June 17, 2017

Promises of a Global Intranet

This article was originally published by the International Association of Business Communicators - see http://www.iabc.com/cwb/archive/2004/1104/global.htm

© 2012International Association of Business Communicators.
601 Montgomery Street, Suite 1900 San Francisco, CA 94111 USA

Did you know an Intranet could actually be more global than the Internet?  The interactions within an intranet are more intense and frequent, and anonymity is replaced with specificity-your  real name, job title and location. Company management often believes that a unified employee communication intranet site will foster a community, a shared corporate culture and a universal standard. 

But a review of two U.S.-based global intranets (identified here as belonging to Company A and Company B) reveals that today's reality may fall short.
Rather than building a global corporate culture, intranets are really exporting the headquarters' corporate culture.

Today, the majority of intranets are touting the messages and values of the Internet. headquarters' country and culture. Two of the world's multinational giants, Company A and Company B, both based in the U.S., have intranets that use American metaphors and jargon. Global standards and guidelines for corporate writing are based on American spelling and word usage.

A recent article on Company A's intranet page featured an engineer who had completely transitioned from a man to a woman. The article was published online as part of Gay Pride Month. There were references to Company A's Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Employees Association. This may be regular news fodder in some countries, but is certainly a novelty in other locations where Company A operates. The global reaction? Zilch, nada.

There are a number of reasons for the lack of response.  It may be culturally and professionally better to keep your opinions to yourself. Or perhaps it just doesn't faze most people nowadays who have access to  internet's more sizzling offerings.

Reactions to content (either positive, negative, or neutral) can reflect:

o   A strong tolerance of ambiguity for other cultural and social values so long as these actions are localized somewhere else (not in my backyard syndrome)

o   Fascination with other cultural ways and practices, even when these practices are considered social taboos elsewhere

o   Global gentility, so long as the information does not directly affect the professional, personal life or patriotic feelings of the employee.

Lesson 1
Go ahead, be daring in your intranet communications (with the consent of the subject; after all an intranet is not a public news medium). Practice an informal way of dealing with hierarchy and showcase egalitarianism. You can hardly go wrong. If you do, corrections can be made in a second, and this is globally acceptable.

One way to internationalize the intranet is to create a regular discussion forum on cross-cultural issues, and eventually, this forum will affect the editorial and chat guidelines.
Intranets develop company collaboration, not communities.

I recently interviewed a Company B employee and asked him to describe the intranet community he is involved in. He emphasized the heavy usage of real-time online chats and e-mails. One of the company's requirements for usage is that the individual posting a message must be able to write in English, not fluently, but cogently. To do so, Company B offers English language classes on its sites. Online discourse is divided based on English fluency, resulting in inequitable participation.

What Company B employee calls an intranet community is really a virtual office information exchange (be it one-on-one or a group effort) that resolves technical issues. What is paramount to Company B's intranet consultations is arriving at a solution and ultimately the preservation of the individual and team's relevance within the organization.

Lesson 2
An intranet can create an online community similar to that of a real office: The whole staff will bond and be looking out for the interests of others. As one intranet user remarked, "It's all business communications. Community? I guess it depends on your definition." If you adopt the philosophy that an intranet is a business communication tool with human-interest stories, then you will be on your way to intranet success.

Lesson 3
Intranets often present confusing, if not embarrassing, presentations and checks and balances. Use standardizations to overcome differences in data format and wording.
The presentation of information is a major concern with global intranets. Let's start with the issue of names.   In Mexico, the maternal name is placed last and one's paternal last name is positioned in the middle. Hence, Anita Charisma Bermudez of Mexico will actually be listed as Anita Bermudez Charisma in the Philippines. 

My Chinese colleague signs his name as Wang Hua.  Initially, Iwas calling him Wang.  It turns that out his first name was Hua. So should a letter be addressed to Mr. Wang or Mr. Hua? Companies should clearly present this information on their online systems, perhaps by suggesting the correct means of address.

An English colleague of mine had a perplexing time proving his birth date to his U.S. counterpart. The U.S. is based on month/day/year system while European convention is day/month/year.  His British documentation  indicates 05/04/64, which didn't match the date he had typed in his U.S. online form, 04/05/64.

Sometimes, the exactness of numerical data can be disorienting. Certain countries use dots instead of commas or commas instead of dots. So 31.000 in Brazil is actually 31,000 in the U.S., and 31,000 in South Africa actually means 31.000 in the U.S. Keep these differences in mind when relaying information through your global intranet.

Spell check is a useful global tool to ensure consistency by providing you with the options to 'ignore' or 'replace all.' But proceed with caution. Remember Mr. Wang? Well, as a final edit, he decided to spell check an e-mail letter addressed to Trish. He mistakenly replaced all mentions of Trish with the correct spelling Trash and sent the message on its way. This may seem obvious (and funny) to a fluent speaker, but maybe not by someone learning a new language. Fortunately, Trish was professional about the obvious oversight and did not give Mr. Wang a problem.

Lesson 4
Also, keep in mind that there are three forbidden words in a global intranet: "yesterday,'' "today" and "tomorrow." I think you know why. Company A instructs anyone in its intranet universe to use Pacific Standard Time. You guessed right, Company A is based in California.

The examples listed here are but the tip of the iceberg. We have not even touched on word choice, use of humor, formalities, gender differences, imperative vs. polite tones, idioms and slang, etc.

However, with ongoing sensitivity training and information dissemination, complexities can be shared and overcome. One can also invest in native-language interfaces and online help desks.

Joseph Lopez is an international strategic planner and communications consultant. His e-mail is writetojosephlopez@yahoo.com

June 16, 2017

International Internet Marketing: The power of virtual shopping

This article was originally published by the International Association of Business Communicators -see http://www.iabc.com/cwb/archive/2005/0305/international.htm

© 2012International Association of Business Communicators.
601 Montgomery Street, Suite 1900 San Francisco, CA 94111 USA

Linda, an American living abroad in a country with limited merchandise, orders online for books, contact lenses and smoked ham. Her Dutch husband buys from www.amazon.com and www.ebay.com because U.S.-based retail web sites offer a wide range of goods at a cheaper price than their adopted country, including lower import duties and lower shipping costs from U.S.-based cargo carriers.  

Lourdes, a Peruvian immigrant in New York City, wants to surprise her family back in Lima on special occasions with gifts, including birthday cakes. But to do so from the U.S. requires planning, packaging and time, and cakes are out of the question. Thanks to www.tortasperu.com.pe, a network of housewives in seven Peruvian cities, Lourdes' relatives can receive fresh, high-quality cakes in a timely manner. 

Welcome to the burgeoning field of marketing tangible goods internationally through the Internet. Already, global e-commerce is used to find information, software, financial advice, ticketless travel and music, which can be downloaded directly to the customer's computer.  Is the Internet really a viable business-to-consumer (B2C) marketplace for non-downloadable consumer goods?  

Internet Commerce Data      

A 2002 survey by Taylor Nelson Sofres (TNS) found that 28 percent of Internet users globally either have shopped online or plan to do so within the next six months. Exactly how much of this shopping is domestic or cross-border is unclear. However, a ComScore Networks study shows that 10 to 15 percent of e-commerce sales by U.S. retailers are to customers outside of the U.S.

At 32 percent, the United States has the highest percentage of Internet users who shop online. South Korea, France and Norway are other nations with a significant number of online shoppers.

According to Internet audience measurement service comScore Media Metrix, the top-selling product categories, excluding travel, are computer hardware (US$2.3 billion), office supplies (US$1.5 billion), apparel and accessories (US$1.3 billion), consumer electronics (US$716 million), home and garden (US$442 million), music (US$193 million), furniture and appliances (US$179 million), and toys (US$114 million).

These figures indicate potentially significant cross-border revenues. Yet according to CyberSource, an e-commerce payment services corporation, 41 percent of U.S. merchants do not accept overseas orders, primarily because of fraud risks and the logistical complexity of filling international orders. Interestingly, a 2003 VeriSign survey indicates that almost half of fraud attempts come from the United States (47.8 percent), with the rest made up of small percentages from various other countries.

Two Major Consumer Worries

Merchants are not the only ones concerned about international Internet orders. There are two major concerns for any overseas buyer, whether they are in the United States or the United Arab Emirates:

Security of Card Transactions
A 2002 annual report by TNS found that the biggest impediment to cross-border e-commerce is concern about security. Almost one-third of Internet users who have not shopped online stated that they were uneasy about giving credit card details online. It is therefore crucial that merchants inform online shoppers of security measures in place and the availability of other online payment methods such as WorldPay (www.worldpay.com) and PayPal (www.paypal.com).

Shipping Reliability
Postal pilferage and theft are rampant in many countries. In addition, FedEx, DHL or UPS have rates that make shipping any product very expensive.
In many North American neighborhoods with a high concentration of immigrants, there are shipping companies that reliably deliver packages to towns and villages, and include local and foreign customs duties in their charges. Marketing and promotional partnerships with these cargo companies might prove lucrative.  

Market Niche  
The cases of Linda and Lourdes indicate that entrepreneurs on both sides of a border can benefit from international e-commerce, despite challenges like potential fraud attempts and logistics.  However, from a U.S.-based standpoint, who do we target, with fewer risks, and how?  

Linda is one of millions of Americans living overseas who still carries a credit or debit card from a U.S. bank. While one is living in a country where there is a dearth of U.S. products or where those products, if available, are incredibly expensive, there will always be a strong need to order online overseas. In some cities, organizations of expatriates have created their own web sites. One way for them to generate organizational funding is through paid links on these sites.

Low U.S. shipping costs are also an attractive selling point for those far from home. Promotions like Amazon.com's new offer of unlimited two-day shipping for an annual US$79 family membership will surely make the online market more competitive.  

First-generation immigrants often have very strong ties to their home countries, which means connecting not only through letters but also through gifts. Advertising in multilingual media will help convert newcomers into customers. Marketing and public relations work best when targeting select groups.  

On the other side of the coin, online merchants could also consider appealing to home-country relatives who surf U.S.-based retail sites and who might then send requests to their relatives living in the U.S. Advertising in home-country media would also support outreach in the U.S.

E-ready countries
The Economist's Economist Intelligence Unit has developed an e-readiness ranking to indicate how conducive a country's business environment is to Internet-based commercial opportunities. E-ready leaders in this ranking are the U.S., Canada, Western Europe, Japan and Australia.

There are, however, many other countries ranked highly in The Economist’s measurements, including Brazil and Venezuela in Latin America, South Korea and Taiwan in East Asia, and Algeria, Egypt and South Africa on the African continent. In many of these countries, people study English as the language of commerce. This means they also surf English-language web sites. Advertising and web sites that target this sector should be visual, detailed and descriptive, and should use simple English, especially in payment instructions. These sites should also explain concepts like 1-800 numbers, which might not be familiar to an international audience.

Is the Internet a viable B2C marketplace for non-downloadable consumer goods?

Provided businesses carefully select a region to market to, partner with local representatives and distributors, and exercise caution when accepting orders from countries with a high risk of fraud, the answer is yes.

Joseph Lopez is an international strategic planner and communications consultant. His e-mail is writetojosephlopez@yahoo.com

February 12, 2017


The people I met in my holiday at the Sunshine Coast, British Columbia, Canada have been very friendly.  I was asking a gas attendant where I can get cheap but good breakfast – he said Tim Hortons and at that point a man came in and in a friendly tone offered me directions. This is one of numerous turns of kindness.

But let us start when I started my trip.

After leaving home at 11 am to ensure me and my car would have a slot, I boarded the 1 pm ferry boat at Horseshoe Bay to sail to Langdale terminal 45 minutes away.  From Langdale, I drove for around an hour the length of the Sunshine Coast Highway to the very end Earl’s Cove where I had to board another ferry to Saltery Bay, 30 minutes away. 

It was a dark December 5:30ish when we disembarked and I was hungry.  Thankful I had data.  I was able to find online an interesting sounding place to eat, Skeeters Jacks, which turned out to be popular among the locals.  Tonight was the first of my friendly encounters.

Vanessa was the welcoming server who served the last beef ribs special for the night.  It was good.  But the tempting selection of cheesecakes and cakes in the big glass display was not the best.

BTW, there was no sunshine while I was in the Sunshine Coast for the first week of December 2017.  It was overcast or snowy or rain.

To be continued …