At any given time, millions of people are jacked into the internet. They are shopping for the perfect MP3 player, researching trends, or reading the latest news – often with little or no awareness of where the product or information originates. Among these frequent web users, the phrase “it’s a global world” is more of a tired cliché than any kind of futuristic statement. Surprisingly this cliché is lost on many would-be global suppliers. We still find many big companies on the sidelines of web globalization, missing opportunities for growth and ceding the market to competitors (see “Design Practices for Global Gateways,” Sep03). Common Sense Advisory presents the top ten reasons for supporting global markets online.
10. Prepare for continued growth online. Not every international market matters, but some matter a lot. Core European growth economies are Germany, United Kingdom, France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Sweden. Asia’s key economies are Taiwan, South Korea, Japan –and mainland China for those taking a long view. Latin American superstars will be Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina.
9. Beat rivals to the punch. Establish or buttress a strong international presence before your rivals do. If competitors are already in promising national markets, use the global web to quickly initiate an offense.
8. Spread risk by diversifying. When Japan’s consumers are slow to reach for their wallets, European buyers might be less cautious. If the U.S. market is dormant, Asia might be more active. Global firms with diversified regional portfolios can always focus their energy on the markets that are doing well.
7. Reduce costs. Market leaders like General Electric and Wal-Mart realized huge savings in procurement by internationalizing their supply chain to include any supplier, anywhere. Their analysis exposed enormous inefficiencies in communication, pricing, logistics, warehousing, and online processes.
6. Improve information flow. Many multinational companies conduct business exclusively in English, but this works best at the executive management and director levels. In the trenches and the factories, though, local languages dominate. To help staffers make the most of their time, companies should make critical communication systems like e-mail, human resources, data portals, and decision support systems available in the most comfortable language of their employees (see “Real World Enterprise,” Jan04).
5. Remove artificial barriers. Few planners differentiate among inter-, intra-, and extranets. Employees can be shareholders, and business partners are sometimes customers. Information cannot be restricted solely by firewalls, country, language, or government edict. Dynamic websites and customer relationship management systems deliver the content that visitors require.
4. Respond to domestic market changes. Meeting the needs of ethnic consumers, employees, and small businesses represents a new business opportunity for manufacturing, services, and retail companies (see “Leaving La Vida Loca,” Apr03). Similar multicultural dynamics exist in Canada, Germany, and the United Kingdom, all countries with ethnic populations critical to the workforce and the economy, but underserved online.
3. Reinforce brand. Higher prices and online traffic come from the goodwill associated with a brand, a hard-won value resulting from the trust that a strong name engenders among its customers and partners. Companies spending hundreds of millions of dollars annually to manage and refine their brand want to see their efforts extend beyond the small patch of their home market.
2. Eliminate cost from current disjoint efforts. Separately managed, independent sites built by local marketing groups contain inconsistent, obsolete, and incorrect information. Outside the IT or web budget, they hide the fact that companies are spending much more than they realize to create ineffective international sites. A centralized corporate globalization strategy can reduce translation costs, turnaround time, and customer service expenses.
And the number one reason that companies should seriously consider investing in globalizing their business is customer satisfaction.
1. Focus on customers. Consumers and business buyers have tremendous power on the web. They can buy from you today, but from your competition tomorrow. Firms like Hertz, Nissan, and Yahoo! offer international customers online self-service via frequently asked questions, product information, and transactions in local languages. Ideally, prospects can review product offerings, safety advisories, technical data, and competitive descriptions. These systems allow sales and customer service representatives to focus on value-added activities. Offering services tailored to local markets by globalizing online information creates a personally and culturally relevant experience, thus strengthening the customer relationship and improving customer satisfaction.