Magazine article Marketing

Make the Most of Local Differences

Magazine article Marketing

Make the Most of Local Differences

Article excerpt

Even global brands can benefit from creating country-specific web sites.

Three decades ago, American writer Alvin Toffler defined culture shock as what happens to a traveller who finds himself in a place where yes may mean no, where a 'fixed price' is negotiable, where to be kept waiting is no cause for offence and where laughter may signify anger. Today, the internet may have made the world a smaller place, but it has not wiped out cultural differences. In fact, internet surfers still carry cultural baggage.

As its name makes abundantly clear, the worldwide web is a global medium. A web site built in one country can be accessed from pretty much anywhere. That is its beauty. However, from the marketing standpoint, it also presents a challenge. Can one web site serve a global marketplace? Or should a company set up a separate site in each country where it has a significant presence?

Many organisations have thought long and hard about the best way forward and not all have reached the same solution. Usually the scale and nature of their business determines the approach. But there are potential pitfalls whatever path is chosen.

"There are two types of multinational organisation," says Steve Laitman, chief executive of "Those like McDonald's, which appear the same all around the world. And those like Unilever and Levi's where there are differences in the perception of their products in various marketplaces."

Brand perception

Those with the greatest difference in the perceptions of their brands will have to tackle each market individually, says Laitman. His company runs the global family leisure entertainment channel, which is accessed through the internet and interactive TV. It makes a virtue of being a global rather than a national site. Laitman explains: "We are playing up the fact that the internet is a global environment. Our users have the ability to play and chat with users on the other side of the world, which adds to their experience."

Other companies adopt a different model. Wine e-tailer ChateauOnline, for example, has separate sites for the UK, France and Germany, and is rolling out further country-specific sites for Ireland, Denmark, Benelux, Italy and Spain in the coming months.

"The marvel of the internet is that things can be tailored, focused and individualised," says ChateauOnline UK country manager Sophie Jump. "We really try to tailor the content. We have recipes for bangers and mash in the UK and foie gras in France. Our branding has to have a common core, but we're trying to come up with a structure with flexibility to accommodate different attitudes in different countries."

Language problems

The lead taken by the US in internet development and penetration has ensured that English has become the language of the web. Yet organisations looking to reach a global audience are complacent if they choose only to communicate in English. The more the internet becomes a mass market medium, the greater the danger of such complacency.

"As the internet expands globally, users become less and less sophisticated technologically and in other ways," says Chris Potts, chief executive of e-commerce strategy specialist Citria. "Their skills and patience are in short supply and they are not going to learn a foreign language just to use the web. To be global, to put it bluntly, you have to go down to their level. You have to provide easy screen navigation and local language."

Citria has built several European multi-language services and has hired a Chinese language expert, believing that linguistic issues will come to the fore over the next year or so, as UK-based e-businesses try to expand into Europe and beyond. Potts thinks the UK faces a massive challenge because of its poor record on language skills and fears it faces the rapid loss of e-business leadership if the problem is not solved soon. …

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