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October 3, 2013

International Online Marketing – The Challenges of Operating in a Global Environment

Over the past decade, Web and online marketing has become one of the most powerful tools in modern advertising. In 2011 it was calculated that 35 percent of the world’s population was using the Internet, in which 22 percent of users were located in developing countries. This provides online companies with an ideal portal to a huge developing market.

Here are some interesting figures:

  • 71 percent of people in developed countries are online and 21 percent in developing countries have access to the Web.
  • 83 percent of American, 85 percent of European, 81 percent of Latin American, and 87 percent of Asian Internet users have shopped online.
  • U.S. Total Online Advertising Spending (2008 – 2012): $23.6 billion (2008), $25.7 billion (2009), $28.5 billion (2010), $32 billion (2011), $37 billion (2012).
  • More than one billion people use Facebook every month.

Hence, there is no doubt that international online marketing has massive potential and is a rapidly developing industry. Making the leap to the global market requires a team of specialized Web marketing experts who can adapt products and services to the online advertising world for specific languages and regions.

Know Your Market

As an international company you must have a comprehensive understanding of your regional markets in terms of language, culture, values and needs. This includes understanding how you are perceived by different geographical markets and necessitates thorough cultural knowledge of each region. There are many things to look out for when adapting your content for a new market, but here are just a few of the main issues.

1. Localization

Language barriers are perhaps the most obvious challenge to take into account. Although English is arguably the world’s international language, in some cultures it can be difficult to find local people who communicate in English. Likewise, it’s not rare to find misspellings in English-translated advertisements and, for this reason, native speakers represent a great asset in terms of advertising.

Pepsi is one of the most infamous examples of how cultural barriers and poor communication could affect your business. When its slogan, ‘Come alive! You’re in the Pepsi Generation’ was translated for the Taiwanese market, the result was unexpected: ‘Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead’ – a perfect example of false advertisement, if there ever was one. The result was reportedly a significant decrease in sales in both Taiwan and China. This demonstrates the importance of localization and highlights the benefits of using international copywriting solutions when preparing online advertising campaigns for different geographical markets. Not only do mistranslations have the potential of alienating entire markets, they can also have severe financial ramifications, which is why it’s important to always use native speakers.

2. Presentation

Written language has obvious importance, but what about the meaning of colors, icons, and graphics used within Websites? In Europe and the Americas white is associated with purity and marriage whereas in Japan, China, and parts of Africa it is traditionally a mourning color. Give an Irishman a green hat and he will probably thank you and buy you a pint; give a Chinese man a green hat and he will assume that his wife is cheating on him.

What most people do not realize is that website translation does not stop at words. Thinking of launching an international wedding planning business? It’s probably not a good idea to use a white color theme on the portion of your website localized for Japan! But cultural differences are not just a global issue — even within Europe there are significant dissimilarities. Using the popular devil horn symbol might seem like a good idea for a concert-ticket-booking website until you market it in areas of the Mediterranean where the gesture is considered vulgar. If you’re thinking about having your Website translated, then it’s important to consult a company that specializes in website translation as they can advise you on all of the additional elements that other localization companies may overlook.

3. Regulations

It’s important to bear in mind that the international online market is an assemblage of many local markets. Thus, part of understanding the differences between cultures includes being informed about regional regulations. In Germany it is problematic to use comparative advertising when the advert suggests that a competitor’s product is inferior to that being advertised. In some countries, advertising for pharmaceuticals must have prior approval from health authorities.

In the west a popular marketing campaign used to generate publicity is to offer customers a lottery or a raffle in order to promote products. However, in countries such as Brazil, this could be construed as gambling if the campaign does not contain obvious promotional elements, which is problematic as with other countries where gambling is illegal. It’s always worth researching the advertising regulations of your target region before preparing any online promotional materials and campaigns, such as international PPC. This could represent not only a financial loss, but problematic legal issues.

Think Global

The above demonstrates the importance of cultural adaptation alongside linguistic translation — international online marketing and website translation is not just a linguistic endeavor.

A good starting point for online marketing is international SEO and Google is without a doubt the global leader in the search engine industry. However, in many local markets people use local search engines – did you know that in Russia the search engine of choice is Yandex? In China one of the most popular ones is Baidu. If you want to expand into new markets then simply localizing your content is not enough. In order to be most effective, it’s important to seek the services of a company with expertise in both Website translation and online marketing.


Ryan Neal is a copywriter with MO Group International. At MO Group International our professionals are experienced in community management, international SEO and social media, working in more than 40 different languages and possessing the tools and experience to design a campaign to boost your online presence and allow you to get the most out of digital resources. Get noticed with MO Group International.