By Anna Schlegel
How do transnational companies maintain their brand integrity across the multiple localizations of their Internet presence? A case study from VeriSign.
To put the globalization challenge for VeriSign’s website in perspective, it is first necessary to understand that the firm protects, with digital certificates, the secure websites of a majority of companies that have a presence on the Internet. This means more than 750,000 web servers, including 93 percent of the Fortune 500. VeriSign operates the largest independently owned specialized network in the world, routing billions of connections from carrier to carrier—between protocols and across national boundaries. The company monitors 300 million retail transactions and delivers more than 200 million mobile-originated intercarrier messages and more than one million multimedia messages every day.
In 2003, VeriSign had just four international sites—in France, Germany, Japan, and the U.K.—in addition to its corporate website, supported by a single Global Project Manager. Today, the company has more than 18 international sites organized under a centralized global web operation, supported by five language service providers across the following countries: Australia, Brazil, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Mexico, Norway, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan and the U.K. The team has grown to include an international executive producer, developers, designers, a localization team and project managers in various geographical regions.
Starting at the bottom
Prior to my joining the company in 2004, VeriSign was using an array of consultants and tools to launch websites with little in-country support or dedicated international developers, as the company was not yet fully staffed internationally. Issues such as international tax, customs, and legal matters were not being addressed consistently (if at all), so appropriate content definition was a complex issue.
Upon my arrival I was told, “Look at what any of the global top five companies do and implement something similar. And, while you’re at it, choose and implement a global content management system (GCMS).” In other words, I had to start from scratch, developing a global website strategy, and virtually every one of its component parts, from budget, affiliates, and team resources to workflow automation and vendor management to localization, website maintenance, and, of course, buy-in from both corporate leadership and international management.
I determined that the best way to implement such sweeping changes was to ensure that my globalization strategy meshed with the business plans of both senior and line management. I attended many presentations at the director level and above, always making sure to ask the presenter how international needs and requirements figured into their plans; many times, of course, they didn’t. I presented executives with visual evidence of current and future pages in order to educate them on what was currently wrong with the various websites, and how they could be changed to support the VeriSign brand.
It took two and a half years, some burnout (the workload and strategic planning during this period were handled by just two staffers, one vendor, and no translation tools) and a lot of hard work to clean up everything and to gain management support to build a real team with a real budget. An enormous resource was the International Product Commercialization (IPC) Group. By joining this organization, I was able to have a voice in creating VeriSign’s global brand in terms of what the company could market and legally sell around the world.
Another important factor in our eventual success was creating a vision and mission statement for international operations, and continuously sharing it companywide at every opportunity. Our team set up glossaries and style guides, and I recruited as many allies as I could throughout the organization, focusing on the brand managers (who were key) and in-country personnel. Where positions weren’t filled, we used contractors. We built our budget dollar by dollar, until we could finally support the team that was required to carry out a globalization strategy appropriate for our company.
Keys to success
As proof of VeriSign’s success with our global website strategy, we saw the number of words processed doubled from 1.1 million to over 2 million between 2004 and 2006. In 2003, there were no stakeholders for this endeavor; by 2006, there were 14 major stakeholders actively engaged in the localization process. The number of countries supported jumped from seven in 2004 to 16 in 2006. Non-core language support now includes Arabic, Catalan, Chinese, Czech, Farsi, Finnish, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Russian and Turkish. Infrastructure tools include glossaries and style guides in four areas: keywords, website buttons, products/services/descriptions, and a monolingual glossary to support translators. We recently launched an initiative to deploy a global content management system to replace the old, email-based system, with full approval from top executives.
As of the beginning of last year, our corporate site had 5.3 million unique visitors and 30 million page views. The international sites, including 10 in the EMEA region (Europe/Middle East/Africa) and two in Latin America, had 557,000 unique visitors and 2.7 million page views. While the corporate site has experienced a modest 3 percent increase in visitors and a 1 percent increase in page views year-over-year, the increases for the international sites were 74 percent and 41 percent, respectively! France was up by 288 percent, Switzerland by 139 percent and Germany by 122 percent.
37 percent of all traffic on VeriSign’s intranet is now generated from international offices, and 34 percent of the traffic on the company’s sales portal is from outside of the U.S. In terms of lead generation, 308,000 web leads were collected worldwide in 2006.
Along the way, our team took on responsibility for translation as well. Engineering depends on our team to provide guidance, and they share the same language service providers. Our team mandates the translation processes, QA processes, and more. There are now three Web Globalization Managers based in EMEA and some funding for usability studies in that region, as well as in Latin America and Asia-Pacific.
What has been responsible for the success of our team’s work? Perhaps the most important factor has been the engagement of the in-country marketing teams. By creating Service Level Agreements, providing tools and access for each region to request localized content, offering local training, preparing a glossary repository, and conducting frequent meetings with colleagues in the regions, our team members have been able to effectively integrate their goals and operations with those of corporate.
In carrying out our plan, our team learned a number of important lessons. These included, among others, the notions that globalization must be supported by top-level management; a vision and a mission for international operations are crucial, and must be integrated with the company’s corporate vision; metrics must be communicated through lead generation, chat forums, and the company’s support site; and tools must be tested before buying, based on client requirements—not those of the vendors.
As we launched more websites, our team focused on overcoming still new challenges, which encompassed the need for consistency across all sites, a sensitivity to audience diversity, attention to revenue and strategy, success metrics, regional representation, and doing more with less. Throughout it all, though, we were able to effectively demonstrate how centralized website localization builds the VeriSign brand through the creation of consistent positioning, messaging, and voice and tone—all of which, in turn, helped build brand awareness and recognition. Such efforts also protected the company’s brand assets through trademark protection, by means of proper content translation, and mitigated the company’s worldwide exposure by protecting the company’s key trademark assets.
A clear globalization strategy and execution supports international expansion as well, through the extension of product offerings on a global basis via acquisition and monthly IPC approvals. Simultaneous website launches and support of worldwide sales activity also contribute to this.
Maturing with our markets
As the U.S. market matures, VeriSign’s corporate management looks to international markets as the company’s new frontier for expansion. Building on our team’s success over the past several years, we are now concentrating on issues such as contained English (that is, engaging writers to reduce the amount of content they create), expanding in Asia, allowing more customization at the local level, and, as always, maintaining a high concentration on quality.