believe it portends the type of explosive growth in Internet use that swept the United States between 1995 and 1996, especially as telecommunications deregulation begins to take effect in countries around the world.
"We believe prevailing market research supports our contention. SIMBA Information, a market research firm in Wilton, Conn., predicts that non-North American international markets will produce 30% of all consumer online revenue by 2000, up from just 12% in 1995. Jupiter Communications, a market research firm in New York City, forecasts that fully 40% of the world's online households will reside in Europe and Asia/Pacific Rim by 2000, up from 29% today."
There is no reason for shrinking away from translating your Web site because of expense. Instead, translate part of it at a time, and increase the marketing efforts on the language sections where you feel most confident, and see the results in your sales. You can translate part of your Web site at a time, so that you start with, say, two languages, and gradually develop more. Remember: "You can sell in any language you want, but you only buy in your own language."
B. Which languages?
So you're convinced to translate part of your Web pages to attract visitors. But which languages? Make your decision based on which countries you already sell in, as well as the logical conclusions from the figures of how many people are online there. If you already sell in most of these countries, then let the online language figures guide you. Certainly you need to provide translations of as many Web pages as you can afford into Japanese, German and French, and if you can, at least one page in Swedish, Finnish and Dutch (because of the high concentration of online population in these three countries). Next in importance come Spanish, Dutch and Chinese.
There is a growing interest in bringing Web sites not only into European languages, but into Asian ones as well -- especially Japanese. And don't think that these native language Web sites are aimed at Asia. There are more Chinese online in the U.S. than in China (one-third of the 2 million Chinese-Americans), and there are many Japanese, Koreans and Filipinos living in the U.S. and Europe -- all of whom prefer to access various media in their own native language.
As of this writing (summer, 1997), there were approximately the following major language families. These figures reflect the number of email accounts, not those with Web access (which generally represent one-third of these figures):
• 7.5-8 million Japanese online (Japan, U.S./Canada)
• 3 million German-speaking, French-speaking, Swedish and Finns (Norwegians and Danes can understand a Swedish presentation too)
• 2 million Dutch-speakers and Chinese-speakers (China, U.S./Canada, Europe, Australia)
• 1.5 million Spanish-speakers (U.S. Hispanic, Spain, and Latin America)
• 1 million Brazilians (Portuguese language).
(The most recent figures are available on Web page http://www.euromktg.com/globstats/.) Only some of these people can read English, ranging from only about 0.2% (Southern Europe) to 30% (Northern Europe).
2. Don't forget email marketing in other languages
The figures for language groups online (above) represent how many people can receive email in each language. According to Netscape, the number of those with Web access is generally one-third of these figures (with certain exceptions). That means you can target overseas markets by certain Internet environments with far more results than using only the Web.
Two acceptable techniques for email marketing are Newsgroups and online forums, both in the languages of your target group. Although both areas are just developing for the first time now, both are accessible for those people abroad who have access only to email. You can see German Newsgroups at "de.*", French ones at "fr.*" (or at http://www.fr.net/news-fr/liste.html), Dutch ones at "nl.*", etc.
Lists of discussion groups can be found at:
French -- http://www.cru.fr/listes/
Other languages at the bottom of http://www.euromktg.com/eng/res/cybmktg/maillistex.html
Of course, you should always have autoresponders ready for prospective customers who request information, and the text of one autoresponder can refer to other documents that the prospect can "pull" in the same way.
Whereas there are starting to be acceptable means of targeting "opt-in" email databases, for people interested in something quite specific, there is not yet any equivalent outside the English language. These direct marketing lists will surely develop, but they are not prevalent yet. This being said, it is my experience that Europeans are far more tolerant of direct marketing by email than Americans are, as long as the presentation is professional.
3. Make sure you have established your logistics in advance:
Just because the Internet is global in scope does not mean that international business is easy. Let me be quite clear of your goal in overseas marketing: your goal is to motivate potential buyers for your product or service... to identify themselves. The rest is traditional international business practice, and is quite straightforward. If you are not used to selling abroad, you need to consider issues that have been part of international business for centuries.
a. Corresponding with prospects in their language (if they cannot communicate in English).
b. Payments from other countries.
d. After-sales service at a distance, in their language.
If you are already doing business overseas, you have already encountered these issues, and should skip on to the next section. If not, however, you need to think clearly about each step in the sales cycle, and how your company will meet each challenge. Do you have people who speak languages in your company, who can translate and answer email from interested prospects and established customers? If not, the best and most economical solution is to use an automatic translator software, such as Globalink (http://www.globalink.com), Transparent Language (www.transparent.com), and Systran Software
b. Payment Mechanisms.
Once the prospect is prepared to place an order, there are several mechanisms that exist for payment. For all amounts over $10, it is simply necessary to take a credit card number -- either by email by using a secure form on your Web site, by fax or by telephone. If you are not set up to accept credit cards First Virtual (www.fv.com) can provide this service at a reasonable charge. Be sure to have your bank references handy if the amount is over, say, $500, in which case a wire transfer is more appropriate.
However, many overseas people online do not have credit cards (Germany and Switzerland in particular). Bank transfers are more in order in these countries. If you are serious about doing business in these countries long-term, you might consider opening up a branch office in Holland. (The cost is less than $100, plus $35 annual renewal). This will give you the right to have a bank account in Europe and accept electronic transfers. Thomas Cook just opened an online transfer procedure, "Virtual Trading Desk", and your customers who order frequently can save money by using their service. A draft (check) from a regular customer will cost them only $3.
c. International delivery is probably the most difficult problem to tackle for most products, as it needs to be reasonable in both price and delivery time. International delivery is quite expensive, with top services such as Federal Express, UPS, DHL, etc. You need to research this area well for your city and analyze what options exist. These vary from city to city; there is no general solution. It all depends on the size, weight and target markets (which countries) for your product. (Services and software do not present this difficulty, of course.)
d. After-sales service usually depends on a geographically local warehouse, where defective products can be exchanged. If you are targeting Europe, there are countless such warehouses in Holland who can stock replacement products in a duty-free zone and respond to your customers in their local languages.
4. Promote and advertise your Web site abroad:
Now that you have established the beginnings of your non-English Web pages, how do you attract visitors from other countries to them? The techniques are similar to the way you would promote your Web site in English-speaking countries, except that you need to perform the actions in other languages now:
• Index registration
• Press releases
• Working the local Newsgroups and forums
• Strategic links
• Banner advertising
A solid marketing plan will include elements of all of these points. Some Webmasters only register their Web site in overseas indexes, expecting international visitors flock to their site. This is just as naive as putting one's address in the phone directory and considering that enough marketing to attract lots of business. No wonder they are disappointed and then discredit the online market. In reality, the international market is quite vast and needs to be budgeted for accordingly.
Registering one's Web site in international indexes, then, goes without saying: of course it is necessary. Actively marketing the Web site involves ongoing activity in press releases, strategic linking and banner advertising.
A word about non-English-language banner advertising, which is perhaps the most effective way of advertising your Web site, since the reaction is immediate and emotional for someone online to see your banner, click on it, and find you. Using this technique abroad works best when the words on the banner are translated and placed on overseas Web pages best suited for the target market. Your click-through rate will be much higher if it is in the local language than if it is in English. Contrary to what you may hear, there are many people online in Europe do not read English.
Banner ads have just started now in countries outside the U.S./Canada. One cannot demand the sophistication of auditing techniques and banner rotation that is common in the U.S. If you decide to place banners abroad, consider that a banner seen by someone overseas might even be considered unusual, since advertising is not very pervasive outside the U.S./Canada... which means that more people may be attracted to click on your banner, to see what it is. (Remember your own reaction in 1994 or 1995 when you started seeing banners for the first time on the Web. In those days, some banners resulted in nearly 81%-90% clickthrough rate since no one understood what they were.)
5. Other techniques of promoting your Web site overseas:
Europe is considerably under-equipped in PCs in the home, and there are hundreds of cyber cafes that offer Internet connectivity in a social setting. What better environment for you to approach people, as they are being introduced to the Internet in their early days online? You can put your URL on the mouse pads used at cyber cafes (a mousepad is as much an advertising space as a newspaper ad). Or you can even put your URL on the screensavers at the cyber cafes, so that when the PC is not in use, your URL will be one of those passing across the screen.
If you have distributors abroad, involve them in promoting your Web site in their language at their local trade show: handouts, product literature, or anything that people can take home and use to find your Web site in their own language.
Magazine ads in overseas publications.
Creating community in the languages of your target market. Email and Web-based discussion groups are now common in English. They are still quite new abroad. If your product or service lends itself to this form of discussion, your company can become the online authority of the subject at hand. Of course, it will require native speakers to lead the discussion and give it life, but they can be found.
Examples of Successful Global Companies Using Language on their Web Site
• Hardware: Apple Computer (http://www.apple.com) (13 languages)
• Hardware: Cisco (http://www.cisco.com) (15 languages)
• Software: Gif Wizard (http://www.gifwizard.com) (4 languages)
• Software: Microsoft (http://www.microsoft.com) (50 languages)
• Software: Adobe (http://www.adobe.com) (9 languages)
• Internet: Yahoo (http://www.yahoo.com) (4 languages)
• Internet: Lycos (http://www.lycos.com) (7 languages)
• Internet: Altavista (http://www.altavista.com) (23 languages)
Marketing your Web site is like marketing anything else. You need to keep at it. Make sure that you continue monitoring the international index sites where you list your URL to make sure that it is still listed. Send more press releases. Add more online promotion work in the countries that you are targeting. It is an excellent idea to establish a monthly budget for your international Web site promotion, as more visitors turn into sales.
The Internet as a marketing medium is still quite young. Even in the U.S., there was very little marketing done on the Internet before 1995, and in Europe and Asia the Internet is just starting to be known as a marketing medium in 1997! (So don't think that you have missed the boat.) However, with the ever-rapid growth of the online population, you should not wait: online history has proven that early entrants "lock up" key positions in their market. The sooner you take your company marketing international, the sooner you will move up the learning curve and your online marketing will begin turning into sales. Start now... before your competition does.
"Internet marketing is not static, it is an ongoing process. Putting your site on the Web is not the end of your journey, it is the beginning."