The first month at a new company is a curious time. You find yourself having many conversations that range across varied topics. I just came onboard W2O this month after years of predominantly working on very large-scale global accounts; Microsoft, Intel and Google. Of the many interesting conversations this month, one theme repeated itself; site localization and globalization. Every challenge was different but it made me think deeply about what advice I might give a client marketing team on the topic.

The allure of having a global web presence is very attractive to many CMO’s, Sales Organizations and marketing teams. Is an organization ready for it? Here are a few key items I think necessary to getting it right.

  1. Is the market ready for you? You don’t need a crew of MBA consultants to tell you if you have a viable business reason for a global web initiative. The key 4 vectors should be close at hand; each market’s revenue opportunity, your sales/marketing budget in that market, your current page level traffic based on content type from the region, and the online presence/potential of that region. If your sales & marketing teams can’t answer first three easily your company may not be mature enough to head in this direction. The fourth can be found with a little bit of research.This is not a black and white decision, however, if the revenue opportunity is there and you have enough budget to support the ongoing marketing effort those are good indicators you actually need to be online in that market. High page traffic may indicate good potential and a growing region may indicate readiness for your brand message. Conversely if you lag in any of these you should look strongly at how you approach the effort and what you hope to gain or learn from it. If you are currently supporting markets this is a great evaluation of how to adjust that support market by market using solid business criteria.
  2. Planning right includes measurement and analysis. It is sometimes easy to think only about the experience, creative and translation when building a global site. However, knowing what you want to measure is the most important factor for the long term success of your site. The ability to measure, analyze and adjust creatively to the metrics of your site, social activity and campaigns is the key to modern marketing. Do not forget to have a plan in place including the analytics tools to measure success.
  3. Lift your creative, everywhere.  Creative is a fragile thing and it is very easy to strangle the creativity out of your team before you start. Focus your team on the experience your users want and avoid heavy-handed mandates. Think twice about restricting the use of colloquial copy. Your brief should include direction for the localization teams so that they can handle the content that doesn’t translate well for their audiences. Expand the creativity of your U.S. team and do the same in all possible markets. This is more work…but it is worth it, for you and your customers. Remember, while it is important to ensure that your navigational items and architecture can accommodate many languages and that images are not burdened with details like dollar signs you still need to allow for great headlines and engaging copy.
  4. Get your platform right. There are many concerns with a platform choice; localization is just a small part of the decision. That being said a critical requirement for a localization team is ease of update. Global marketing teams need to ensure their requirements are clearly articulated to the team making the platform decision. The lack of ease-of-update can result in slow, laborious (ie, expensive) workflow for localization teams. Localization can be a heavy process with a little art thrown in, try to avoid making it all about the process and your customers will notice the art. (Building it tip – Google provides great globalization tools for developers)
  5. Find good partners. Whether you choose a global agency, a custom site shop, or somewhere in between you will need to evaluate partners at a number of levels. First up is an honest evaluation of the experience of your own marketing teams. If you have in-house experience you can take more risk with multiple vendors and push the creative envelope far. If your team is new to this consider a agency or freelance team who have been there before. This effort will take longer than you expect and experience is one of the only ways to reduce the risk of falling flat.
  6. Consider it a pilot. There is nothing wrong with taking a small first bite. Even experienced teams can’t predict how users will interact in different markets.  A launch, test and learn approach might be the perfect solution. Give your teams time to build the process, understand their roles and see if a market is ready for your brand. Pilots also help internal teams understand the appropriate level of expectations necessary to succeed in a new environment.

The upshot. You should have a reason to be there and the money to see it through. In the end you may decide to go for it with neither…but by thoroughly considering these factors you will have started a productive conversation. A conversation that should lead to developing a strong plan, setting the right expectations, assigning an appropriate project budget/timeline, defining your success metrics, and evaluating the results. Good luck!

Over the last two decades, Michael Walker Hall, has led global marketing partnerships for a series of the largest corporations in the world. From Intel, Microsoft and Google to and Wells Fargo he has ensured that big ideas are fundamentally underpinned with digital savvy and operational excellence, continually advancing his client’s global marketing visions. Most recently he led teams launching and Google Nexus 7.

Michael is Managing Director – Integrated Digital at W2O Digital he is also a graduate of Vassar College in Asian Studies, an alum of the design program at CCA and an avid fine art photographer Michael lives in San Francisco with his family and enjoys all that the city offers.