It’s no secret that the world is becoming a smaller place with the wide array of digital products and services that are available today. The expansion of broadband service and the proliferation of Internet-enabled mobile devices are making it easier for businesses to connect with global audiences growing in both affluence and influence. International expansion presents both opportunity and risks — if there are major missteps or unforeseen local expectations and preferences among your target audience. User needs across the globe are changing rapidly and expectations from one region to the next can vary greatly. Ensuring products and/or services appeal to an international audience is a key concern for many of AnswerLab’s clients. They know that it is critical to stop and assess the global picture when developing or revamping online strategies across multiple regions.
Recently, I led a large international quantitative research study that helped a worldwide optical company prepare for a major overhaul across their global websites in North America, South America, Europe and Asia. We recommended:
- an initial benchmark website intercept survey to capture both quantitative and qualitative feedback to inform next steps for the site redesign, and
- ongoing tracking of key metrics via website intercept survey as site modifications were being made in preparation for the major site overhaul.
It may seem daunting to take the time (and money) to step back and assess the global market prior to making massive site changes. However, the rewards are plenty.
In this case, the benefits of stepping back to evaluate the global picture of their users revealed much more than varying user expectations. In this case, our research:
- Identified overall strengths and weaknesses of site content globally. The quantitative benchmark read across all regional sites allowed us to define what site content should remain on the site, as well as called out specific areas that could be improved across the board.
- Drove awareness that digital designs need to address localized needs. Findings also revealed that visitor expectations varied greatly across regions, which helped to understand why key site ratings were higher in some areas and lower in others.
- Revealed in-depth details surrounding lesser known regional concerns. As distribution models for the company varied from region to region, so did ratings on key metrics like brand familiarity. This also brought to light important consumer concerns around authenticity, which identified gaps with how the brand is communicated across countries.
- Highlighted that internal communications between regions could be improved. Consumer complaints in some regions could have been eliminated if learnings from one region were effectively communicated (and applied) to other regional sites. While communicating globally can be a challenge for any company, it is definitely an eye-opener to see that when internal communication breakdowns occur – it can result in regional inconsistencies with how site tools function and have an impact on key customer satisfaction.
- Demonstrated the importance of on-going site tracking of key metrics. The short, on-going quantitative site survey put in place has provided invaluable insights to the team as they are making slight site tweaks to site content prior to the major overhaul of the new site. Quarterly findings (based on when site changes were implemented) have shown movement across key site metrics in various regions, which reflected the impact of smaller site changes the teams put into place. In addition, on-going tracking has also helped to confirm how successful (or not) the redefined global SEO efforts have been in routing site visitors to the appropriate places on the site.
At the end of the day, our benchmarking and on-going tracking research successfully informed the redesign of the company’s website and shed light on the key issue that a US-centric design approach cannot not simply be copied for other countries. The overall benefits of conducting their global benchmark research helped this client get ‘on track’ with their global customers in a variety of levels – all of which provided tremendous value and insights going into their site redesign. The new site is expected to launch in late-2012.
It’s exciting to see so many of our clients sitting up and paying attention to the varying needs across the global market. From my perspective, it’s been rewarding to work with companies who are doing just that – keeping their finger on the pulse of their global customer base to ensure they “get it right” the first time around and keep it right through ongoing research. For more on key questions to ask about doing international user experience research, check out the UX Magazine article by my AnswerLab colleagues.