Now it’s time to start thinking about localizing your website and brand for the local markets in Asia. Here are some tips to keep in mind.
Don’t Skimp on Translation
The best way to show respect for your customers is to invest in translation. Don’t just translate the home page and expect web users to make do with Google Translate for the rest of the website. I call this a “local façade,” and I find it does more harm than good. I’m not saying you have to translate all of your website — but you do need to give users enough translated content so they can feel comfortable understanding what you offer, how to purchase it, and how you support it.
When Translating For China, Think “Simplified”
When translating for greater China, it’s important to understand that there is more than one Chinese writing system, as in Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese. In the 1950s and ‘60s, in an effort to improve literacy, China undertook a “simplification” of Traditional Chinese characters by removing strokes and changing forms. Today we have two widely used but very distinct writing systems. Simplified Chinese is used throughout Mainland China, Singapore, and Malaysia. Traditional Chinese is used in Taiwan and Hong Kong. You might find that your website needs to support both languages depending on the regions you’re targeting.
Learn the Holidays
In Japan and South Korea, women give gifts on February 14, with men returning the favor a month later on a day known as White Day. And Chinese New Year is, for retailers, the financial equivalent of the Christmas season in Western countries. Plan accordingly. Here is the promotion that Apple ran earlier this year:
It’s also no accident that red is the dominant color in this image, as noted below.
Don’t Be Colorblind
Colors carry cultural and emotional significance. And sometimes colors mean very different things depending on the culture. At a Chinese wedding, for example, the bride typically wears red, not white. This alone should underscore just how important red is in the Chinese culture.
White is more often associated with death, and some companies go so far as to avoid packaging their products in white (though Apple seems to have done quite well in spite of this perceived hurdle). One key point to keep in mind is that red is positive and green is not so positive, at least so far as the stock market is concerned.
Shown here is a daily summary of the Shanghai Composite Index. While the red text may appear ominous to a Western investor, the stock market actually finished up 12 points this day.
Look Beyond Facebook and Twitter
Facebook and Twitter may be essential communications channels for you in the US or Europe, but in Asia you’ll need to consider different channels. In South Korea, Cyworld is the dominant social platform and Naver, the dominant search and media platform.
In China, you’ll want to support Sina Weibo — a microblogging platform with more than 500 million users. Tencent Weibo is often called the Twitter of China. As for search engines, Baidu (not Google) reigns supreme.
In Japan, Twitter and Facebook are gaining ground. But Facebook has struggled throughout parts of Asia in large part because it doesn’t allow users to support avatars or personas — a practice that is quite popular in many countries and cultures.
Finally, keep in mind that social networks are fast-moving targets and, in China, the social network with greatest velocity right now is WeChat.
Design For Legibility
When it comes to using fonts on a website, type sizes are not all equivalent. And this is particularly true when it comes to Asian fonts, particularly those of the CJK (Chinese, Japanese, Korean) scripts.
A 10pt font in a Latin script may be difficult to read when that script is Han (Chinese).
What many companies do when localizing their website for these markets is to increase the type size by one or two points. An increase in type size may impact your website layout — a good reason to design flexibility into your website before going global. Finally, test the website with local users to make sure they find it easy to read.
Think Long Term
Many companies have entered Asia with short-term high expectations, only to have these expectations dashed by stiff competition, inconsistent regulations, or consumers who prefer locally owned brands.
If it took your company x number of years to develop a well-known brand in your home country, you might need to make a similar commitment to each market in Asia. Prepare for the long haul. It’s easy to point to Coca-Cola and Chevrolet as success stories — but they have invested in these markets for multiple decades.
Amazon has been operating in Japan for more than 12 years and has 11 distribution centers. Amazon also staffs dedicated software development centers in both China and Japan. And Amazon is still just getting started in this region of the world.
The Asia-Pacific region includes more than two billion people across more than 20 countries, ranging from Australia to China to Indonesia and Japan. For more companies, expanding into Asia isn’t a matter of if, but when. Just be sure that when you push ahead that you ask the right questions and set the right expectations.
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