Internet-How to Avoid Cross-cultural Minefields (1,353 words)
An analysis of these data reinforces the sobering fact the languages growing most rapidly on the Web are those that most Westerners understand the least (i.e., Chinese, Japanese, Korean). These languages require the most customization due to double byte character sets, more complicated search requirements and greater transactional and database entry customization. These languages also represent the countries with the smallest proportion of the population with English as a dependable second language.
For those serious about establishing global brand awareness and increasing sales in these countries, local language Web sites are no longer a luxury; they are a necessity. More frustrating for some is that you no longer have the option of being global. Global search engines that deliver your site as a search result to millions around the world force anyone with an IP address to be global—whether they want to or not.
So how can you avoid the potential cross-cultural minefields inherent in international marketing? Despite well researched target markets and sophisticated language localization techniques, the battle for the user will be based on usability. Like software, Web sites must be tested in usability labs, not in focus groups like ad creative. Global marketers who do not let local beta testers try to "break the site" before it goes live, do so at the peril of real users finding the flaws in the middle of the buying process.
A few of the key factors in global usability testing are:
Bandwidth Limitations: Web design must match the bandwidth constraints of the local market, not the home market. Most of the world still logs in at 56K and below. Even in the United States it is a rare day when the serious road warrior gets the full 56K in a hotel room dial-up. Ask your Web designers to test the usability of the site at 28.8 baud to simulate how flash and java will work in low bandwidth/high cost-per-minute access markets. If it takes too long to load, look for a less bandwidth intensive design or offer a text-only option.