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Thinking Global in Global Terms

By Michel Fortin
Posted Thursday, August 26, 2004

Final exams are around the corner and another semester is about to end. And this week in college the curriculum in my marketing management class is centered on global marketing and the new, global economy (which of course is primarily knowledge-based). Undeniably, my students were quick to point out that the catalyst, which is "shrinking" the world and giving new meaning to the expression "the global marketplace," is certainly the Internet.

When we develop an online business we quickly realize that we're no longer subjected to the traditional limitations of location, slowness of communication and time-to-market. The Internet offers new opportunities and new tools that were once nonexistent in the brick-and-mortar world. However, while global marketing in the traditional sense requires a lot of planning, resources and time, and since online marketing cuts a lot of that fat, many tend to think that no careful thought is required when going "virtual." Not entirely so -- and here's why.

Of course market entry barriers have been lowered due to the emergence of the web, but there remains certain things we need to carefully investigate, take into account and plan when we do go online. If one's target market is primarily North American, the need for such strategic thinking may not be so evident at first. And oftentimes, such a need is easily ignored. But down the road things may change. And the web *is* a fertile ground for change.

More than likely, over time an online business will encounter a new set of challenges of which its owners may have never thought. Things like taxes, laws, cultures, politics, tariffs and so on, from another country in which one wants to conduct business, can harm a business if not properly researched. And to discuss these at length would require several textbooks. For now, let's stick to the topic of marketing in a global, Internet-related context.

Every country has its own unique set of advertising laws, customs and values. Since I'm not a lawyer I can only guess that going online is not a problem unless business is conducted in a country in which one's marketing breaks any of its regulations. (In fact, new legal precedents are being set almost each day.)

Moreover, certain marketing approaches may not necessarily break any laws but may be considered unethical or outright insulting to a specific culture. Admittedly, it would be quite a challenge (and expensive) for a small business to adapt one's marketing. So the basics would certainly be to take a careful look at one's target market and the potential growth of one's online business.

How can one's online marketing be considered unethical let alone insulting? A friend once told me that in Singapore chewing gum in public is forbidden. Therefore, would marketing a new brand of chewing gum online, and selling it to the Singapore market, break any laws? Maybe. Maybe not. But in some other Asian countries, I've been told that showing a woman's bare legs, above the kneecaps (and no more), can be considered as pornography. And pornography in some of these Asian countries, namely Japan, is exceedingly legislated.

Here are more examples. Would (, a site selling pork, do well in Muslim populated countries? Would a site like (, which really stands for "First Consultants UK," do well in conservative or purist countries? (In fact, the site is actually being disputed in the High Court of England and Wales. The domain name is also being disputed by French fashion chain "French Connection UK," which was also charged by the UK authorities recently because one of its storefronts displayed the acronym "FCUK.")

These are things to consider. Arguably, some of these examples are quite extreme. And attempting to follow every single law, in every single country, is impractical and next to impossible. But the most common errors committed by newly globalized businesses are translations (or the lack thereof) of their advertising, which have drove some companies to the brink of bankruptcy.

Here are some true yet somewhat funny examples. Read the bad marketing translations at ( (incidentally, ( is a neat, free javascript code site). In fact, some of these well-known blunders are pulled right from college textbooks on marketing.

While these may bring a chuckle or two, it is nonetheless important to ensure one's online marketing appeals to a global market. Online a company has definitely entered the "global marketplace," even though it may only conduct its business in, say, North America. In the very least for a North American business, Spanish (for Americans) and French (for Canadians) -- including language, culture and customs -- should be considered, even when no translations are made and the international language of business, being English, is used.

But it's food for thought, anyway. Let me ask you, how does your product name, advertising or website copy sound to or in another language?

About the Author
Michel Fortin is an author, speaker and Internet marketing consultant dedicated to turning businesses into powerful magnets. Visit ( He is also the editor of the "Internet Marketing Chronicles" ezine delivered weekly to 100,000 subscribers -- subscribe free at (


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