EuroIA: Navigating the Digital Spice Route

by Luke Wroblewski September 24, 2011

In her Navigating the Digital Spice Route presentation at EuroIA, Terry Hoi-yan Ma shared what she learned by designing Web experiences for eastern audiences. Here’s my notes from his talk:

  • The 13th century spice route was how trade connected the east and west. Digital connections can be made now to the 3 billion people in Asia. 750M Internet users by 2015. 330M of them on mobile. Increase of 100M mobile users in the past year.
  • Work with local knowledge: use local market experts for research. Study use of images and translations and read local newspapers. Be careful of information found on the Web.
  • One size doesn’t fit all: China (for example) is split into three tiers that represent three different Chinese markets. Saudi Arabia has an eastern (poorer, less oil rich) and western (richer) side.
  • Respect is a different concept in the East: do not assume everyone does business the same way as the West. The West is transaction oriented. The Chinese are long-term relationship orientated. Middle East client engagements are managed by hierarchy (the CEO has final say).
  • Prepare for the language barrier: in China there are different dialects and traditional vs. simplified characters for written language. Typographic variations can include line length, sizing, and more. Arabic fonts need CSS3 support to render well.
  • Deliver a sense of prestige and status: pay attention to visual language. Images, content, tone of voice, and color selection influence how people will perceive the value of your service.
  • Chinese characters are easier to scan than to type in for search. As a result, many Chinese sites are very dense (filled with text) to enable effective browsing. Typing in descriptions is more hit or miss.
  • In China and Saudi Arabia, freedom of speech is not prevalent in the physical world so people often turn to the Internet. Local social media provides word of mouth feedback about how credible sites and products are. Be aware people use these channels to discuss your product or service.
  • The use of local celebrities is a common approach to marketing products in the East. Consider getting endorsements from people the local audience is likely to recognize.
  • Understand technical behaviors and formats: accommodate mobile as the mainstream platform. 330M using mobile as primary means to connect that’s an increase of 100M in the past twelve months. Take speed into account: China, India, and Saudi Arabia don’t have great connections. Identify consumer payment platforms: bank transfer or voucher instead of credit cards.
  • Consider censorship and privacy: take it seriously. Many sites are banned in China; blogging in Saudi Arabia requires a license. Use extra caution with imagery of women, alcohol, politics, and more.
  • Tailor to local markets but be genuine.