What should my international digital communications strategy be?
Going international, regardless of which territory you are aiming for, requires a strategic approach. Without it, you’ll bumble around on the periphery without making an impact. You may think that going to other English-speaking countries, for example, should be a breeze. Don’t fool yourself – remember Culture, Conventions and Currency. The three Cs are the bedrock of your approach. Let’s look at them for a moment:
The USA and Australia are both as culturally different from the UK context as Paraguay or Portugal. We share (some would say “are divided by”) a common language, but really, that’s it. The ways in which we live, interact, buy and sell are all different in these countries. Forgetting that fact means that you miss pitfalls in your communications and the end result is that your messages sound foreign. Studying your target cultures and understanding what makes them tick is essential to understanding how to market to them, whether you are addressing people in English or some other language.
How people address each other, the tone of their language and the implicit messaging that sits behind the use of idioms, for example, should all be taken into account. To ‘tu’ someone in France, when you should have used ‘vous’ is a sin that most English-educated folk understand. There are many such pitfalls. Look out for them. Convention also covers the legal requirements that all countries have: tax laws, especially VAT, vary from country to country (and can change locally at a moment’s notice); privacy legislation is stronger in some countries than other, but all countries in Europe are covered by the blanket Data Protection Directive; and don’t forget that giving things away free is illegal in some countries – you need to charge, even if it’s only €1.
Not only are currencies different across the world – duh! Obvious! – but they fluctuate, sometimes alarmingly, against the pound sterling. Those fluctuations can wipe out your profit in a stroke – particularly if your bank is charging you for taking money from abroad (most do). Ensure you have plans in place to keep your non-UK prices in line with those changes. And, while on the subject of currency, you need to make sure that you present prices in the correct format for the country. For example, the Euro symbol and the separator between euros and cents – here are some examples of how the presentation varies: €12.50, €12,50. € 12.50, € 12,50, 12.50€, 12.50 €, 12,50 €, and so on. Similar conventions apply to things like dates too.
Getting any of these things wrong shows you’re foreign! You need to be convincing in every aspect – the language needs to be fluent and correct, idiomatically; the presentation needs to be appropriate and the overall experience needs to be as if your website or email was coming from a local company in that country.
Talking of language, there’s always the question of what you will do when that much looked-for first customer from Bulgaria phones or emails … yep, in Bulgarian. Can you respond? Do you have access to people who can handle that sort of offline communication?
Finally, your website. If it’s just your English website with a page that has prices in dollars, euros or yen, don’t expect a great deal of traffic. Ideally, you need a multilingual site – that’s expensive and it’s a step that takes some planning. First of all, perhaps, create pages in each target language that you wish to address. These need to look and feel right, following the points made above. Moreover, they need to be optimised to show to Google and indeed other search engines, that they are targeted at a specific country and language. If your website is a .co.uk you may also want to consider getting a Top Level Domain such as .com or .eu.
We’ve not said anything about translation and localisation in this article. Check out a previous one of my posts here for some detail on this and on the format of your website.
It may all seem like a huge hill to climb, but there’s plenty of expertise out there to help you, not least here on the Open to Export website. ExtraMile helps companies large and small with their multilingual online communications. If you are looking for websites, search engine optimisation, email marketing or simply assistance with strategic planning, we have the expertise in house. www.extramilecommunications.com
Nick Evans is Technical Director at ExtraMile Communications and is an experienced marketer of many years standing.