Just as with any industry, digital tech companies taking their products and services global are bound to see some challenges in international markets. Considering translation and localization is our forte, this topic is all too familiar—but nevertheless, we wanted to know more about how companies are successfully growing within international markets.
We sat down with Talia Baruch, Founder and CEO of Yewser, who lead International Product and Global Growth at LinkedIn and SurveyMonkey, to hear her experience with everything from success stories to missed opportunities.
Are there any good examples of a US company that built an application that is non “US-First”?
When I worked at LinkedIn, one of our priority target markets was China. In 2014, when we localized into Chinese, there was some growth, but not substantial to win the market. We knew that to be successful in China we had to go all-hands-on-deck with a deeper holistic product plan. First, we narrowed down LinkedIn’s global multi-value-prop offerings (job seeker, talent seeker, content consumer, networker etc) to a single value-prop most relevant to China’s addressable segment (the 17-24 age cohort), which is: entry-level job seeker. Given that China is a mobile-first geo, we decided to build in-country an off-stack stand-alone light-weight app designed for this use case cohort, with native look and feel and 100% made in China. After defining the core geo-fit product purpose, we then handled discoverability with entry point WeChat integration in top-of-funnel onboarding, as well as Sina Weibo and Tencent QQ integrations. The final piece in the puzzle was establishing brand trust. China government and Chinese consumers favor local brands, so rather than going with LinkedIn’s US-based brand convention, we “cannibalized” and named the app “Chitu,” which resonates as a local brand. This local (vs global) strategy is how we achieved market adoption in China.
That’s a great example of building a product-market-fit to grow adoption. Can you share an example of missed market-adoption opportunity when a product lacks market-fit?
The worst mistake companies can do is score their own goal when they don’t prevent involuntary churn, which translates to drop-off in Checkout to Complete Orders funnel. For example, when happy customers want to pay for premium product upgrade, but can’t because the company does not geo-optimize international payment processing. Many companies apply a one-size-fits-all to Pricing and Checkout experiences, beyond UI translation, thereby causing involuntary churn and leaving money on the table. Supporting local currencies and local payment methods is table stakes. Moreover, it is key to partner with local payment processors, geo-customizing to local pricing packaging and message positioning, building Retryin Checkout, etc. The Olympic games hosted in Rio, Brazil in Aug 2016 introduced a fantastic opportunity for Airbnb to maximize their international growth. At that time, they had localized into Portuguese, but hadn’t yet optimized the product performance to facilitate local payments. In Brazil only 30% of consumers use credit cards and most of them restrict international transactions. Airbnb was quick to adapt and implemented three geo-custom methods for Brazil: 1) They partnered with AstroPay (local payment processor) to allow cross-border transactions. 2) They enables installments in payments. 3) They added Boleto payment method (common local method, literally issuing a barcode ticket that the consumer prints out and pays in cash at their local convenient store). To enable this new method, Airbnb had to expand transaction timeline to allow 24 hours to complete order.
What are the core capabilities an organization needs to be successful with their localization strategy?
To properly localize, companies need to have savvy professionals who don’t just translate, but also transcreate when needed. Marketing copy and promo campaigns should be created in native language vs translated from source English. Local content is important on landing pages, logged-out home, onboarding and other top of funnel pages. A true localization team knows to adapt copy and creative to connect with end user not just by language-fit, but also by geo-fit.
Are there any markets that US companies are focusing their efforts to expand into?
Do international markets differ on how organizations should approach their marketing funnel? E.g. would customer interaction points and content type vary from the UK vs Japan?
Japan is a market you don’t want to miss out on, but where you will need to invest in customizing your product experience and content positioning to local. For example, adding social proof testimonials and locally relevant promotions can go a long way. In India you can remain English only with decent adoption, but rewrite/recreate local content for geo-relevancy. At SurveyMonkey our UK users got the English US product experience, which was not the expected behavior. For example, EDU and Health Care survey templates needed to be different in the UK, tailoring for the commonly public (vs private) higher ed sector and for NHS (National Health Service). We, therefore, recreated survey templates and questions in English, based on the non-US geo-fit needs, to address the local userbase sectors.
Another consideration for different marketing strategy in different countries, is mobile vs desktop experience. In mobile-fist geos, like Scandinavia, SE Asia, Japan, UAE/Saudi, etc, you’ll want to focus on app download promos early on during onboarding funnel.
Who should be setting the international product strategy for new markets and is this often different from what you see?
Every company that wants to go global needs to have a horizontal international product owner responsible for driving the broad global product strategy vision for their priority markets. This leadership role needs to align with the corp core mission goals, and orchestrate execution across all teams. This leader should have rounded experience with both product and international expertise and should have a dedicated horizontal team of international engineers and designers to evangelize and help execute across the vertical teams in the organization. This is a huge gap in most companies. Finding the know-how professional with both product and international expertise is difficult. And even when this function is found, it is often hired as an individual contributor in silo with no resource team, and mispositioned within the organization. This is one of the biggest mistakes companies make, which compromises effective horizontal efforts, and as a result, holds back their capability to accelerate global growth goals.
This is why, after many years in this internal capacity in tech companies, driving international product for global growth, I’ve realized that as an external partner with my in-country geo-expert production teams, I can actually resolve the overhead burden companies struggle with and offer their custom product-geo-fit playbook and execution, optimizing product performance in international. Balancing internal cost/benefit is a fair factor, and sometimes hiring a dedicated full international team is a luxury overhead expense many companies simply can’t afford. This is where Yewser comes in.
Talia Baruch headed International Product Management & Global Growth Strategy at LinkedIn and SurveyMonkey in the last decade. She also mentors startup executives at Google Launchpad. Prior, Baruch internationalized Google’s Earth and Maps products, orchestrated Starbuck’s brand entry in MENA, and optimized VMware’s product localization in LATAM. In 2017, she founded Yewser, helping companies accelerate growth in international markets. Baruch and her in-country geo-expert teams deliver the playbook, roadmap and execution for product geo-fit performance that maximizes market adoption.
Yewser provides the play-book for global-ready product strategy and rollout to make your products make sense in international markets. We help companies reach global expansion, optimizing the product functionality, experience, and value proposition fitted to the local market opportunity on a global scale. Our orientation is user-centered product experience that meets the needs across culture codes and market wants. Visit their website here.