Recently, I was asked the question by an American journalist: “Isn’t the digital world eventually going to follow the US?” This reflects the view held by some, that real digital marketing localisation just isn’t necessary. Some people see the scale of the English speaking world and the fact that English is commonly recognised as a universal business language as evidence that local SMART strategies aren’t necessary. SMART global insights are based on understanding the local users’ intent first, market by market making no assumptions on their digital behaviours.

The answer to the journalist’s question is far more complex than ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ – because whilst some behaviours relate to the original US or English they will always be adapted locally. Some digital behaviour is very much home grown and not related to US behaviour at all, examples of this include local search engines and social media platforms like Yandex in Russia or Naver in Korea. In fact whilst cultures do affect and influence each other digitally in myriad ways, markets will always be distinct and heavily affected by culture, even within a single country.  

The journalist’s question goes far beyond a simple discussion on language. For example, we know that the French search differently depending on what region of the country they live in: a child in Nantes might search for ‘pain au chocolat’ whereas one in Bordeaux will search for ‘chocolatine’. Assuming that your campaign will achieve its objectives by purely focussing on the former search term will have a significant impact on your success across France.  

Within markets certain key e-commerce dates are more important depending on which region you live in so in Mexico Los Reyes takes precedence over Christmas Day and online spending is much higher.  Fathers and Mothers Days often fall on different days depending on the country, and in many countries like Korea and Japan they have distinct e-commerce dates that just don’t exist in the English speaking world, like White Day.  These differences are potential opportunities for CMOs and their teams who are genuinely looking to grow their local markets. 
Language is only one element of our cultural individuality, but if you have ever entered a sentence into an automated translation engine you already know that it can be a significant one. Going back to our US journalist and his suggestion that everyone will follow America – I wonder which America he was talking about. 

In the US the rise of the ambi-culturalist is staggering – these digital consumers are as comfortable searching in Spanish (South American but heavily weighted to Mexico) as they are in American English; but they are also very likely to mix language to create hybrid search terms such as Maxi Vestido  as opposed to Vestido Largo. 
These differences also extend to website design. Our work with Dell shows that Canadians engage with content very differently to their US cousins despite their proximity and an apparent shared language. Typically, Canadians are more engaged with images than people in the US. When we look at design engagement across the globe, Eastern markets prefer busy landing pages, with links down both the left and right side of the page. This is partly due to language considerations – the sheer volume of characters can make searching clumsier and the user experience difficult.  Despite the UK’s preference for a clean, unfussy design, in mainland Europe differences abound. In France, for instance, retailer sites can look old-fashioned to the English eye – they are often busy, messy and somewhat chaotic. 

Growth potential

So a SMART insight doesn’t assume anything about the digital consumer in the local market and it avoids the idea that these behaviours are so heavily related to US/English traits that they don’t need exploring in depth. To ignore these differences means you either risk insulting your global audience or are missing valuable potential revenue. Cross-border trade is once again a high priority for global businesses due to initiatives like the EU Horizon 2020, which has been set up with around €80 billion funding.  

Quite simply, internationalisation offers some of the best growth potential but using a SMART strategy is critical; do not assume or guess the markets you should expand into digitally. You should always undertake local digital SWOT analysis for each market you are considering, it saves time and money in the long term whilst creating focus. For those companies who are already operating online internationally, a SMART strategy determines if they are achieving their full potential in these markets; so often and in the majority of situations this is not the case.