Special Report: How to avoid translation,logistical nightmares

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Going global isn't cheap. That's the first thing companies realize when they approach the various technologies and services necessary to market and sell internationally. Almost invariably, the initial budget for language services, translation technology or logistics support is far less than what's needed, said Hans Fenstermacher, president of ArchiText.

"Lots of companies are teasing their customers, and then slapping them in the follow through," Fenster-macher said. "The last thing you should deliver is a site that's written in their language with a kick in the pants down the road when they get invoices and offers in English. If you are going to go global, all of your marketing materials, product information and follow-up should be in the native tongue."

There's no question opportunity exists. The world market is 24 times larger than the U.S. in population, and research firm International Data Corp. predicts that U.S. e-commerce will shrink to about 44% of all trade by 2003. Yet Jupiter Communications Inc. found that only 32% of the top-trafficked sites in the U.S. have not localized to European markets, and fewer still in Asia. A whopping 55% of corporate sites don't customize their sites for foreign visitors, IDC said.

Language and logistics

Language and logistics are among the hurdles the brave face when they go global, Fenstermacher said.

"We spend as much time discouraging clients to convert as we do c-onvincing them to go global," he said. Too often, marketers approach a market with an idea for a single product or promotion, when an integrated strategy encompassing the entire company is the best practice, he said.

ArchiText is one of several professional translation services available to marketers ready to dive in. Others include Inc., The One Technology Group, Elingo Corp., eTranslate Inc., Amikai Inc., Lionbridge Technologies Inc. and Systran Software Inc. Marketer beware: Some specialize in machine translation, which does not necessarily match up word-for-word.

Most professional service companies use a combination of technology and experts to ensure the best results. For example, a marketing message might have to be changed significantly when it is written in German because of what translators call "swelling"- when the typical English sentence becomes 40% longer in that language.

Tapping an international ad agency can also be a big plus. Regional outposts can spot danger signs well in advance, as can cultural experts. Without such warning, Dell Computer Corp.'s Web launch in Japan resulted in a huge number of visitors leaving immediately upon download. The problem? The site's borders were black-bad luck in that country.

Logistics also can wreak havoc in the global equation., one of England's first Internet successes, temporarily collapsed while it tried to serve 17 different countries at once.

"Duties, sales tax and value-added taxes are killers, as is converting the total to a foreign currency," said Pierre Schuurmans, president of Canada-based Borderfree Inc. His company has set up an ASP to handle international transactions as such: In exchange for a 2% to 20% shipping and handling charge, Borderfree brokers the relationship with the local shipper and handles the money.

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