It's not such a small world after all

Simply translating Web content into other languages won't make your company worldly wise. It takes localization efforts and cultural sensitivity.


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Every manager knows that a Web site can be reached from anywhere in the world. But few companies take advantage of that fact.

Terry Lund is an exception. Lund's title is director of Internet Initiatives for Eastman Kodak Co., of Rochester, N.Y. "My primary responsibility has been the globalization of Kodak's Web presence," he says.

His first step was to simply translate Kodak.com's key Web pages into other languages and post them with help from local marketing executives. (Kodak's Brazilian page can be found at http://www.kodak.com.br/.) Lund was lucky in this initiative. Since Kodak has a presence around the world, he was able to do most of the work internally. Still, the job is huge: Kodak's Web site has 30,000 pages.

It doesn't have to cost a lot
If your company is small and you're test-marketing an idea--looking for feedback from a foreign market--you can get a huge bang for very few bucks.

That's what S. V. Braun and his five-year-old company, S.V. Braun Co., of Morris Plains, N.J., found out. The company produces foam that, when injected into a car or truck tire, can protect the tire against going flat. Braun felt his product could sell well in nations with poor roads, such as China and Japan, if he could just reach distributors in those countries. So he paid Multimedia Marketing Group Inc., an online marketing firm based in Bend, Ore., to translate a few Web pages into those languages, paying less than $1,000 in total translation costs.

"By people noticing the Web site overseas, they contact us and we're able to develop new contacts and accounts that would be impossible otherwise," says Braun.

And even when Lund has matched popular content to another language, he's found problems. "In Germany we translated some content--a guide to better pictures--that gets rave reviews on kodak.com," he says. After it was posted, "the feedback was that the translation was accurate, but [the German users] didn't like the content. It wasn't suitable for the audience. They didn't like the style of the writing. That was a surprise to me--it didn't occur to me."

Lund continues, "What we should have done, the lesson we learned, was to draw a circle around that content and say to Germans and others that we'd like to get it localized, is that okay?" That way, the Kodak employees in Germany get to read the English version of the content to be translated, and the corporate office gets their reaction before investing in the translation. Before this clarification, says Lund, "Once we gave them translations, people dug in their heels, thinking it was take it or leave it."

It's more than words

In further analyzing his localization efforts, Lund notes it's important to have counsel from someone who understands the issues. One of the companies he's consulted with for years is Alis Technologies Inc., a software and translation services company based in Montreal.

Steve Allan, Alis' senior director for business development, divides the issues Kodak is dealing with into two categories: internationalization and localization.

"Internationalization is thinking and designing from the ground up so your business can be taken to other markets and languages," Allan says. "At most companies, it's not being done. People are trying to adapt existing sites that weren't considered in a multilingual context. That limits what you can do."

A successful effort will consider pictures as well as words. Instead of higlighting your translated by pages by linking to them with an image of a specific country's national flag, Allan suggests offering a picture of your product and some words in that language, in a font familiar to that country or region's users. For instance, showing Austrians a German flag to claim you understand them doesn't work.

LA Shoppers.com, an online mall that offers its services in both Japanese and Chinese, does a fine job of directing people to its foreign-language services. In comparison, Germanworld, an otherwise-fine English-language mall devoted to German products, doesn't even warn users when it links to news stories written in German.

Executing a strategy through localization doesn't just mean handing your Web pages over for translation. "Electronic commerce requires home pages and templates done by humans. For European languages that will cost 25 cents a word," says Allan, "For double-byte languages [such as Japanese and Chinese] it will cost more like 35 to 40 cents a word." Allan notes you'll probably spend almost $100,000 to translate an extensive site--and that's just the down payment. As the site changes you have to keep it translated.

Once you've done the human translation, things like machine translation can be used at half the cost, says Allan. But when you make that investment, he warns, make sure you're ready for feedback. "Once you open your Web site to a global audience in their language, they'll communicate with you in that language," he notes. "So your customer service needs to respond and understand. We see an increased use of machine translation in terms of incoming traffic to understand an e-mail coming from a customer." The response then runs through a two-step process, first translated by machine and then checked by someone fluent in the target language.



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