I’ve been thinking about this for a while now, since I see my company venturing into foreign markets, and also because I often read about other companies entering international markets. I think it’s exciting, I love this stuff! For companies, it’s the next thing to do.
I was triggered to write this post from a discussion forum at Forrester Reasearch that I’m part of. Jim Deitzel from Newell Rubbermaid was interested in knowing our opinions on how to go about setting up a website in different languages. This was a great discussion, and these are my thoughts on it… (I added a few thoughts from my old post)
Besides the critical language and currency support that website must have in order to go international, for an ecommerce retailer, going international should not just mean ‘translating’ (although I argue ‘adapting’ is better) a website into multiples languages, so ‘we speak the same language they do’. It should mean going a step further and creating a website and an experience that is consistent with what the target market perceives as relevant, meaningful and persuasive.
‘Think global and act local’ applies here too. No one market has the same drivers, and no brand has the same image and ‘feel’ in every market. But when it happens, that markets and brands are similar enough to each other, a same strategy is likely to work for both. So it seems to be the case with Oral-B, which has similar websites in the US and United Kingdom with minor adjustments: www.oralb.com/en-US and www.oralb.com/en-UK.
When countries and brands differ drastically, then it’s appropriate to also create unique websites and experiences that closely match the expectation and mindset of that particular new market. Such is the case with Pepsi in the US and France: www.pepsiworld.fr and www.pepsiusa.com; Coca-Cola in the US: www.coca-cola.com/index.jsp; Brazil: www.cocacola.com.br/pt-br/index.jsp; Danmark: www.coca-cola.dk; and China: www.icoke.cn; and Clairol in the US: www.clairol.com/index.jsp; Canada: www.clairol.ca/en_ca/default.jsp?hf=true; Australia: www.clairol.com.au; and Ireland: www.clairol.ie.
It seems there isn’t just one way of going international. Ultimately, market conditions, brand variables and brand’s strategic objectives in that market determine whether a brand pursues a distinctive effort or a standardized one across markets. ‘Best practices’ exist, and while I don’t presume to know all, I agree with one in particular. When going international, think in that language, emerge in that culture, and don’t translate! In transcultural marketing, I learned that ‘adaptation’ is a better term to use than ‘translation’.
Why adaptation and not translation? Because the experience must be comparable from one context and language to the other, and translation – which is taking words from one language and finding comparable words in another language – misses that completely. In other words, when you translate from one language to the other, the underlying “conceptual anchor” (meaning) is lost. In addition, translation imposes the concepts of one language on the other arbitrarily, whereas adaptation looks at each language conceptually independent from another, on their own merits, the only truly valid alternative for decision purposes.
Technically, the researcher must assess (functional equivalence) whether a given concept or behavior serves the same function from country to country (or market to market); he/she must also determine (conceptual equivalence) whether these same concepts or behavior occur in different countries (or markets) and whether they are expressed is similar ways; and finally, he/she must examine whether the same classification scheme of objects can be used across countries (category equivalence). Without being too technical, the easiest example I always use to explain this is with the word ‘rice’. It performs the same function in any culture, as food, and it’s also categorized as food item. But it has slightly different concepts, and many times eaten in different ways, depending on the culture.
To Americans ‘rice’ is a small cup of pre-cooked, boiled Uncle Ben’s white rice served as an accompaniment to a narrow range of foods. To some South Americans, ‘rice’ is a dinner plate full of saffron-colored, scratch-made fried rice served as an accompaniment to a broad range of foods. To the Japanese, ‘rice’ is a medium-sized cup of scratch-made steamed rice that serves as a blotter to the flavors of the foods with which it’s eaten. It misses the point for a marketer to say that rice is rice is rice when, in fact, in each of these cultures ‘rice’ is a totally different and highly personal social experience.
Adaptation requires intimate knowledge of the culture and its idiosyncrasies, something that translation lacks in principle.