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Is Your World Wide Web Site Ready for the World?

By Michael A. Stelzner , Director of Marketing, Language Services International (LSI), Inc.
LSI specializes in web site localization and International web marketing.
This article may be republished with written permission from the author.

Today, more than ever before, corporations, professional organizations, institutions and casual web users are beginning to realize what the "world" in the world-wide web really means. Many of you may recall the incredible feeling of power you felt when cable television first came to your town. With dozens of stations to choose from, on topics ranging from news to shopping, it was overwhelming. Then, just a few short years ago, the introduction of the Internet took the power of choice to an entirely new level. At first, universities and government institutions used the Internet as a new communication medium. Soon after, major corporations began to discover the practical market applications the world-wide web provided. The rest is history in the making . . . Where are we today?

Perhaps the best way to summarize the wide ranging global acceptance of the Internet and the world-wide web is to look at the numbers. As of January, 1997 nearly 60 million individuals, globally, were using the Internet with an extra 10 million utilizing electronic mail on a regular basis. No other product, technology, or service in the history of the planet has been accepted and assimilated into society faster. Past Internet growth patterns indicate an exponential growth rate that doubles every 6 to 12 months. Analysts predict that in less than three years there will be between 200 and 700 million Internet users world-wide. In addition, those users will transact more than $200 billion (U.S. dollars) worth of business via the Internet.

Furthermore, Internet acceptance is growing fastest outside of the United States. Recent studies suggest that nearly one in three visitors to American web sites come from other parts of the globe. Estimates indicate that by the year 2000, the world-wide acceptance and use of the Internet will exceed usage within the United States. Today, more than 18 percent of all households in Japan with computers use the Internet -- greater than any other country in the world. Nations such as Canada, Germany and Japan have all seen a 30 to 50 percent increase in the number of new web hosts in the last 6 months of 1996. Moreover, smaller nations such as Malaysia, Hong Kong and Peru have seen 100 to 200 percent increases in the same time period. A global trend is emerging. What implication does this have for web marketers?
Marketing 101 taught you to look at your audience. The same simple methodology applies to the Internet. Many marketing professionals do not realize the reach of a web site. Unlike a local radio station, that at best reaches 100 miles, a web site has a global broadcast range.

If you build it, they will come . . . Unfortunately this is not completely accurate. If only the web was truly a field of dreams. Fortunately for marketers, it is not or we would all be out of jobs. However, properly tamed, an Internet site can bring millions of people to your playing field. Consider the following issues when designing and marketing web sites:

  • Not all of your visitors value the same things - design your content so it appeals to their vast array of interests regarding your specific topic.

  • There is no such thing as Internet culture -- the Internet cuts across all cultures.

  • Not everyone speaks your language -- speak their language and they will stay and likely return.

  • The Internet is an interactive medium -- so interact with your users!

  • If at first you don't succeed - republish it.

  • Compared to traditional advertising, the Internet is practically free -- exploit that!

  • Change is required -- often.

If you can tap the power of the Internet, the opportunities are boundless. Special Opportunities from Multilingual Web Sites Language is perhaps the largest barrier to successful global communication via the Internet. However, an emerging trend is to "localize" or translate web content into many different languages. Although English is spoken in many countries throughout the world, it is usually spoken as a second language. People feel most comfortable interacting in their native tongue. In addition to language translation, issues such a currency, weights and measures must be converted to appropriate standards. If you doubt the value of web site localization, just take a quick visit to Microsoft or Netscape. You will notice that each of them maintains an extensive multilingual web site. If the two most influential Internet corporations see the value and global opportunity the Internet provides, so should you. I want to briefly introduce the not so apparent special opportunities a multilingual web site provides:

Low cost point of entry to international trade: Traditional international trade means high travel costs, expensive long distance bills, costly remote office support and a high likelihood of language barriers. A multilingual web site is a low cost alternative that works around the clock.

Market testing prior to a major international push: Targeting a specific international demographic (i.e. Japan) over the Internet is an excellent, low cost way to test the success of your product prior to a major traditional product launch in that country.

Broadcast an international image to the world: The Internet is an excellent medium to conduct product branding and name recognition internationally. In addition, product branding via the Internet is significantly less costly than print or broadcast branding campaigns.

Increased sales! Your web site is a virtual sales force that never sleeps. The larger your audience, the greater the opportunity to deliver more product and services, thus increasing the bottom line. A smart business will not overlook this. The Future It is clear that something historic is taking place. Perhaps Saint Exupery said it best when he said "as for the future, your task is not to foresee, but to enable it" (The Wisdom of the Sands, 1948).


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