Global Markets and Mother Tongues

by | Aug 14, 2017

If you thought that going global with your B2B products or services may not be as localization-intensive as what a B2C business is, it’s time to think again.

“Really?” you might ask. “How can that be? We know our customers. They may not have English as their mother tongue, but that’s how they communicate with us. After all, English is the language of business!”

But is it?

That statement, “English being the language of business” is something the Common Sense Advisory wanted to explore, poke and prod – to find if it was true. The CSA is an independent market research company that specializes in best practices for translation, localization, interpreting, globalization, and internationalization.

They polled people with purchasing-decision abilities at 400 companies in 10 non-English speaking countries to find out about their attitudes to buying online and to localized websites and content. These people are responsible for buying software and other high-tech products, which is also a bit of an important consideration, since a lot of an enterprises’ IT-infrastructure is often built with non-localized, English products.

Before I tell you some of the highlights of that survey, I want to point out which countries were surveyed. That’s because these were not countries with little-known languages or populations – in fact, they were chosen for those reasons. They were: Brazil, China, France, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, Russia, Spain, Sweden and Turkey.

What the CSA found was that although the respondents said that they and their colleagues were competent in English – they could read, write and understand – most of them preferred content and products that were available in their own language. In fact, 84% of the respondents said they were more likely to buy a product that had online information in their own language. And after-sales support is even more critical: a whopping 85% said they need support in their own language once that sale has been made.

This particular report also has a stern warning for global brands that haven’t gotten around to localizing, especially if there is a local product in the market that is a reasonable facsimile. Fifty-six percent of the respondents said they would buy a local product that met their criteria in their own language instead of a global brand that did not. 

What all of this means is that if you want to have a presence in foreign markets, you need to be as attentive and as nurturing to each new market as you are for your home market – whatever that language may be. Of course, that may not be convenient, or inexpensive, since your biggest customer touch points, like your website, manuals and support documentation, will all need to be localized. And each market may require even more resources, such as deploying local sales and support teams or representatives, so you have competent people on the ground communicating with your customers the way they want, through emails, chats, Tweets or on the phone.

To be able to expand to, and succeed in, a new market, you cannot underestimate the value of communicating with your customers and potential customers in their mother tongue.  When you go global and speak like a local, your chances of sealing the deal are much greater, and your customers will appreciate your efforts.

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