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Audi Weathers the Recession with a Multilingual Windshield
Posted by Nataly Kelly, Benjamin B. Sargent on December 3, 2009  in the following blogs: Business Globalization, Global Marketing
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The Wall Street Journal reported last week that automobile manufacturer Volkswagen AG's Audi unit has been affected by the global economic downturn. However, instead of suffering the negative fate of most of its rivals, Audi has experienced precisely the opposite -- achieving impressive revenue milestones quarter after quarter. What's translation got to do with this? In our estimation, plenty.

Part of Audi's recent success is due to the fact that it has had limited exposure to the ailing U.S. market. But more importantly than where the company hasn't been focusing its attention is where it has: emerging markets. Brazil just posted record automobile sales last month, while vehicle sales in China rose by 93 percent in the same period. Audi also announced that it expects to double its sales in Russia by 2015. The company has been investing heavily in marketing its products across the globe, especially related to its 100th anniversary.

What's the best way to target all these growing bases of new international clients?  Why, in their native languages, of course. Our research repeatedly shows that customers are more likely to buy if information is provided to them in their preferred languages -- see our reports, "Can't Read, Won't Buy," and "Localization Matters" for more details.

Audi has been taking heed. The company has done good localization work on their global websites, adding new languages in the past two years. However, Audi's web managers could further enhance business results by improving online customer experience; for example, prospective drivers would arrive more quickly at in-language, country-specific content if the websites used a zero-click strategy -- one of the best practices we outlined in our recent report, “The Top 40 Online Global Brands.”

Because auto companies spend so much on mass marketing, they have historically generated most of their traffic by drumming the top-level domain sites into a consumer's head. As more traffic comes from buzz marketing and online word-of-mouth, global traffic to the "audi.com" site will continue to spike. This is where geolocation and automatic language configuration can make a big difference -- even for companies with massive advertising budgets.

However, Audi has taken language support beyond mere marketing, and directly into features that their linguistically diverse customers can use. For example, the 2011 A8 model's multimedia interface offers handwriting recognition -- not only in Latin scripts -- but in Chinese, Cyrillic, Korean, and Japanese.

The message is clear -- language services are a critical part of any company's growth strategy. And when times are bad, the companies that have laid the linguistic foundation are the ones that benefit from the international diversification that enables them to survive -- or in Audi's case, to drive -- through some of the toughest economic storms.


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