US firms slow to break down language barrier


"Think global, act local" is an oft-used catchphrase by marketers and a goal that many big brands aspire to. But even in this era of instant global communications, American companies are far less adept at global brand management than their European counterparts.

The problem for US companies, it seems, can be summed up in one word. "Language." In fact fewer than a quarter of American companies are able to offer a consistent online customer experience in multiple languages, according to a study by Forrester Consulting commissioned by Global Information Management specialists SDL.

As a result, only a quarter of US marketers say that their customer experience – and by inference, their brand values - are consistent across all languages, compared to more than half (54 per cent) in Europe.

"Companies transitioning to a global model - especially companies based in the U.S. - aren't confident that their brands' values are consistently represented across all the languages that they support," the report said.

"It is necessary, then, for marketers to adopt consistent technologies and processes across regions and to develop core skills for brand consistency and content management when they expand to new local markets."

With their much smaller domestic markets, the only option for European companies seeking to expand is to do business in countries which speak other languages. In contrast, many American organizations have been far less adept at acknowledging linguistic and cultural differences.

"It appears that globalization has been a double-edged sword for American businesses," said SDL's Chris Boorman.

"While the Internet has removed boundaries between markets, the need for cultural and linguistic awareness is more pressing than ever."

"The fact that so few US companies have effectively managed their brands internationally – despite acknowledging foreign culture as such a big stumbling block – reveals a real pessimism on the part of American business," he added.

In today's "multi-channel" world, delivering a consistent message is about far more than just advertising slogans. Language is a pain point in a whole host of other areas, from web sites to instruction manuals, training materials and digital assets.

But while US enterprises accept the difficulties presented by foreign markets, Chris Boorman argued that they are unwilling to make the strategic decisions that are imperative for success in global commerce.

"European companies have been much more optimistic about the role of international brand management," Boorman continued.

"And the numbers speak for themselves: almost a third of the European companies surveyed expect to generate over half their revenue outside their native country."