Globalization Guru John Yunker Promotes Savvy Clients

Interview by Anna Schlegel

John Yunker is the founder of Byte Level Research (www.bytelevel.com), a consulting firm focused on Web globalization and wireless technologies. His firm has helped a wide range of companies improve their global websites, including John Deere, Intel, and Giorgio Armani. John is the author of the widely acclaimed book Beyond Borders:Web Globalization Strategies (Pearson, 2002). He can be reached at jyunker@bytelevel.com.

What led you to work in the globalization industry?
JOHN YUNKER: About six years ago, while working for a startup translation firm, I began managing Web globalization projects. I soon realized that Web globalization was not only inevitable for most companies but a competitive advantage. I founded Byte Level Research in 2000 to focus specifically on this emerging field. We were the first firm to rate the quality of global Web sites across a number of metrics, establishing best practices along the way. Our ongoing goal is to help companies develop localized Web sites that are usable and effective in their target markets.

How did your business get off the ground?
Word of mouth has been essential to our success. The Web globalization industry is close knit; I find that past clients often refer us to new clients. The book, Beyond Borders, has also been a good source of contacts.

Did you learn different languages as you grew up?
I learned Spanish in high school and spent the subsequent years forgetting everything I learned. Now that I’m based in San Diego, I plan to dive back in. I’ve also had some basic training in Chinese and Arabic.

Do you work with translators directly?
I keep in close touch with a number of freelance translators and translation firms. I also help translators and firms improve their Web globalization skills. Byte Level also publishes The Savvy Client’s Guide to Translation Agencies, a resource designed to help companies make wise translation purchasing decisions.

What are a couple of “no-nos” in global Web navigation?
Using flags to denote languages and locating the “global gateway” at the bottom of the home page. In general, companies tend to underestimate the importance of navigation for non-English-speaking Web users, yet navigation can make all the difference when it comes to traffic. There is no single solution to global navigation. I advocate four overlapping techniques that include local domain names, splash pages, and permanent global gateways. A few good sites to check out include 3Com, Ikea, and E*TRADE. We have additional information on our website.

What do corporations understand about globalization?
Multinational corporations understand that they cannot afford to overlook emerging markets such as China, India, and Eastern Europe. Companies are investing heavily in establishing local offices or partnering with local companies to expand their presence and get up to speed in these markets. Companies are also doing a much better job these days of localizing products and promotions, although there is still room for improvement.

What do corporations not understand about globalization?
Companies typically underestimate the costs and complexity of Web globalization. In a recent survey I conducted, we discovered that most companies spend less than half of what they should on Web globalization. And the major reason for this comes down to viewing localization as a “nice-to-have” rather than “must-have” attribute of a website. This attitude is fading fast.

Centralization or decentralization; what do you recommend?
It really depends on the company, its management structure, and its goals. To save money and convey a consistent global image, companies need to centralize content and some controls. But local offices also need the flexibility to tailor their websites and promotions to their customers. In the end, it’s about striking the right balance and ensuring that this balance evolves as the company evolves.

Why do we have CEOs and CFOs but don’t have CGOs (Chief Globalization Officers)?
There is a sense in many companies that there are too many C-level positions already, so adding a new position is not a trivial task. I do believe that globalization is a C-level issue, but it doesn’t necessarily require a C-level position to match. In a sense, every officer should have globalization responsibilities and awareness. Companies that have created effective global websites, such as IBM, Ikea, and Dell, often do not have CGOs; they do, however, have CEOs who value the importance of truly global websites and invest accordingly.

Tell us what you are reading now about globalization.
I’m now making my way through “The Power of Language: A Natural History of Language” by John McWhorter. I’m also reading “Sea of Glory,” a book about the Charles Wilkes expedition, which charted over 1,500 miles of the Antarctic coast.