Thursday 23rd June this year will be a historic day: after years of heated debate, the British electorate will cast their vote for the second and presumably final time and decide whether Great Britain will remain within the European Union, or make the bold decision to leave and stand on its own two feet outside it. Either way, the importance of this day cannot be overstated since it has implications both in the short term, and for generations to come.
Personally, I am still undecided but am leaning towards ‘in’ – but I understand the arguments put forward by those who are steadfast in wanting us out. As former US Sectary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld once pointed out, there are “known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we now know we don't know.” This describes a ‘Brexit’ most eloquently in my opinion, and it is why I am erring on the side of caution and most likely will vote to remain ‘in’.
Whatever the outcome, the case made by those that want us to leave are valid ones: We are the fifth-largest economy in the world and punch above our weight on the global stage. A proud trading nation, ‘Brand Britain’ is synonymous with quality, innovation and sometimes style. But there are some things that we are not very good at. And given that the UK's goods trade gap with the rest of the world stands at a record high of £125bn in 2015, it would appear that exporting is one of them.
I apportion part of the blame on language. While English has become the de facto world’s standard when communicating in business, this lends itself to a certain complacency which is all too plain to see when visiting the websites of the majority of UK companies: stubbornly sticking to an ‘English only’ sales policy when reaching out to new customers, partners and distributors located outside the (still) United Kingdom.
Even worse, some of them seem to think that simply adding a Google translate widget to their homepage will suffice for their international outreach efforts. However, this often does more harm than good. Google excels at a lot of things, but translation is not one of them. Said translations will be riddled with grammatical inconstancies, and any visitor from overseas that takes the trouble to click through to the automated translated version will see that the company has not made any meaningful effort to reach out to them in their mother tongue.
As the name suggests, the World Wide Web - which was invented by a Brit - is a truly global medium. To this end, all UK companies that export – or want to – can and should be leveraging this universal reach using localized websites. This means adapting an existing website to local language and culture in the target market: adapting it to the linguistic and cultural context. This involves much more than the simple translation of text. The modification process must reflect specific language and cultural preferences in the content, images and overall design and requirements of the site – all while maintaining the integrity of the website, corporate identity and overall message.
Today all markets throughout the world are web-centric, sophisticated, diverse, mobile and increasingly competitive. Today, local websites are essential for UK companies to compete successfully internationally.
Whatever the outcome in June’s crucial referendum, those companies that take the time and effort to localize their website will be doing both themselves and the UK a favour by doing their bit in helping reduce that enormous trade deficit and narrow the gap between the amount we import and export. After all, it is called the World Wide Web for good reason.
For more information, visit www.ibtpartners.com