Growing companies can learn a lot from the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. For starters, take its more than 11,000 exceptional athletes. They’re walking, talking examples of the value of hard work, perseverance and the relentless drive to excel—qualities every great business should have.
The international scope of the event can't be ignored, either: our great big world is much smaller during the Olympics. Different cultures and languages abound. That's something all companies should be mindful of, as they expand into new global markets, especially online.
The Olympics has only two official languages, and ensuring one of those languages, French, is widely represented at the games is “a daily fight,” one francophone recently lamented. But businesses aren’t bound by such restrictions. As we’ve reported, serving online customers around the world in their preferred languages makes great business sense. Translation is the “table stakes” for engaging new markets online.
But another lesson companies can learn from the Olympics hails from how the games are broadcast around the world. U.S.-based readers know that NBC broadcasts footage to the American market. UK residents are served by the BBC. Viewers in France and Spain watch France Télévisions and RTVE, respectively. And so on.
But none of this coverage is identical, and it never has been. Indeed, a headline from a media criticism magazine way back in 1986 read: No Two Countries See the Same Olympics.
And why should they? Viewer interests are as varied as the number of countries and Olympic sports themselves. Photogenic sports certainly get more screen-time than others, but viewer preferences ultimately reflect a country’s “history, economics and social conditions,” the magazine story said. That remains present today. Population and wealth are key factors in a country’s ability to raise successful Olympians. So is dominance in a few sports. That’s apparent when comparing the broadcast schedules of America’s NBC and the UK’s BBC. The coverage is often wildly different: Yanks will see lots of gymnastics, swimming and beach volleyball; Brits see lots of equestrianism, cycling and rowing.
Why? Firstly, local broadcasts and commentators provide authentic, culturally relevant play-by-plays like no foreigner ever could. Secondly, local viewers want to watch sports their countries’ athletes excel at, and broadcasters smartly cater to that.
(It’s true: At the 2012 London Olympics, the U.S. won nearly 60% of its medals in athletics and swimming. And while it’s often jokingly said that UK athletes are only good at sports that involve sitting, like rowing, “our dominance scores show that there is firm statistical basis for this claim,” Goldman Sachs recently wrote.)
So what’s the lesson for companies that are expanding to serve new global online markets? To successfully operate websites in new markets, you’ll need more than translation. Much like these unique Olympiad broadcasts, you need resonant, localized content and commentary to really connect with consumers.
Localized content is different from traditional region-neutral, word-for-word translation. Instead, localization leverages words and phrases that really resonate within specific markets. After all, consumers transact more on sites that literally-and figuratively-speak their language the best.
The word "popcorn" is a good example of this. In Spanish, we know of at least five unique words for this single term that are only understood in particular countries. Using the incorrect region-specific translation would alienate consumers, and lead to lower conversions.
Indeed, localization can supercharge brand awareness and trust in new markets, leading to greater customer interest. We've helped many of our clients improve their global sites' engagement by identifying opportunities to update their translated content with such localizations.
For instance, for one travel industry client, we localized a site’s user experience and some content. Weeks later, site impressions had grown by nearly 75%. Its SERP ranking rose an average of 11 positions, as well. We helped an airline client boost checkouts by nearly 45% with peppy, native-friendly localizations of promotional copy.
This tactic can transcend text translation, too. We've launched on-site, in-language marketing campaigns tied to regional holidays, or to promote a company's cross-border shipping policy. These holiday-based localizations have generated 25% more conversions than average. A cross-border shipping promotion increased checkout rates rose by nearly 30%, contributing to an incremental revenue increase of over $2.5 million.
The takeaway is clear: As we see with every Olympic Games, the world is getting smaller—an axiom that’s especially true in online business. Companies that engage new global online markets not only in the right language … but with the right localizations … are poised to bring home the gold.