Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Lost in Translation, Gone to Market

As a company working with many suppliers around the world, we've had our fair share of communication/language issues.  This is most evident when we work with people whose natural language is not English.  (Of course, they probably feel the same way, except that now, we do not know Chinese, Japanese, Korean, German, Spanish, etc.)  Initial site visits to suppliers (especially in China) is a common prerequisite, not just to improve communication, but also to assuage fears and ascertain quality and capability.  The most practical means of communication with global contacts is through emails and chat.  But because of that, body language is lost in translation.  And when we deal with state-of-the-art or very technical products, even computerized translations are hard-pressed to deal with all the myriad jargon in the water product industry.

As we adapt ourselves to the ever-changing market landscape in the Philippines, we have to do market analyses and feasibility studies for new products we wish to bring to the country.  We have to answer the following questions:  1)  Do we understand the product we're selling; 2)  Do we have a market to sell here; 3) Is the market worth it?  4)  What is the time to market?  5)  What about support and warranty, if needed?

Do We Understand the Product We're Selling

We read the owner's manuals, the installation manuals, the service manuals.  That's what working with technical products mean.  When those manuals are in Chinese, we have a problem.  Worse yet, if they do not exist, we have a bigger problem.  We can't just get English manuals in an instant, as localization efforts are investments, and we have to first guarantee that those efforts will be investments.

If there's a manual, we might have to invest our time and do an initial translation ourselves.  We also go visit our supplier for training.  We get to learn to ins and outs of the products.  That is, if the training instructor speaks English.  Else, a really good translator is required.

Do We Have A Market To Sell Here

Products that sell like pancakes in other countries do not necessarily translate to lots of pesos.  We'd have known it's not just the language there that's different from here.  With products that carry memes, it's not just them that have to be imported.  Without a cultural invasion, they're bound to just not work.  Differences in cost of living, and technological divide can also make or break the market.

Is The Market Worth It

Is the market big enough, that the manufacturer should invest time away from their bigger markets to cater to our market?  We have a largish population that makes our market desirable.  But we're not the biggest markets.  There's the U.S.A, China, India, Brazil, Russia, Europe, etc.  Of course, when the product is already serving the US, UK, Singapore, etc., English manuals are already given.  But the investment to localize an item to our country is not just the manual.  The markings on the products as well as the packaging need to be translated.  Then, there's also the differences in electrical and measurement standards.  We're using something between the American imperial measurement units and the Metric system, which is quite uncommon in Southeast Asia.  And the bigger issue is the electrical.  We use 220V 60Hz for single phase, and a mixture of 230V, 380V or 440V 60hz for three phase.  Modifying an electrical motor-based product from 220V 50hz to 220V 60hz is rarely just a simple swap.

What is the Time to Market

Once our supplier has decided to localize a product, there's the time element.  How long does it take to bring the fully localized products here?  Can we know in advance, so we can prep our market channels?  Otherwise, we will face an initial big order (which our supplier demands), with no immediate customer base.  That means stocking and marketing costs.

What About Support and Warranty

How do we support our technical products?  If understanding the product is hard enough, getting our non-English speaking supplier to provide technical support is even more difficult. We need to make sure we get our problem across and through the language barrier.  And then we have to find out what the answer means.


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