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User-first vs US-first: Why superpower products take a fall on the global stage

Remember that first time your child steps out the door of your family home, the familiar, fitted, safe space, on to the real world outside? As parents, we harness them with values, tools, skills not just to survive out there, but to thrive. We want them to have meaningful connections, solve problems, make an impact. We want them to grow and make the world a better place.

It's kinda like when we ramp our product to 100% traffic and launch it out to the world, isn’t it? Once it’s out, it’s out. It goes places, meets people, interacts, makes a good impression (or bad). Like parents, as product builders, we harness our product with value proposition (=clear purpose), with tools (=platform infrastructure, system channels), and with skills (=feature attributes) not just to survive, but to thrive. We want our product to have meaningful connections, solve problems, grow in the global marketplace and make the world a better place.

Even if we launch our product in English only upfront, it’ll still go beyond the “familiar fitted domestic home,” and travel cross-border, cross-culture to meet new users. Will customers in India, Japan, Germany, discover your product? Will they be able to use it? Will they love it? Do you care?

Many US companies say their product is intended for customers worldwide, and that global growth is their corporate core objective. Yet most companies build their product purpose and performance upfront for US customers, based on learnings from local user studies and local market research. Then, when ready to expand internationally, they translate the interface and expect international growth. The simple reality is that when you build a product for US market, your product fits US market. Its value proposition, content positioning and UX performance aren’t optimized for impact with customers in your target markets outside of the US.

Worldwide adoption is not just about your international customers understanding your product (= translation); it’s mostly about your product understanding your international customers in the ecosystem of their local market (= product geo-fit).

To make it to the fifth percentile mark of companies thriving into the future in the global marketplace, your product vision needs to be broader, inclusive, and flexible.

You reach global growth by winning local markets, on a global scale.

Three guiding principles:

I. Global product strategy is local product strategy on a global scale. Get local, win global. One size fits all global standard (which normally is US standard that’s then applied to worldwide customers) simply doesn’t work. Make the effort to understand your international target markets and your addressable customers in each market. Be ready to redefine what problem you're solving for, who you're optimizing for, and how you define success. These parameters might be different in different countries.

II. User-first vs US-first. If you are your international customer interfacing with your product, ask yourself:

1. Do I know it? i.e., is it discoverable in my country, through my local attribution channels—SEO (local content, native keywords, dynamic sitemap with hreflang), SEM (local paid ads, landing pages, campaigns), ccTLD (county code top level domain), API entry points from local portals, etc?

2. Can I use it? i.e., the interface is translated into my language, but is the product functional in my language and country? For example, does search work? Have you enabled multilingual/multi-geo relevancy algorithm for recommendation systems based on multilingual ML (Machine Learning), NLP (Natural Language Processing), standardized datasets? Do you support local payments, or am I going to be an involuntary churn data point on your daily Checkout-to-complete-orders tracking chart?

3. Do I care? i.e., have you invested in brand bond for my use case in-country to trigger the action you’d like me to take in your onboarding, engagement, or checkout funnels? Have you captured my attention and retention in the noise of the local competitive landscape to lift your growth in my country?

III. Global from Get-Go, Ground up.

If you want your product to reach global growth, you need to build a global-ready product from the get go that can scale ground up.

This means a modular, flexible platform infrastructure that will allow you to dynamically generate, by geo (user ip address) or by language (user browser/interface language), the right product experience, without bottlenecking every release. For example, generating the relevant Pricing page with the right plan packaging, price point and promotions customized to country; Or the relevant geo-fitted Checkout experience with the right local payment methods, currencies, trust seals, and "Retry" payment processors; Or the right geo-fitted onboarding welcome flow to maximize engaged new user acquisition. If you don’t build a modular architecture to render in real-time the needed customized experience by language and geo factors, then you’ll need to code freeze and refactor every time you want to optimize a key funnel experience to maximize new market penetration.

"A clever person solves a problem. A wise person avoids it." Albert Einstein.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn

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