At this point, it should be unnecessary to explain why taking care of the online presence of a business is essential if you want to succeed in any market in the world, with very few exceptions. However, it is surprising the high number of errors that can be identified when reviewing the web pages of international companies that are devoting large amounts of resources to entering the US market. In this article we will identify the most frequent problems and propose some ways to solve them.
Think Globally, Act Locally
In a global or international strategy, it is essential to know the details that must be adapted for important markets. The United States is a country with special characteristics that may lead to the need for not obvious modifications in the message that we project through the online presence of the company, one of whose essential ingredients is the corporate website.
1) Ensure the adaptation of the 'marketing mix' to the target market
It is easy to generate a multi-language website and start trying to sell the products of an international company in the US, but we will be burning resources in an absurd way if we have not previously carried out a feasibility study (discussed in our article on this topic) that gives us the necessary information to choose a strategy with a high probability of success.
An essential part of this strategy, as we already explained in Seven deadly sins in US market entry, must be the adaptation of the four Ps of the ‘marketing mix’: Product/service, Price, Point of sale and Promotion. Their adaptation means that they will often differ from what is offered to target customers in other countries. The web shown to the US consumer communicates each and every one of the elements of such ‘mix’ and therefore must be fully aligned with the selected strategy. It is perfectly possible for the value proposition presented in different international markets to highlight different aspects.
This point is undoubtedly the most important one and only after having handled it properly should we focus on the rest of the considerations covered in this article.
In the US, less than 20% of the population speaks a second language (60% of them were born in another country) and about 60% do not have a passport.
It is a no-brainer to say that it is essential to verify carefully the English language of the website. But this aspect is much more critical than in other regions such as Europe or Asia, where markets are fully international and only a minority is English-speaking from birth. For all these reasons, the expectations for the quality of the language are much higher than in other countries. Often we find bad translations, spelling or grammar errors, sections not fully translated and links to content in another language.
It is acceptable if some content, such as news specific for a foreign country, is not translated because it is not applicable to the US. In those cases, the content should not be accessible when visiting the web from this country.
It is recommended to use American spelling instead of British (e.g. “center” better than “center”, “optimize” instead of “optimize”). We should also be careful with the multiple usage differences between British and American English. For example, “holiday” in the UK can refer to time off from work lasting for several weeks. In the US that word usually refers to a single day off (e.g. Independence Day) and instead “vacation” is used.
It is necessary to avoid automatic translations, ensuring that a person whose first language is American English and is familiar with the context does a thorough review of the entire web site.
3) Cultural/national differences
Apart from the language, there are many other questions that vary in different countries and will have to be adapted in the web. Some examples:
- Prices: Although the need to adapt this point seems obvious, sometimes prices of products in foreign currencies are found on the websites of international companies when they are visited from the US.
- Thousands comma and decimal point: In the US, the comma is used to separate thousands and the period to separate decimals. However, in many other countries it is done the other way around. For example, one million would be 1,000,000.00 in the US, but 1.000.000,00 in the European Union.
- Billions / trillions: In the US, a billion is a thousand million and a trillion is a thousand billion. In contrast, in the European Union and other regions, a billion is a million million and a trillion is a million billion.
- SI versus British units: In most of the world the International System units are used (meter, gram, liter, etc.), but in the US the convoluted Imperial System is preferred in most situations (feet, pounds, gallons, miles, etc.).
- Sizes: The sizes of clothing, footwear, etc., are also different from other countries.
- Laws: Obviously the laws are different in each country, but sometimes the web of international companies refers to regulations that are not applicable to US consumers when selling from the US (e.g. GDPR).
- Certifications: Some certifications and standards are internationally recognized (e.g. ISO, PMP) but others may have a lesser scope and be unknown in the US.
- Policies: If policies for privacy, cookies, etc. are provided, ideally those viewed from the US should be aligned with the laws of this country.
Additionally, we must refer to complex cultural aspects such as the enormous sensitivity found in the US regarding tolerance and non-discrimination due to differences in gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnic origin, age, disability, etc., whose violations can be harshly punished by a variety of laws. This should be taken into account when advertising jobs or working conditions for US employees, but it should also be remembered in the images used on the web, which must respect that diversity.
Regardless of legal issues, the importance of the image projected and how it will be interpreted in each country must be understood. For example, a photo of a company team showing only white men may be acceptable in some countries but will generate negative perceptions for many Americans who value gender, cultural and racial diversity, common in many organizations.
4) Domain and web configuration
In general, to sell in the US it is highly recommended to avoid using domains from other countries (e.g. .es, .mx, .fr, .br, etc.) which reinforce the foreign image. It is preferable to use generic domains such as .com, .ai, etc. If the domain equivalent to the original one of the company is not available, it is advisable to progressively migrate the web to one that allows it. These types of changes can significantly affect the positioning of the company in search engines such as Google, so they should be carefully studied with an SEO (Search Engine Optimization) expert before becoming effective.
We must choose between the use of different domains for different countries (e.g. mycompany.es, mycompany.fr, mycompany.us) or the use of a single domain with a multi-language website that presents the information in the most appropriate way for each visitor. This decision may affect strategic considerations, cost, SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and others.
A point of vital importance in multi-language websites is that the US English version should be displayed by default when the visitor is using a web browser configured with such language as the preferred one. It is not acceptable for the web site to appear in the language most used in the parent company requiring the user to find the link that leads to the English version. Management environments for web servers such as WordPress allow the use of a variety of extensions (‘plugins’, such as TranslatePress, WPML or Polylang) for the integrated management of the web with versions in different languages, which makes it possible to configure which version is displayed to the visitor.
Sometimes it may also be necessary to discriminate the contents shown based on the IP of the visitor, (geolocation) something that is also possible with various WordPress extensions. This approach raises some problems that must be anticipated, for example, when the visitor is a person on an international trip and should receive the content applicable to their country of origin.
5) Promote a local US or global image, not a foreign image
As we have said before, unless you are selling exotic products that have a value as such, proximity contributes to building trust and will help in the sales process.
If there is a presence in the US (subsidiary, commercial office) it must be highlighted, in fact, it is important for it to be shown first in the contact section of the web or at least at the same level as others countries, instead of prominently displaying the contact details of the foreign parent. Using a generic contact form can be helpful to avoid having to provide phone numbers or email addresses for specific countries.
You have to be careful with the image that is projected on the web. For example, having a ‘start-up’ award in the country of origin is something that can be valuable in that market, but in the US it can be perceived negatively in two ways. On the one hand, the ‘start-up’ character can be perceived as lack of stability. On the other hand, foreign origin can be positive in certain sectors in which the country is associated with favorable perceptions (e.g. Japanese cars), but it can be understood as something negative, especially in sensitive sectors (for example, cybersecurity).
It is important to avoid as much as possible references to designations of the type of company that clearly identify it as foreign (e.g. S.A., S.L., Ltd., GmbH., etc.). Instead, use the brand name, which should be global, or else that of the US subsidiary if it exists (Inc., LLC, etc.).
6) Reference clients
If reference customer lists are provided on the web, names and brands recognized by the US target customer should be highlighted (domestic companies or reputable international brands) to create the impression of closeness and build trust. If most of the references provided are foreign brands unknown to the target customer, we will be reinforcing the image of a foreign, distant company. In this case, it may be desirable not to give specific names and replace them with a description of the type of clients the company works with.
All the points we have covered are related to two key aspects that must be taken care of to achieve success in this competitive market:
- Ensure the alignment of the ‘marketing mix’ communicated on the web with the strategy chosen for the target market, as we already explained in Seven deadly sins in US market entry. The website shown to the US consumer communicates each and every one of the elements of said ‘mix’: Product / service, Price, Point of sale and Promotion, which must be adapted and therefore will often differ from what is offered to target customers from other countries.
- Create a feeling of closeness and build trust in the US target customer, as a prerequisite before trying to make a sale. Small details that reveal a foreign origin unconsciously generate mistrust. Familiarity is essential for a smooth user experience and motivates them to start a purchase process or contact the company. It is always a good idea to review the websites of US competitors in detail and ensure that the differences with ours are related to competitive advantages in our favor, and not to aspects that will produce a negative perception.
From Markentry USA we can support your company in conducting feasibility studies, strategic planning, digital marketing or web page audits to avoid the aforementioned problems. Contact us to analyze your needs and study how we can help you from the USA.