The $1 billion Nutrilite division of person-to-person marketer Amway demands a lot from its global Web site. Content must be not just multilingual but multicultural, reflecting in its various versions the local laws, customs and idioms of each of the 70-plus countries the site serves, not to mention the appropriate mix of products for each market.
There are technical challenges, too, such as stripping embedded text from images and then embedding a translation and posting the new version in the right place. "The average person wouldnt recognize how complex the job is," says Nutrilite brand manager Neal Mercado.
To reach its international audience industry research shows that customers visit sites more often and stay longer when they are in their native languages Nutrilite is using hosted content management and work flow software from Uniscape, a Sunnyvale, Calif., company that offers multilingual content management as a service.
"There was a small learning curve and the price is low," Mercado says. "It didnt even enter into our minds to purchase an off-the-shelf product."
Going with an application service provider (ASP) model is the popular choice for Uniscape customers, which also have the option of purchasing the software and running it themselves. More than 80 percent choose to use the hosted services, says Howard Schwartz, vice president of marketing at the privately held company, which also offers consulting and other services for e-business globalization and localization.
Katarina Bonde, CEO of Glides, a site localization ASP in Bellevue, Wash., that targets small and midsized companies, says hosted software works well for customers with multiple and widely dispersed offices. "With a browser interface, all your training can be done remotely, and you can upgrade painlessly on the hosted server," Bonde says.
Christian Miller, director of marketing at Jubilee Tech International, a Virginia Beach, Va., services firm, says Glides centralized software creates cohesion for a distributed company. "It provides a framework between our team, our linguists in different countries and our client base," he says.
Quaxar, an Agency.com affiliate focused on Latin America, will use Glides to add a Portuguese-language site to its English and Spanish pages when it enters the Brazilian market this quarter. "Branding across borders with a consistent look-and-feel is very important to us," says Quaxar CEO Antonio Vivanco. "We have two offices, in Miami and Mexico City, and may add more soon, and we need our people to be able to maintain our brand without being well-versed in the technology."
Enabling distributed workers to act locally is important, says Aberdeen Group analyst Tom Dwyer. "Local events, opportunities and promotions need to be planned for, but not derived from a central place," he says. "A campaign or announcement that makes sense in Detroit doesnt necessarily make sense to announce in Stuttgart." A Presidents Day announcement, for instance, would not play in Germany.
"Globalization solutions allow an organization to detect changes on one site, trigger a change process for another country, and manage the timeliness and quality of the completed change," Dwyer says.
Localization will be an issue for thousands of companies worldwide, and should become a $1 billion market, Dwyer says. "Companies are spending anywhere from $15,000 to $2 million, depending on how much information, how many languages, how many sites and how deeply they want to customize and tailor the change process," he says. ASPs that let customers use their own translators and localization services have a competitive advantage, he adds.
A disappointment for sci-fi fans, translation is handled by humans and will be for the foreseeable future given the complexities of local usage and the literal-mindedness of machines. Translated phrases can be stored in a database and preapproved for reuse, but knowledgeable people need to look at all copy at some point in the localization process. One example of the potential pitfalls: "The same word means very angry in Venezuela and horny in Colombia," says Ariel Gamino, chief technology officer at Quaxar.
Ed Cone has worked as a contributing editor at Wired, a staff writer at Forbes, a senior writer for Ziff Davis with Baseline and Interactive Week, and as a freelancer based in Paris and then North Carolina for a wide variety of magazines and papers including the International Herald Tribune, Texas Monthly, and Playboy. He writes an opinion column in his hometown paper, the Greensboro News & Record, and publishes the semi-popular EdCone.com weblog. He lives in North Carolina with his wife, Lisa, two kids, and a dog.