The Clickbait DONG Story or, i18n for Dummies

A few years ago I attended a day-long investment workshop. Part of the event was focused on raising capital for the purposes of international expansion. The speaker used an example from his native Denmark to illustrate the pitfalls of taking a brand global.

Name Change

Dansk Olie og Naturgas (meaning Danish Oil and Natural Gas) was one of the major energy players in Denmark. As the company tried to establish a larger presence in the UK and other English-speaking countries they encountered a problem. When presented with the company’s name, acronymised to DONG, folks would, ahem, react oddly.

In 2017 they changed their name to Ørsted, citing the fact that they no longer supplied oil or gas. I have no reason to disbelieve that story but I can bet that their marketing teams sighed a sigh of relief at not having to tiptoe around that name anymore.

While the DONG story is largely clickbait, it does serve a useful purpose.

In a comical, exaggerated way it illustrates an important point. It’s insane to take something out of its context, drop it somewhere else, and expect it to have the same effect.

Insane Optimism is Often Insane

The insanely “optimistic” approach many people have to internationalising software products and if you’ve ever been in a meeting discussing this kind of strategy you’ll know what I mean. You’ll have heard a range of things from marketing, sales, and product people along the lines of:

  • “Oh, we can just put up a landing page in Brazilian Portuguese and see how it goes.”
  • “If we just translate our blog content and marketing site into Japanese we’ll start ranking there ASAP”
  • “Localising the UI is a solved problem — just find us an agency to translate the strings into German”
  • “Don’t worry about pre-sales and support, most people in India speak English really well.”
  • “I’m pretty sure dentists in Bangkok have the same problems as the ones here in Boston.”

These are well-intentioned sentiments but usually doomed to fail. The reason very often is that the language of your product and processes is just one of the things that makes it fit into its context.

Getting your sales proposition to work, or finding product-market fit, in a different country to where you started from is not rocket science. But there are a few important and key things you need to get right to grow into new markets.

At BoS Conference Fall (27-29 September) Chui Chui Tan will pick one participant to share their challenges and work on a real-time case study that will help you make sense of the dos and don’ts of international growth.

Chui Chui Tan is a UX consultant and cultural expert who’s worked with startups and multinationals – including Marriott, BBC, Google, Asana, Babylon Health and Spotify – helping them understand their global audiences.

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