• Create BookmarkCreate Bookmark
  • Create Note or TagCreate Note or Tag
  • PrintPrint
Share this Page URL



You’ve selected a market, possibly several, and now you’re ready to get started on that web site. Not so fast. First, take a hard look at what you’re trying to sell. Some products travel more easily than others. For example, a washing machine that uses both hot and cold water is irrelevant in a country such as Japan, where clothes are washed exclusively in cold water. And a toaster that offers extra-wide slots for bagels might not be of much use in a country that doesn’t consume many bagels. Before you invest in localizing your web site, you need to invest in localizing your products and services.

As a general rule, the first products to consider taking global are those that require the least amount of localization. Even if you have plans to create a global brand, one that needs little if any localization, your brand could still require local modification. McDonald’s is one of the most visible brand names in the world, yet McDonald’s in France is not the same McDonald’s in Russia. Localization explains why you can buy a beer and a pork burger from the McDonald’s in Germany, but you can’t order a Bacon Egg & Cheese Biscuit from a McDonald’s in Australia (biscuit is a cookie in Australia). These are relatively minor changes, but they can make all the difference in your company’s success.

Increasingly, companies view their products and services as more than just products and services. They are brands. Starbucks, for instance, is much more than just coffee; it is a logo, it is packaging, it is the atmosphere of the stores. All the elements that define your brand must be modified, if necessary, as you extend your brand into new markets. Although every company faces unique challenges when taking brands into new markets, one of the most common challenges is the brand name itself.

Even Hollywood Thinks Local

Hollywood is no stranger to localization. For years, it has created “localized remakes” of foreign movies for American audiences. It first struck gold when it released The Magnificent Seven, a remake of The Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa’s landmark film. Since then we’ve seen quite a few localized remakes from film and television:

  • Three Men and a Baby (remake of the French film Trois Hommes et un Couffin)

  • Point of No Return (remake of La Femme Nikita)

  • All in the Family (a remake of the British series Till Death Us Do Part)

Most recently, The Weakest Link was imported from Britain. Departing from convention, the American version used the same hostess as the British version, but the set and questions were localized for American audiences.

The Name Game

Companies often develop brand names without first considering whether the names will one day be used outside the native market. As a result, the names they create are often ill-suited for globalization. For example, America Online shortened its name to AOL as it expanded its focus outside U.S. borders. With the Internet, all brand names are global names from day one, so you need to get it right the first time. With so much to worry about when taking a brand global, companies increasingly turn to outside consultants. Christiane Bernier founded the global identity practice of Lionbridge, a web and software localization company. Her group works closely with companies that need help selecting a name that will travel globally or testing an existing name before the company enters new markets.

When testing a name, Lionbridge relies on experts in the target markets. These people are generally chosen for their knowledge of a particular field and expertise in translating for that market. Identity testing generally breaks down into two stages:

  1. A “thumbs up or down” analysis

    This brief evaluation is useful when a company is considering a number of new brand names and needs some quick feedback to help narrow down its list. For example, Lionbridge recently worked with a consultancy that was renaming itself and wanted to be sure the new name would travel well globally. The client hired an identity firm that had come up with several dozen possible names. Lionbridge then provided a thumbs up or down analysis, looking only at macro issues, such as negative connotations or obvious infringements on competitive names.

  2. In-depth analysis

    After Lionbridge helped the client narrow the list to a few candidates, it conducted a full-scale review of how each name would be perceived in all potential markets. Typically, the following questions are included in the review:

    • Is the name aesthetically pleasing?

    • Is the name easy to read and pronounce?

    • Does the name sound too similar to other established brand names in the market?

    • Is the name competitively better than other brand names?

¿Tienes una pregunta?

The Internet portal Ask.com presents a more extreme example of how far a company might have to go to localize itself for new locales. At Ask.com, users can conduct searches by entering questions, instead of just keywords (see Figure 4.5). The word ask conveys the key value of this portal for English speakers, but means little to non-English speakers.

Figure 4.5. The Ask.com English-language home page

So when Ask.com developed a Spanish version of its site, it kept its logo largely intact (see Figure 4.6), but changed its name and URL to www.Pregunta.com. It then underwent a massive effort to localize its search engine to accept Spanish-language queries.

Figure 4.6. When localized into Spanish, “Ask.com” becomes “Pregunta.com,” but Jeeves remains.

Executives at Ask.com realized that the strength of their brand globally wasn’t the name, but the technology behind the name.

Each review is customized to the needs of the client and target audience. For example, a client in a business or technology field may feel less of an urgency to fully localize brand names, as global audiences in these fields generally are more proficient in English.

Clients who target consumers, particularly with products for the home, must pay close attention to cultural issues. Trust is a key factor in consumer purchases, and consumers have difficulty trusting product names that range from mildly amusing to mildly offensive. In-depth analysis can be expensive and time consuming, but Bernier notes that it costs a company far less time and money to develop a name that succeeds globally than it costs to make up for lost sales and embarrassing public relations disasters. Finally, keep in mind that brand identity analysis does not and should not take the place of international trademark reviews.

If you have the benefit of creating a brand name from scratch, Bernier offers the following advice:

  • Avoid puns and word play.

  • Avoid abbreviations. For example, “B2B” may make sense in the U.S. but it doesn’t abroad.

  • Avoid names based on abbreviations. Take IBM: Although this name is already well known globally, it does present pronunciation challenges. Sounding out letters in other languages isn’t always so elegant and can often lead to unintended mispronunciations.

  • Avoid metaphors or names based on images. A bull might make be a good visual reference to the “bull market” in the U.S. but be meaningless elsewhere.

  • Avoid humor or anything you may see as cute. As a rule, Bernier says, “the cuter the name, the less likely it is to carry over well.”

Go Global Before Leaving Home

Increasingly, companies begin testing brands globally before they launch them domestically. According to Ron Recobs, managing director of the New York office of the Brand Institute, 90% of all pharmaceutical companies test their brand names globally from the start. Testing and surveillance are also critical because language rules and culture are in a constant state of evolution. For example, the Brand Institute tested the brand name for the flu medicine Tamiflu. Americans refer to influenza as “flu,” but it isn’t typically the term used in other English-speaking countries, such as England or Ireland.

Therefore, a product like Tamiflu could have easily failed abroad. However, research found that usage of this term was slowly spreading throughout Europe; Tamiflu was introduced and has since been very successful in Europe.

Lost In the Translation

If you decide to translate your brand names or slogans, don’t skimp on translators. Literal translations can be risky, particularly with brand names; a minor oversight can result in rather embarrassing results. The following are well-known examples of translation gone awry:

  • The Clairol “Mist Stick” (a curling iron) was sold in Germany under its English name. In German, “mist” means “manure.”

  • The Perdue Chicken slogan “It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken” was translated into Spanish as “It takes an aroused man to make a chicken affectionate.”

  • The Coors slogan “Turn it loose” was translated into Spanish as “Suffer from diarrhea.”

  • The Kentucky Fried Chicken slogan “finger-lickin’ good” was translated into Chinese “eat your fingers off.”

  • In Taiwan, the translation of the Pepsi slogan “Come alive with the Pepsi Generation” became “Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead.”

Finally, don’t overlook the packaging. Gerber’s famous label, with pictures of babies, was exported to African store shelves. Unfortunately for Gerber, in African countries, where there is a high rate of illiteracy, companies routinely place pictures on the labels of what the packages contain. People assumed the Gerber jars contained babies, not baby food.

A Coke and a Smile

When Coca-Cola was first exported to China, merchants transliterated the name into Chinese characters. Transliteration is the process of creating a new name in the target language that sounds similar to the name in the source language. Unfortunately, even though the result sounded like “Coca-Cola” in Chinese, it actually meant “Bite the wax tadpole.” Coca-Cola ended up adopting a name that was not so literal.

Don’t Offend, But Don’t Blend In

The first goal of developing a global brand name is to make sure it won’t offend. The second goal is to make sure it sells.

Let’s say you’re an automobile manufacturer that intends to enter the U.S. market. You could name yourself “Car Company” with confidence that no one will be offended, but you might find that no one buys your cars. The difference between an inoffensive brand name and a successful brand name is the difference between Car Company and Mercedes-Benz.

Currently, companies seem more concerned with not offending the crowd than with standing apart from the crowd. However, as markets grow more competitive and competitors grow more savvy, the “name game” will play a more pivotal role in your company’s success.

Moving Beyond Words

The name of your brand presents the most obvious challenge to going global, but it’s not the only challenge. Numbers, pictures, colors, and icons are all loaded with different meanings in different cultures. Because these elements also play a critical role in global web design, they are covered in Chapter 11, “World Wide Design.” For now, just be aware that a successful global brand depends on much more than just a name.

Imagine that you’re in the vacuum cleaner business. Your products have done very well globally, especially your previous model, the CleanWizard 3. However, your new model, the CleanWizard 4, is selling well in all your markets except Asia. It’s almost as though Asian customers were avoiding it. So you conduct some research:

Is it the price?
No, the price is competitive.
Is it the quality?
No, the quality is excellent.
Then what is it?
The number 4.
The number 4?

The Cantonese pronunciation of 4 sounds similar to the pronunciation of “to die” in Chinese. Just as the number 13 is considered unlucky in America, in Asian countries the number 4 is considered unlucky. Using the number 4 on your products, in your products, or even in your pricing is likely to result in an unlucky downturn in sales. Beyond Borders: Web Globalization Strategies Conversely, the pronunciation of the number 8 in Cantonese sounds like “getting rich,” so people pay extra to have phone numbers with this number in them.

The Color of Money

The successful translation of the brand name is important in globalization, but do not underestimate the power of color to hurt or help your global branding and web design efforts. Coca-Cola may have had difficulties with its name in China, but its packaging was well received, primarily because red is a positively perceived color in China. In fact, Chinese brides customarily wear red instead of white because white signifies death. For more information on colors and their significance around the world, see Chapter 11 and Appendix B, “Global Color Chart.”

  • Creative Edge
  • Create BookmarkCreate Bookmark
  • Create Note or TagCreate Note or Tag
  • PrintPrint