The impact of language and culture on global export

The world we live in today is more connected than ever. This opens a multitude of opportunities, especially for organisations looking to find new business overseas. In this guide, we’ll first ask some general export questions before looking at how web translation can help your business to tackle those international markets you’ve been looking at.

Before we look at how language, culture and localisation can support your international growth online, we need to evaluate the solidity of your export plans.

Planning for export

So, you’ve decided that business is going well in your home territory and now it’s time to branch out overseas. Sounds good to me, but before you jump in feet first let’s look at some quick questions.

  • Have you really done your research?

  • Do you have a target demographic in mind? What do they look like? What are their values, attitudes or aspirations?

  • Is there a problem that your product or service can solve?

  • Is it a big enough problem for your target audience to care? If so, how does your offering solve it?

  • Is your target audience willing and able to pay for your solution?

If you can clearly answer this first set of questions, then great! Let’s continue…

  • Who are your local competitors?

  • How will you position your company differently? What is your USP?

  • In the case of shipping physical products, have you assessed the quality of the local infrastructure and logistics?

  • Are there local laws and/or regulations that will affect your product/service?

  • What about the preferred payment methods in your target market? Can you accommodate?

Able to answer these? Awesome! Next section…

  • What language(s) is spoken in your target market?

  • Are there cultural differences? If so, does this differ from B2C to B2B?

  • How do you target customers search for your product/service?

Now that we have set the scene, we’ll focus on these last three questions as this is where translation and localisation can help you communicate successfully and effectively with your target customers.

Before we move on, if you have more questions about export strategies, then I would highly recommend that you watch my interview with Victoria Boldison of Bolst Global who specialises in export campaigns for UK companies.

Global voices

Did you know that almost 7,000 languages are spoken worldwide? Incredible right?! However, not all communities have the infrastructure in place to access the internet and even if they do a lack of online content available in their native language limits their use.

In fact, the top ten languages used online accounts for over 80% of the internet’s total content.

If we look at the data on the right, we can see that the five most spoken languages* in 2019 were:

  1. Chinese
  2. Spanish
  3. English
  4. Hindi
  5. Arabic

*Spoken as a first language

Statista_Online languages

But in terms of the top five languages used online we see a slight shift…

Top 5 languages used online

It is very easy for English speakers to forget that around 70% of internet users around the world do not speak English as their first language, meaning that we can end up alienating potential customers by not providing them with a local experience online.

This is particularly important for eCommerce companies as somewhere between 70-80% of online shoppers won’t buy from a website that isn’t available in their native language.

Now, let me ask you another question, where does language play in your export plans?

If you were planning on launching your product overseas without doing a single piece of translation, then let me stop you there. Your company might have ticked all the other boxes in terms of export, but there are a variety of implications that you could face by not taking language into consideration.

Translating for export

Depending on the nature of your business, during your market research, you should have identified whether there are any legal requirements you must comply to in order to distribute your product in that country. You may also have to apply for local patents to ensure that your product is registered locally.

With that in mind, do you know how your brand name and product name(s) will be received in your target market? Is it culturally appropriate? Are there any potential meanings in the local language that bring negative connotations? Does the pronunciation of your brand name sound okay in the target language? You probably didn’t even think about this, but don’t worry you’re not the only one. Here are some examples of big-name brands who didn’t do their research and ended up in some really sticky situations by not thinking ahead.

What about global customer support? Have you thought about how you’re going to handle enquiries from your international customers, and assist them through the buying process?

There is an element of language required in all of these examples, and for legal and patent documentation you need to enlist the help of a professional translator who is not only a native speaker of the target language, but who has an incredible knowledge of such complex content.

For more information on translating for export check out this short video.

Language and culture online

Before launching into a full website translation, it is important to understand and address how your international target audience will find your company online.

Although your digital strategy might be pulling in amazing results in your home market, international digital marketing isn’t a case of replicating the strategy for new countries, and you should never translate your keywords or meta content as it won’t have the same impact overseas.

During your market research you should have identified the following, amongst other things:

  • What the most popular search engine(s) is in your target country
  • Whether your target audience prefers to search for your product/service in their native language or not
  • What local social media channel users might prefer to use to get to know your brand

International digital marketing can be a minefield if you’re not used to trading online internationally. That’s where teams like ours can help. If you want to know more then do not hesitate to get in touch. Once you have this under control then you can move onto the localisation of the site itself.

We won’t spend much time going into the details of website translation in this guide. If you want to know where to start then head over to our Ultimate website translation checklist for more information.

I do, however, want to stress two important things that are often overlooked when it comes to language and culture online.

The first relates to languages like Arabic which read from right-to-left, unlike English. Many companies do not realise that the layout of the whole website needs to be mirrored, not just the page content. This is something that your web agency should already be aware of but be sure to implement this prior to translation otherwise you will really damage the user experience for your Arabic customers.

Home - BBC News - Google Chrome 2020-02-21 17-05-12

BBC News homepage – English

الرئيسية - BBC News Arabic - Google Chrome 2020-02-21 17-04-40

BBC News homepage – Arabic

The second is around images, icons and colours. Again, these design elements are often overlooked. If you want to deliver a truly local experience for your international users, then ensure that your website is culturally appropriate. After all, these visual elements are the first thing that a customer will see when they land on your site so even if you have amazing translations if the supporting images are inappropriate then you’re sure to see visitors leaving your site pretty quickly.

An example of this could be a hotel chain advertising that they host weddings. A bride wearing a white dress may be appropriate for an English-speaking audience, however, in China brides traditionally wear red, with white being associated with funerals. By having this cultural awareness, a small image change can make such a difference for your online users.

To recap, if you’re planning on launching a global website for the first time here is a quick reminder of what to consider:

  • Do your research or enlist the help of an export specialist

  • Find your audience and study their behaviours online

  • Identify your target languages and find a professional language service provider to support you

  • Never dismiss the importance of culture and always be aware of how global customers perceive your brand

  • And finally, if you can do all this then you’ll definitely start thinking global, whilst acting local 😊

Good luck!