The benefits to having a global team can be huge. You get different perspectives, you tap into expertise that might not be available near you, you can lower your costs, and work gets done while you're asleep. But along with the benefits, come the headaches. You need the team to meet but the Chinese office is closed, or you've requested your San Francisco office be on a 5 am call four times this week and they're starting to rebel. How do you keep your global team engaged, focused, on task, and keep the communication lines open while coping with everyone's schedules?
First. Establish a universal time zone for your team. This may seem simplistic, but it can save you a lot of aggravation. Be clear that when you say the meeting is at 4 pm, that means 4 pm Central Standard Time, and everyone can calculate what that means for their office. Without a standardized time zone, you're in danger of scheduling a meeting one day for 3 pm Pacific Time and the next day 10 am Eastern Time and pretty soon confusion will reign and people will miss meetings. It really doesn't matter what time you choose for universal time, as long as everyone knows what it is.
Second. Make sure everyone on the team knows what time it is for everyone else. One easy way to do this is to enable Google calendar's world clock (under settings, labs). Or as we suggested in an earlier blog, use Time and Date's world clock that shows normal working, sleeping, and away from office times in an easy color coded chart. The point is to have an easy way to find out whether your team is available for the meeting you're trying to schedule.
Third. Schedule a meeting a least once a week for the extended team. This ensures that everyone is really connected to the team, knows what's going on, and is clear about priorities. Encourage questions in these meetings, and try to use a video conference if at all possible so that everyone can get to know faces and see expressions.
Fourth. When on a call, be aware of what time it is for everyone else. You may be taking the call at 9 am and be bright and fresh, but that means your Chinese colleague is on the phone at 9 pm and is probably tired and may not be up for brainstorming. Or your colleague in Seattle may have just woken up. You may want to rotate the time of these calls so that the same people are not always staying late or getting up early. If you do, be sure to rotate on a schedule to minimize confusion.
Fifth. Don't underestimate the importance of in-person meetings. At least twice a year, you should get the whole team together in one place. Nothing beats face-to-face communication. Include activities that are not work related, and ideally change the location so that everyone eventually gets a chance to show off their town, their cuisine, and their work space. Also consider holding a meeting where you have no offices. Then everyone is on neutral territory and the whole team gets to explore together. These face-to-face meetings help create bonds, and give people a chance to learn each other's personality and create shared experiences. Such experiences go a long way toward creating better, more cohesive teams. The payoff will come from your team working better together in the intervening months.
Sixth. Watch your tone and remember there is no such thing as over-communicating. Tone can be hard to read in an email, so assume the best of the sender. Maybe she's having a bad day and is coming across a little brusque. Shake it off and move on. And try to stay away from humor. Jokes often don't come across well in email even if both people speak the same language. If you're communicating with someone who is not a native speaker, the joke is even less likely to be a hit. Do however, try hard to be positive and friendly to overcome the often flat and negative affect that email can have.
If the email you receive is at all ambiguous, respond with a clarifying question. Since you can't just walk down the hall or run into someone at the elevator, you have to be sure that whatever you're working on is crystal clear.
Seventh. Take Time Before Responding. We all get crazed about trying to keep from being buried in email and often we respond too quickly. If someone sends you an email that gets you irked, sure, go ahead a draft a response. Then delete it and start over. In a distributed team, the time zone may work in your favor. If your colleague will not be back in the office for hours, you have plenty of time to calm down and respond with a reasoned reply which hopefully also has some positive suggestions that will steer the matter more in the direction you'd like it to go. It's hard enough to clear up office spats and miscommunications in person, in a global team, these things can fester and cause major problems down the road.
These are just a few of the tips we've learned when working across time zones with large and small groups. It can take more work to get a distributed team running smoothly, but if you're tapping into a wider pool of talent and getting work done 24/7, it's worth the extra effort.
In a recent article in Brand Quarterly, Dr. Nitish Singh discusses how companies have historically centralized their marketing functions, standardized their identity across markets, concentrated on a few brands, and limited their packaging sizes and styles. However, as Dr. Singh explains, these companies should be moving away from standardization and toward localization. If they don’t, they risk missing many great opportunities and could even be offending or alienating potential customers.
In addition to relaying stories about the trouble companies get into when trying to directly translate their name into other languages, Dr. Singh discusses other aspects of localization and how critical it is to understand regional markets and adapt to them.
An interesting point that Dr. Singh makes is that pricing affects perception in the marketplace. He points out that a low-end U.S. brand may actually be a mid-range brand in another country. If you use the same marketing strategy, it’s unlikely to work, given that your consumer perceives a different level of quality. Think about the difference in an ad campaign between a budget furniture brand and a high-end brand. You would probably be confused if the high-end brand used the bright colors, graphics, and jingles that we expect from the budget-priced product. To be successful, you need to adapt your copy and perhaps your look and feel so that your marketing efforts reflect your product placement.
The article also discusses how standardizing your product packaging may limit your sales. In the U.S., consumers often want to buy products in bulk, but in places like India, customers frequently want to buy in very small packages. How can you manufacture and ship smaller packaging, but still price it so that you make a profit? Again, how does it affect your in-country marketing strategy? You need to plan for less room on the packaging itself, consider how to display smaller packages on shelves, and decide which product attributes should be called out on the packaging to appeal to that region's shopper. Don't forget to think about packaging color too. What looks attractive in one country may not appeal in another.
Social media and purchasing methods also vary greatly from country to country. In some countries, more than 50% of purchases are made from mobile devices. In Japan, customers may make the purchase online, but expect to pick up the product in person. You should familiarize yourself with the popular purchase and delivery options for each region, but also think about any disruptive technologies that may put you ahead. If you're used to selling your product online, how can you push mobile purchasing in a market that hasn't yet adopted that method? What incentives will work for those consumers? Note that if you pursue an online strategy you will need to create a site in that region's language. You cannot expect consumers in other countries to purchase from an English language site. In the case of a market like Japan, is there a local delivery company whose services you can engage so that your customer no longer has to go to the store to pick up your product? Consumers are likely to choose your product over your competitors if you make the purchase easier for them.
Companies that research marketing, packaging, and distribution for each regional market can gain a great advantage by creating manufacturing efficiencies where practical, but also tailoring product and consumer marketing where it will lead to greater sales. Don’t just translate the words on your packaging and websites, but adapt the content to appeal to the consumers in each local market. Learn from your successes from the U.S. market, but combine them with what consumers expect from their local shopping experiences and you're more likely to beat out your competition.
As we recently Tweeted, U.S. metropolitan area exports were up $36 billion dollars in 2014, reaching $1.14 trillion. Houston led the way with exports of $119 billion. The next four largest exporting cities were New York, LA, Seattle, and Detroit.(1) But what does this mean for you?
We think it shows that despite the strong dollar, U.S. goods are in high demand, and if you're not looking for opportunities to diversify globally, then you're missing out on potential revenue streams. If you're just getting started, you may want to download the commerce department's export guide. The book strives to answer any questions you may have about exporting.
Also just released at trade.gov, are the 2015 Top Market reports. These reports provide an assessment of future industry-specific export opportunities and an examination of the competitive landscape. Available free for 19 different industries, the reports include sector snapshots and detailed information for specific countries.
Once you've figured out where your industry is heading and what countries are your best bets, be sure to take the time to create a detailed marketing plan for how to enter foreign markets. Pay close attention to what each market's consumers want and talk up those features. Each market you examine may get excited about different aspects of your product, so it's good to do your homework. You may also want to tweak your offerings. For example, in some markets red is a lucky, and highly desired color, but in other markets it may not be popular at all. Just by doing even a little consumer preferences research, you'll increase your chance of success. Remember, it's better to make a good impression from the start, as it can be much harder and more costly to repair a reputation than to build it from scratch.
And finally, don't forget that part of your marketing plan needs to include localization of your marketing materials: videos, website, sales sheets, case studies, and your social media presence. Your overseas prospects are far more likely to buy from you if you market to them in their own language.
In honor of the traditional summer journalism ritual to recommend books for beach reading, we thought we'd give you a list of last year's best translated books for your shoreline reading pleasure.
Fortunately, the weblog Three Percent presents the Best Translated Book Award each year for fiction, and they publish their short list for the top twenty-five, making our job that much easier.
This year's award winner was Can Xue's The Last Lover, translated from the Chinese by Annelise Finegan Wasmoen.
The top twenty-five book list contained entries from all over the world, including Russia, France, Mexico, Argentina, Angola, Rwanda, Finland, and more. Titles ranged from Fantomas Versus the Multinational Vampires, to Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay.
So, even if you're not planning an overseas vacation this summer, you can still get a taste of a different culture. To get the whole top twenty-five list and for more information on the winning book and the contest, visit Three Percent's website.