e-Multiculturalism finds itself at the crossroads of multiple issues for brands.
A cultural issue
Localization is above all a cultural issue, often under-estimated by companies, leading to misunderstandings between head offices and their subsidiaries, especially when a head office does not listen to local needs or when the coordination is managed by a creative agency not very aware of the particular requirements of the locality. On the other hand, a head office can often feel dispossessed if an adaption strays too far from its brand’s premium positioning and identity.
A linguistic and semantic issue
This issue is a major one since various customer surveys around the world have shown that the majority of people would never buy a product or service online in a language other than their own. In the first decade of the millennium, this challenge was generally ignored by multinational companies, who thought their clients would just be as satisfied with a website in English. Localization has now become crucial, especially given the growing roles of social media and e-commerce, which by their very nature impose direct links with the consumers. The issue is not only linguistic but also semantic, given the constraints of search engine optimization (SEO). One of the challenges of localization consists in finding the right balance between the brand’s vocabulary and what the Internet user is actually searching for.
A technical issue
Localization is also a technical challenge, a fundamental one, given that each culture has its own specific requirements: forms are different from one country to another, means of payment are different from one market to another, line-breaks are essential in Asian languages, local hosting solutions are crucial, etc. There can be further complications of a legal nature. Is your brand locally protected in terms of intellectual property? Are you the owner of your domain name? Are there local regulatory constraints? (For example, in Germany, there is a legal obligation to mention the prices per litre or kg of consumables.)
A marketing issue
Beyond the specific requirements of each language and each country, brands have to deal with the specific characteristics of the search engines in each market (for instance, Baidu and 360 in China, Yandex in Russia, Naver in Korea, etc.) and take into account different social media (Weibo for Chinese-speakers, VK for Russian-speakers, etc.). To be efficient in each of their markets, in their choice of search engine, in their international monitoring and in the e-moderation of their social media accounts, brands need to develop real multicultural web-marketing expertise.
A visual or a graphic issue
For example, content structure and page lay-out vary greatly from one culture to another. European websites have a sleek style, and the visuals on the pages are more visible, while Asian websites will be overloaded with text, links and more thumbnails. Duplicating a Web page in another language is not sufficient. An American Web user does not think or surf the same way as a Chinese user. Other cultures or languages, such as Arabic, require the opposite reading direction. A brand also needs to choose a suitable font for each culture, as few of the classical Western fonts are available in Russian or in Korean...
Increasingly, localization is also becoming a management and internal organization issue for companies. As digitalization progresses, brands also have to take into account the multicultural factor.