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Bridging the Global Gap

By Jan 23, 2006

Donald A. DePalma, Ph.D.Welcome to “Bridging the Global Gap,” the first in a series of monthly articles by Donald A. DePalma, Ph. D., president of business globalization consultancy Common Sense Advisory, dedicated to the internationalization of your online brand.

Many phenomena can drive companies to develop global or country/regionally localized Websites. Your CEO reads an article about huge opportunities in China and adds “going global” to his list of top three goals for 2006. A rival firm creates German and Spanish commerce sites to sell its wares. National regulations mandate that you localize your products or lose the right to sell in Europe. A regional distributor demands materials in his local language. Loyal customers begin to substitute a local supplier’s products for ones they used to buy from you. Or an analyst cites your firm for not answering foreign e-mail or for replying to a Spanish inquiry with “English please. Thank you.”

In an ideal world, any of these incidents might cause your company to add localization as a budgetary line item, create a special team to scope out the problem, and then undertake a full-blown international initiative. Much more likely, these events will create scattered pockets of awareness around the company, perhaps incite someone to start building a business case for localizing a product or adding a language to your Website, or start a small-scale, perhaps one- or two-person ad hoc project to fix whatever problem causes the most pain.

I’ve designed my series of columns for the coming months to help you formulate a plan for building a bridge to close the global gap that so many international companies struggle to achieve. Here is a brief preview of themes to come:

  1. Education. For years many people accepted the notion that being on the Web meant that you were instantly global. What most failed to recognize was the importance of acting global and meeting the needs of local markets. In future columns, you will get an outline of the basics of being a global company online and the importance of localizing your value proposition to market needs and detailing successes and failures. I will also address the benefits, opportunities, and challenges that companies expect to derive from international business, providing the core of a business case for international expansion that you might make to your budget committee or board of directors.
  2. Planning. Few people know where or how to start–after all, “global” is a pretty big topic, and many people are overwhelmed by the prospect. To make the problem more tractable, these columns will drill down into critical aspects of planning a global journey: 1) the debates that you’ll have on how best to organize for the global Web, the need for an executive to set a course for the company, and the service level agreements that will underpin successful efforts; 2) a tried-and-true approach to determine which countries it makes sense to enter via the Web; and 3) the legal implications of doing business in other markets, with detailed information about the exigencies of transnational commerce.
  3. Implementation. Evolving from a company that services only its domestic market in the dominant language to one that can offer a more compelling experience for other countries involves a lot of heavy lifting. Much of it is technical grunt work: having your developers and technology partners enable support for foreign character sets, currencies, and date formats, for example. I will introduce the translation and market localization issues that your firm will face once you choose to offer your international visitors and business partners a more compelling experience.
  4. Organization. Successful globalization requires the guidance of a strong leader complemented by internal and external resources–an organizational structure that optimizes the use of corporate, regional, and local staff. Few of the companies that I’ve interviewed would have made it past the visions of global sugarplums that precede the planning phase without the assistance of outside firms and external localization and translation specialists.
  5. Measurement. In this age of too many projects and not enough funding, few globalization efforts would make it past the first year without some structured analysis of the return on investment. I will introduce some guidelines for defining and managing ROI for global online marketing projects.

E-mail DePalma at don@commonsenseadvisory.com. For more information or to tap into comprehensive and valuable market research for a global economy, visit www.commonsenseadvisory.com.