Global Korea? Top Ten Tips

My former boss, Hoh Kim, put up a lengthy post on his blog Hoh Kim’s Lab: Consiliencing Communication, which is in turn inspired by a post over at B-M’s Digital Perspective – Beautiful Dreams in Seoul. Hoh goes into a lot of detail following a long e-mail exchange, but for what it’s worth here’s my Top Ten Tips for Korean companies communicating online, in annual reports or, indeed, anywhere where an international audience might be expected to read what you wrote.

  1. Remember who you’re talking to. The English version of the website is written for an international audience, not a Korean one. Messages about “driving the nation forward” or “top X company” simply don’t resonate with international audiences. Give people the information they need about your company.
  2. Proofread EVERYTHING. Make sure your site developer has a qualified proofreader for buttons, menus etc. One Forbes Global 2000 company – the third ranked of all Korean companies on the list, offers a “PDF Dawonload” on its IR site.
  3. Get a professional to develop your copy. It’s not enough to pay an itinerant English teacher a couple of hundred dollars to “proofread” the site. Hire someone who will ask the right questions about what the site is trying to convey and provide counsel on how better to communicate that message.
  4. Understand that not everyone uses Microsoft Explorer. (Disclosure – Microsoft is an Edelman client in Korea). Almost all Korean websites are designed to run solely on Windows operating systems running Internet Explorer 6. For anyone using a Mac (or presumably a Linux OS) or running Firefox, Safari, Opera or any other browser, the site won’t function or will display incorrectly. Not everyone uses a Windows platform, especially overseas. Take the time to test the site in other configurations, even if Korean readers don’t use those configurations (see point 1)
  5. Get ahead and dumb it down. Korean sites often incorporate Active X controls, pop-ups and a host of other plug-ins. These are less popular elsewhere in the world as they create annoyances and security risks for users. Anything that gets in the way of the site communicating its message should go. Active X doesn’t work on a Mac (or Linux?) – which why I can’t engage in any form of e-commerce from home in Korea. for a “technologically advanced” country, Korea is remarkably behind the curve on this.
  6. Develop your slogans properly. Korean companies will often develop “slogans” “strategies” and “goals” in English (without having a native speaker review) and then incorporate them into English language documents and websites. For example,”We at Company X are doing our best to realize our management policy of “Clean Company, Active Company X”…” “Clean Company, Active Company X” is not a policy, it’s not good copy and it’s not even good English. Use a professional to develop your internal English language messages, even if they are targetting a Korean audience who will be less discriminating.
  7. Cut the jargon. Don’t just look up every word in your Dictionary of Business English and try to squeeze it into the site. for example, “We have set our strategic business focus for 2007 as “Materializing our Strengthened Sales Competencies and Further Reinforcement of our Future Growth Drivers”. In this regard, we will do our best to level up our “Global Standard Competencies” through continued system improvements and business expansion throughout the year.” Tells me absolutely nothing. Again, refer to points 1 and 3 above.
  8. Don’t be purple. Some sites read as though the copywriter missed his or her vocation. For example, “Roar of a steam locomotive once shook the Earth to haul modern society. Now the world’s pulse solemnly beats with a semiconductor.” Even if this were grammatically correct, this would be plain bad writing – and I suspect it’s just as bad in Korean!
  9. Set the right benchmark. Korean companies often say they benchmark international companies, but when it comes to writing copy the benchmark – if it exists – is too often another Korean company. The handful of examples I used above each come from one of the top 10 public companies in Korea as listed on the Forbes Global 2000. Significantly below any of these companies is Nortel Networks, whose site (www.nortel.com) is available in at least 16 languages – I can’t comment on the accuracy of the translations, but I would bet good money on the fact that they are all better than the English on most Korean sites.
  10. Put it in perspective. For a Korean company, your English language website (and your English language annual report) are the most important marketing tools you have. Don’t cut corners. The approach most Korean companies have to international communications is akin to investing hundreds of thousands of dollars developing and producing the most high quality product packaging available but spending nothing on producing a good product to put inside it.

To lift my own quote directly from Hoh’s post:

Bottom line – a lot of Korean companies talk about wanting to be be global. Well here’s the news – Korean companies are global. They are some of the biggest global players out there. They just don’t act global. They invest a lot of money and effort into developing highly technical, well designed websites and next to nothing in ensuring that the message the website sends is compatible with the audience.

In other words, stop communicating messages about being a global global company and start communicating like a global company. To quote Robin Williams in ‘The Fisher King’ – “First decide what you are, and be that.”

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16 Responses to Global Korea? Top Ten Tips

  1. Hoh says:

    Thanks, Steve. Again, your insight here will be very helpful for Korean companies in their globalization efforts. I think you should publish something around this topic. I will also refer your blog as much as I can. It was good to talk to you.

  2. Steve Bowen says:

    Thanks Hoh – I’ll add it the list of other topics I have to publish something about!!!

  3. Chuls says:

    ‘Direct X’ -> ‘Active X’ isn’t it?

    Thanks, a useful article!

  4. Global Korea? Top Ten Tips by Steve Bowen

    6월 30일 올린 한국 대기업 영문 웹사이트의 문제점과 관련, 많은 도움을 주었던 Steve Bowen이 그의 블로그에 “Global Korea? Top Ten Tips”라는 글을 올렸다. 관심있는 분께서는 위의 제목을 클릭하셔…

  5. […] TV?  Well click here to find out how.-  The vedict is Not Guilty.  Congrats.-  Global Korea – Top Ten Tips-  Don’t miss Jackass North Korea […]

  6. Steve Bowen says:

    Chuls:

    Oops – my bad! That’s what comes of writing these things too fast! Thanks for the heads up – post duly edited

  7. MMoi says:

    Thanks for this article, working there it’s quite revelant…

  8. Tex says:

    I’m also working there and developing software for Linux.
    As you said on your points 4 and 5, IE Korean website are such a pain >0<

    So I think that I am a paradoxical case… ^^;;

  9. […] ?? ?? ??? ?? ??? ?? ???? ??????, Hoh Kim?? ??? ?? ???? Steve Bowen??? ?? ? Global Korea? Top Ten Tips?? ??? ??? 10?? ??? ??? ????????(IE)?? ??? ?? ?? ??, ActiveX ???? ???? ??? ?? ??? ?????. ?? ????? […]

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