The term ‘website localisation’ is often used interchangeably with ‘website translation’. However, whilst translating an existing piece of content from one language to another allows you to communicate with a new audience, you can’t expect that same web page to draw an identical response from two users with different cultural backgrounds. No two cultures are the same, and our personal experiences and biases influence the way that we receive any brand or content. An identical web page for an ecommerce site will not deliver identical conversion rates from users in Brazil and France if the sole difference between the two pages is language.
Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions theory
Geert Hofstede’s framework on cultural dimensions theory, published in Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind, examines the differences between cultures and how these differences and values influence the way that individuals behave. Cultural values are broken down into 6 dimensions: power distance; individualism vs. collectivism; uncertainty avoidance; masculinity vs. femininity; long-term orientation; and indulgence vs. restraint.
Applying cultural Dimensions to Lainding Page Localisation
Any web page is a potential landing page, and every landing page should have its own goal. What do you hope users will do once they arrive on the landing page? If you want to achieve these goals on localised versions of your website, you need to go further than simply translating the pages. You need to adapt the design and layout of the landing page in accordance with the cultural values of the target user. Let’s use Hofstede’s framework and apply it to the design of a landing page. If we alter a landing page to best fit the target audience, we stand a greater chance of improving our conversion rates for each international user.
Cultral dimensions and Coca-Cola
In the next section of this article, I’ll breakdown the cultural dimensions of Hofstede’s theory and discuss how we can apply them to the design of a landing page. As Coca-Cola is one of the biggest brands in the world, I’ll also use their localised websites for different countries to analyse how cultural dimensions can influence landing pages in practice.
Before we go further, it’s worth mentioning that a great deal of the ideas and inspiration behind this article has come from Nathalie Nahai, the Web Psychologist and her book covering online consumer psychology; Webs of Influence. If the topic in this article interests you, or if you’re generally interested in understanding the psychology behind online persuasion, I thoroughly recommend Nathalie’s book.
Power distance refers to the degree to which cultures are tolerant of, or even embrace, a wide divide in the population with regards to power and the distance between those at the top and those at the bottom. Power distance reflects the level to which a culture accepts an unequal distribution of power and spread of inequality. Countries with a high power distance accept the hierarchy of their society and don’t question the individual’s place within it. Low power distance countries strive to address any imbalance and demand justification of any inequality or handing out of power.
Low Power Distance
Austria is a country with a low power distance society which means Austrians favour independence, equality and minimal hierarchy. In the work environment, attitudes towards managers are informal and power is decentralised. Taking this information in context of landing page design, users will respond well to information and architecture which doesn’t fit within a strict hierarchy. Promote transparency whenever possible, whether that’s through communication, endorsements or just a general open approach to providing information. If we look at Coca-Cola’s landing page for Austrian visitors, we can see the page is designed for a user from a low power distant culture. The page doesn’t have strict hierarchy or limited navigational options; several options are available for the user to click through and continue their journey. The ‘Coke & Essen’ option promotes eating and drinking together, prompting endorsements and Coca-Cola stories from customers. David Alaba, a famous Austrian football player is prominently used as a figure of endorsement on the slider (using a symbol of the ‘people’s game’) and a widget at the bottom of the page displays customer comments on the Coca-Cola Facebook Page, encouraging open communication.
High Power Distance
Russia is a country with a high power distance. Power is centralised, clear hierarchy is valued and wide disparity between those with power and those without is tolerated. This is a conservative society. How should you design a landing page for a target culture with a high power distance? Order, structure and clear hierarchy are favoured, as is a more formal and conservative use of language. If endorsements are used, it’s essential that they come from authority figures. National pride is also prominent in high power distant countries, so national colours and/or flags can help. Looking at the Russian version of the Coca-Cola site, the site architecture is very simple. Users have limited options to continue their journey. Whilst the ‘friends’ and printing different first names on cans is running in Russia, pictures and comments from customers do not feature as much on the main landing page as they do on the Austrian. The page also provides significantly less content and information than the Austrian page. Endorsements are not offered from authority figures, but neither are they provided from customers. What’s possibly missing is any connection to Russian national pride. In order to enhance the landing page for a high power society, Coca-Cola may find that by including elements of blue to go with the red (Russian national colours) they may draw a positive response from Russian users with regards to conversion rates and site goals.
Individualism vs. Collectivism
Individualism versus collectivism is a question of ‘I’ vs. ‘we’. In societies where individualism is prevalent, the individual prioritises the self rather than social institutions. Autonomy is valued and individuals are expected to make their own decisions and support themselves and their family rather than rely on the state. Freedom and ambition are also important. In a collectivist culture, the needs of the group and society are placed above those of the individual. Members of collective societies are expected to sacrifice personal goals with those of the community and can expect the wider community to offer support to individuals within the group when required.
The US is a very individualist society. If we use this information to design landing pages, it means that we promote individual participation and personal achievement, which could be in the form of competitions and games. We can be more liberal when it comes to making bold and audacious claims about our product. We can also include images on the landing page that highlight material symbols of success. If we analyse the US version of the Coca-Cola website, we can see that the headline image is one promoting a competition to ‘win a trip for your family’ by sharing a family photo. We can click through the company’s social media feed to read comments made by individuals to Coca-Cola. If you look at the language below the fold, we see examples of the brand talking to the individual: ‘choose your brand’ and ‘my coke rewards’, which also reflects the US users desire for personal rewards.
Mexico is a nation with a collectivist society. This means that Mexican users would prefer an approach to the collective rather than the individual. That can be reflected in the language used on a landing page as well as the pictures used (groups rather than individuals). Collectivist cultures value tradition, history, and wisdom. If you include any of these elements in your landing page, you stand a chance of improving your conversion rate. Coca-Cola’s Mexican website goes against the collectivist culture to some extent. The messages in the main slider use ‘tú’ (you), addressing the individual rather than the collective. The individual is addressed again further down in the videos section. There’s really no reference to Mexican history or tradition, so this landing page doesn’t fit with the collectivist Mexican culture. Perhaps a key issue here is the global marketing campaign employed by Coca-Cola at present. Coca-Cola offers customers the chance to purchase cans and bottles with their own first name printed across the product. This goes against collectivist principles (valuing the group over the individual). Whilst Coca-Cola demonstrate many best practice examples of localisation, a worldwide marketing campaign like this can’t be perfectly localised for each nation as the core concept goes against the values of many cultures, particularly those with collectivist societies.
Masculinity vs. Femininity
Highly masculine societies are those where ambition, wealth and material rewards are valued whilst gender roles are highly defined. In more feminine societies, quality of life, modesty and caring behaviour is valued and gender equality is promoted.
Users from a country where masculinity in society is high, such as Italy, require stimulation and entertainment. You can play to the user’s desire for excitement by designing a landing page containing rich media and interactive experiences, as well as challenging games. The Italian Coca-Cola landing page really misses the opportunity to entice a user from a masculine society to click through the landing page and spend time on the website. There are no promotions of interactive content and very little rich media. However, we do have clear gender defined user journeys in the form of the three products: Coca-Cola Light; Coca-Cola and Coca-Cola Zero. Masculine societies favour clear gender roles, and Coca-Cola Light and Zero are arguably same products marketed and branded at women and men respectively. By featuring links through to respective products, Coca-Cola offers clear user journeys for men and women.
Portugal is a feminine society, meaning that collaboration is valued, relationships are emphasised and gender roles are not firmly set. The headline at the top of the Coca-Cola Portugal page tells us that ‘the best part about drinking coca-cola is being able to share it’, connecting with the value of relationships in Portugal. We don’t have clear gender user journeys here that are present on the Italian site. The only selection option in the top menu promotes the ‘personalisation events’, where people can get together in their local communities to get their own personalised can. Ideal for a feminine society.
Uncertainty avoidance deals with the extent to which a culture tolerates uncertainty and ambiguity. Uncertainty avoidant cultures look to avoid situations which are unusual and unexpected. As such, these cultures tend to put rules and laws in place which restrict the threat of change and avoid any discomfort caused by it. Uncertainty accepting cultures meanwhile are more tolerant of new opinions and welcome change. These cultures tend to be more liberal, entrepreneurial and innovative.
When designing a landing page for users from uncertainty accepting cultures such as Sweden, we can be a little more creative with the design and copy. Users from uncertainty accepting cultures encourage informal and open ended dialogue and appreciate layered information and interesting navigation. With this in mind, the Swedish version of the Coca-Cola site fails to connect with its user base. The design is simple and safe and the user is presented with only two navigational options. Even when we click through either option, we’re presented with a standard, even dull, navigation. A landing page for an uncertainty accepting audience needs to be much braver and creative.
Long term orientation refers to the degree to which a culture acts and thinks in order to prioritise short or long-term goals. A society which is long-term oriented tends to value tradition and strong work ethic. These societies believe that achievement is delivered by persistence and patience. Cultures which are short-term oriented tend to look for quick results and people within these societies tend to prefer spending their money in the present rather than saving it for the future.
The Brazilian society favours long-term orientation and we can reflect this philosophy in our landing page design by emphasising the importance of relationships, education and any long-term benefits of the product. The Coca-Cola landing page probably misses the opportunity to connect with a long-term oriented user. The page promotes prizes to be won (by purchasing the product now) and the Coca-Cola FM music site (to download music now). Whilst we shouldn’t rule out the merit of this kind of content, the site could benefit by also promoting the work that Coca-Cola does in the community, perhaps related to education or charitable work that benefits the community in the long-term (i.e. Ronald McDonald House charity).
Spain is a short-term oriented country. Users from Spain are likely to want stats and ratings so that they can make immediate decisions on your product. They want instant downloads and they want to see social acceptance of your brand (upon entering the page). On the Coca-Cola Spain website, the promotion of exercise and a healthy and active life style features prominently. Competitions (such as the Powerade Beat) outline the exercise challenges for users to meet, and in turn prizes to be won (containing clear targets to win). The page promotes several videos promoting products and initiatives and offers content in a media form (video) which is quick and easy for the user to consume. There is plenty of small form content available, and users can easily flick through and find something that takes their interest. All perfect for a short-term orientated user. Although we don’t have social signals or user reviews on the page, you could argue that this is not essential for a brand as universally recognised as Coca-Cola.
Indulgence vs. Restraint
This dimension refers to the extent to which a society allows us ‘free gratification of basic and natural human desires related to enjoying life and having fun’. People from high indulgent societies generally have more control over their life and are therefore happier, whilst people living in culturally restrained societies tend to lack autonomy, enforce strict social norms and are generally unhappier.
Britain is classified as an indulgent society, meaning that generally speaking, people from a British culture look to realise their impulses and ambitions in order to enjoy life. If we’re designing a landing page for this type of user, we’re looking to provide fun interactions, light hearted content, and any people in images should be happy. If we look at the UK Coca-Cola page, we can immediately see pictures of happy people. Free events to upcoming fun activities are also heavily promoted. Whilst the landing page doesn’t include fun and interactive elements, there are links further down the page that provides the user journey for fun content (i.e. Fifa World Cup).
India is a restrained culture. If we use this factor to develop a landing page design, we’d ideally promote how our brand or product benefits the community or saves the user money. If we use pictures of people on the landing page, it’d be better to use formal pictures rather than of people smiling in a casual setting. That said, this can depend on the brand values too. Coca-Cola India’s website doesn’t showcase their products with customers in happy informal settings to the extent of the UK site. Instead they use Bollywood music stars to promote their brand, albeit not in the most formal of settings. The layout of the page is much more structured and conservative than the UK site.
Round it Up
Creating a great landing page, localised for different users, requires a good balance between bringing your brand (and in turn culture) to a new audience and meeting them half-way by localising the landing page (and brand) and bringing it closer to the user’s cultural values. To some extent, Coca-Cola can afford to be flexible with cultural preferences in localised markets. Arguably, many international customers feel that buying Coca-Cola is like buying a little piece of American culture. What Coca-Cola is great at is maintaining that element of their brand and domestic culture and localising it to some extent for each international market. It’s still Coca-Cola wherever you buy it, but the brand is brought a little closer to the consumer through tailored localisation in each international market, both offline and online.
Whatever you’re selling, you’re brand is essential, and it needs to jump off every page of your website. The brand is going to bring with it values from its country of origin, and that’s not a problem. In fact, it can be a benefit (think German cars, Italian coffee, Indian cuisine). However, whilst you want to maintain the core of your brand in each market, your best results will come when you make slight changes to bring the brand closer to a new audience. It works for Coca-Cola. The same principle is true of landing page design. Your brand values are still important and need to be present, but if you localise elements to connect with a new culture, your conversion rate
 Hofstede, G., Hofstede, G.J., and Minkov, M. (2010). Cultures and Organizations, McGraw-Hill Publishing: New York, NY.