Communicate in your customer's language
"You persuade someone only in so far as you can talk their language, by speech, gesture, tonality, order, image, attitude, idea, identifying your ways with them."
Twentieth-Century rhetorician Kenneth Burke's suggestion that language selection is the key to persuading a person is sound advice for business marketers who use the WWW as a medium of communication.
Many online businesses assume that English is the only language on the net, but an abundance of research and statistics indicate that it is folly to limit communications to the one dialect.
An International Data Corp. (IDC) report - "Web Site Globalization: The Next Imperative for the Internet 2.0 Era", said the fast adoption of the Internet will continue in coming years, but the percentage of American users will decline.
Forrester Research has found that at the moment only 50% of Internet users speak English, and by 2005 it is estimated only a third of internet users will use English for online communication.
At present, according to Inktomi and NEC research, 14% of websites are in a language other than English, which leaves 50% of web users only served by less than a sixth of the Internet's websites. These statistics prove that it is imperative for businesses to prepare for a truly multilingual Internet.
The changing dynamics of language use on the Net will be most affected by an increase in web participation in Asia. By the end of 2003, Asian Internet use will climb from 38 million (2000) to 95.83 million online surfers, which is predicted to be a quarter of the world total.
European Internet use is also expected to increase as a percentage of the whole, with Jupiter reporting that European online households will triple in the next three years.
With these increases in non-English speaking Internet users, creating web sites only in English substantially reduces a company's revenue base, according to Forrester Research.
"Businesses that present their websites only in English are losing up to $10 million in lost sales per year," said Michael Putnam.
Forrester Research also found that USA businesses turn away almost half the orders coming from outside the US.
The IDC Web Globalization report highlighted the financial cost of concentrating solely on US customers.
IDC said that by 2003, Internet spending would reach $1.64 trillion. Two-thirds of this projected amount will come from outside the US, with Japan and Western Europe expected to make up 47% of this on-line spending.
Therefore, if companies concentrate on US customers, they will miss out on the 66% of on-line spending conducted by non-English speaking Internet users.
American companies are the worse offenders in ignoring potential revenue from non-English speaking customers, with IDC finding that 70% (of US companies) draw less than 10 percent of their e-commerce revenue from overseas.
Barry Parr, the author of IDC's Web Site Globalization Report, said with the rise of non-English speaking Internet users, it is time to gain a competitive advantage by selling to global markets.
"With more than half the potential market outside the US, companies failing to expand internationally are leaving one-half of their potential revenue on the table."
The IDC report says that a substantial amount of the revenue will come from B2B transactions, with an astonishing 1300% increase in B2B sales from $107.7 billion in 1999, to $1.1 trillion in 2003.
These statistics raise the question of how many more sales could be made if businesses made their sites multilingual. So how do you turn your website into a multilingual sales machine? Here are 3 easy steps:
Step 1. Determine which languages will deliver the biggest bang for your buck.
Have a look at your existing sales. If you are already starting to make sales into certain non-English speaking countries, it is reasonable to assume that there are many others willing to buy your products/services if only they could understand what you were saying.
Have a look at your website statistics. They will usually tell you how many hits or impressions you are getting from different countries.
Download a free Translation Object from www.worldlingo.com and place it on your website. This allows visitors to view your web pages in any of 8 languages for free. The translations are automatic machine translations, so they are not 100% accurate, but they are a big step forward for visitors to your site who cannot speak English. But more importantly, at the end of each month, Worldlingo.com will provide you with a report showing you exactly how many times each page was viewed in a specific language. This is hard data you can use to plan your multilingual Internet strategy.
Another method to make a Web Site more accessible to global customers is the use of a browser translation tool. Two of the companies that provide translation tools are Worldlingo.com and Alta Vista's Babel Fish. Both provide a tool plug in for Internet Explorer 5, which allows surfers to choose the language they wish to view a site in (Babel Fish has five languages and Worldlingo.com has eight).
However the use of these browser tools require the surfer to take the initiative in downloading the software, therefore the use of Worldlingo.com's Translation Object is preferable as it allows Web designers to be pro-active in making a site multilingual.
Step 2 Select a Localization Partner
Localization is similar to translation, except it takes into account the cultural nuances involved for each country, handles the graphics, and localization partners frequently specialize in producing multilingual websites. After being localized, the Website takes on the look and feel of being developed for a particular language or culture.
There are a wide variety of potential localization partners. These range from giant multinationals to specialist boutiques. Here are some websites to check out:
LISA, the Localization Industry Standards Association, has a more comprehensive list of localization partners on their website www.lisa.org.
Discuss the data you collected in Step 1 with the localization partners, decide on your initial set of languages, and ask them to provide you with a quote and an explanation of their methodology to localize websites. You will find some specialize in one or two specific languages, while some of the larger ones act as a project manager for many languages and outsource the translation work as required.
At the end of the day, pick the localization partners you feel comfortable with, not necessarily the cheapest. It will be the start of a long-term relationship, because as you update your English site regularly, they will update your foreign language sites.
Step 3: Don't forget the email
Many businesses on the net think the day they launch their multilingual website, they just need to sit back and watch the orders roll in, but really the work has just begun. How many emails do you get as a result of your English web marketing activities? You should expect a similar number from non-English speakers once you launch your multi-lingual website.
You may be lucky and have a team of talented multilingual speakers on staff who can handle this foreign language email, or you can afford to hire native speakers. But many businesses cannot, and even those that can find it difficult to manage the peaks and troughs of incoming email.
An easy solution is at hand though. It is cheap, fast, and effective - no you do not need to learn how to speak 43 different languages in your spare time.
Worldlingo.com have an email translation system that provides you with a free machine translation of the email and a quote for human translation. The machine translation gives you the gist of the email and helps you sort the wheat from the chaff. If it is junk mail - bin it. If it is an everyday inquiry, shoot off a standard pre-translated reply. If it something else, make a value judgment - is it worth the price of the human quote, say $30, to have it translated. If it mentions orders and lots of $ signs you will probably decide it is valuable - just click on the quote link and Worldlingo.com will have a professional human quotation back to you in Internet time.
Remember, Internet users equate slow response to email to bad service. So do not waste the money you have invested in localizing your website into several different languages by not being able to respond to your customers inquiries in a timely manner. Step three of this process is already important for customer relations, and trends and statistics suggest that using multilingual email will become vital in the next couple of years.
Forrester Research predicts that the email marketing industry will reach $4.8 million by 2004. The report says that within the next four years, marketers will send more than 200 billion emails to take advantage of the Internet's potency.
"To remain prominent in what will become a sea of email, marketers are going to need the right people, partners, and structure in place to build successful customer relationships," Nail from Forrester Research said.
Jupiter Communications also expects an explosion in commercial email. It says that the average US consumer will also receive 4000 personal and non-marketing emails this year, up from 1750 last year.
Due to this high volume of email, Jupiter predicts that people will discard poorly communicated emails more frequently.
The first email must grab the consumer's attention, and it is highly unlikely that this will occur if it is written in another language.
By providing email that lets businesses speak in their customer's language, Worldlingo.com's email translation will improve communications with foreign language customers.
But here comes the best part. Having completed those three steps, visitors will linger at your site twice as long and according to Forrester Research are three times more likely to buy. Imagine what that will do to your sales figures.
If Kenneth Burke was alive today, he would see the persuasive benefits of Internet communications. However, I am sure he would have a localized Web Site, with multi-lingual email titled: "You persuade someone only in so far as you can talk their language".
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+++++ [Moderator's Comments] +++++
Great report Alastair. You've hit on some points that I believe need clarification:
1. Automatic translation programs don't seem to work. I remember folks testing the Alta Vista translator, and when they put an English statement in for translation to another language, then back again to English, the results was not the same as the original. And there are horror stories of how translations were the wrong meaning due to local colloquialisms. My favorite was President John Kennedy's speech in Berlin when he said "Ich Bein Ein Berliner" and the crowd roared. Only to find out that he really said "I am a jelly donut" in the local dialect. So does the translator work, or will it cause more harm than good? It seems the localization partners are the best choice.
2. I realize that I am English-speaking and from the US, and may be biased. However, isn't the unofficial "official" language of the Net English? Much the same as English is the language of the legal system and the pilots.
3. In addition to the language, there are a lot of other issues that affect global sales. Payment, delivery, local tax issues, duties, freight, etc. Visa and MC are about to impose a fee on international transactions, which will affect that process. So, how much will translation help with the sales process? Or does one have to take all of these issues into account.