Just do it -- the Nike slogan? It's over, says John Yunker, founder of Byte Level Research LLC in San Diego.
When the world is the customer and the Web is your marketplace, even great slogans can become a barrier to entry for a prospective buyer. A memorable slogan resonates in the language it's written but is easily lost in translation.
And that can translate into a lot of lost business. More than 85% of the world's computer-literate consumers use the Internet to make a purchase, according to recent research from The Nielsen Co., boosting the market for online shopping by 40% in two years. When those buyers search the Web, the language of choice is their native tongue.
Companies with something to sell are paying mind, tailoring their online marketplaces to global audiences, Yunker said in a webinar last week. The Web globalization trends and best practices session was sponsored by Lionbridge Technologies Inc., a translations services provider.
Ron Rogowksianalyst, Forrester Research Inc.
But designing websites and online marketplaces that ring true for local markets is a paradoxical business, it seems. Even as companies like Nike are jettisoning the one-world slogan and putting information in native languages and paying attention to local cultural cues, the strong trend in website design is toward global consistency, said Yunker, whose company periodically grades websites for their global appeal.
Avon calling, more consistently
The evolution of Avon Products Inc.'s international websites is an example of the amalgam of local and global design elements, Yunker said, pointing to screen shots of the beauty products company's former Spain and China websites. Were it not for the Avon name, the pages could be taken for two different companies. Today, the sister sites follow a uniform horizontal template, with look-alike tabs at the bottom and a glamorous, ethnically ambiguous model dominating the page. But the two sites are not identical.
"One thing I always emphasize, as important as global consistency is, it should not be so restrictive that the local offices don't have the freedom to promote locally relevant products and still have a design they feel works with their market," Yunker said. "But the back-end level, the global consistency in terms of architecture is so important, in allowing you to scale your website globally."
Balancing local and global elements is even more challenging for multinational companies with multiple brands, such as hotel chains. But more and more companies are striving to do just that, Yunker said. Wyndham Hotels and Resorts LLC puts up a unified front for its 10 brands across six continents. Visitors going to a Super 8 Motel or Ramada will see the same Make a Reservation column on the left and some big promo -- Win a Grand Prize this Week! -- in the middle.
"What Wyndham is doing here is saying, 'We're not going to try to reinvent the wheel at a structural level. We're going to have a global template, we'll let the local brands rely on the templates and share them and that will allow the brand managers to focus on content.' It is not an easy challenge," Yunker said.
Using a common technology platform for global websites and online marketplaces is a departure from the old-school website protocol, when the U.S. operations tended to dictate the content, leaving the local markets to do their own back-end engineering, Yunker said. The new model frees up designers, fomenting what Yunker calls a "positive sibling rivalry." The best ideas spread through the websites rather than being dictated by company headquarters.
Who owns the company websites?
Analyst Ron Rogowski, who covers global Web design at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc., agrees that companies see the benefits of using common Web templates and back-end tools within and across brands, but recognition is one thing and doing it is, well, hard.
"The biggest reason why it is difficult is that most companies don't have a centralized office or single point of accountability for their global websites. You have ownership here and there, people own different parts of the site," Rogowski said.
U.S. teams tend to assume they know best when it comes to the Web, Rogowksi said. Without a single point of authority, however, efforts to impose a common platform can fall flat or backfire.
Byte's top 20 websites 2008
1. Google; 2. Wikipedia; 3. Cisco Systems; 4. Volvo; 5. Philips; 6. Caterpillar; 7. Netvibes; 8. Microsoft; 9. HP; 10. Nokia; 11. Deloitte; 12. American Express; 13. Adobe; 14. Lenovo; 15. Xbox; 16. Panasonic; 17. IBM; 18. 3M; 19. Nivea; 20. XING.
"You can tell someone halfway around the world what to do all day long, but unless you have some way of enforcing it, it won't happen. It's more of a people problem than anything else." Rogowski said.
None of the companies he has worked with has figured out the governance perfectly, he said, but Hewlett-Packard Co. "is pretty good" at vetting local ideas and incorporating them into a global standard for the Web.
Some years ago, UAL Corp. successfully tapped its local constituencies to come up with a search engine. But BP PLC is probably the best he's seen in building an effective strategy and governance structure for Web globalization. The key there, he said, was putting someone in charge. Giles Sutehall had the task of consolidating more than 280 websites onto a single global platform.
As Web globalization takes hold, with its need for sophisticated technology and nuanced branding, IT and marketing will have to work hand in glove. Rogowski predicts this will be a challenge for most companies.
The good news? Managing global websites is finally becoming a career, Yunker has noticed -- complete with titles such as director of global e-services, director of global marketing and global infomaster, to name a few.
Let us know what you think about the story; email: Linda Tucci, Senior News Writer