The Mistake Many American Digital Businesses Make And How to Avoid It

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

To maximize success, digital businesses must leverage the full network effects of the globalized internet

Consider this simple fact: there are 350 million people in America and 8 billion people in the world. The biggest mistake many American businesses make is failing to expand their audience outside of American markets. By focusing their business only on Americans, digital businesses lose out on nearly a billion opportunities to expand and diversify their income. 

It’s not groundbreaking, of all the products and services in the world, the internet makes niche products profitable. Especially digital products.

A product with limited local demand can find profitability on the internet by reaching other interested users. But for some reason, many American digital businesses seem to think that their opportunity is limited to America. They greatly restrict their profits by ignoring the rest of the world. 

This frequently happens because they don’t consider the size and scope of the global opportunity that’s available to the English language.

Below is a breakdown of why it makes sense to target the global english language audience. How doing so creates a geopolitically resilient business, and is an ideal strategy for making niche opportunities profitable. 

Maximizing the Size of the Digital Audience 

There are 8 billion people, 195 countries, and over 6,500 languages spoken on the planet. But only about half (4 billion people) have consistent internet access. 

Despite a large number of spoken languages on Earth, just 10 languages represent 75% of all web traffic. English and Chinese are the most common languages and represent the most web traffic. They account for 50% of all global web traffic.

Looking closer at these numbers, the english language represents a quarter of the world’s web traffic. That means a little over 1 billion people use english online. Many American digital businesses don’t know these facts and as a consequence, miss out on the opportunity to double their market opportunity.

650 Million Missed Opportunities by American Digital Businesses

For American businesses that don’t acknowledge the global web traffic stats, they severely restrict there total addressable market by a magnitude of 650 million people. Put a different way, by focusing exclusively on America, these businesses are missing out on nearly 65% of the global population of english speakers.

Looking ahead over the next decade, ignoring the global population of english speakers becomes an even larger missed opportunity. 

Internet Adoption Growth Rate and The Growing Opportunity

The rate of internet adoption has consistently grown by 10% over the last few years. When we combine this rate of internet adoption with the expectation that the global population will hit 10 billion by 2050, we can expect the world population to be fully online by the end of this decade. Initiatives like SpaceX’s Starlink reinforce the likelihood of this outcome.

If the english language continues to dominate 25% of web traffic, this creates a significant global opportunity for English speakers. 

Image Created by Doug Antin

By the projected numbers of people with internet access growing by 10% a year:

YearPopulation with Internet Access25% of Web Traffic (English)
20204,000,000,000               1,000,000,000
20214,400,000,000               1,100,000,000
20224,840,000,000               1,210,000,000
20235,324,000,000               1,331,000,000
20245,856,400,000               1,464,100,000
20256,442,040,000               1,610,510,000
20267,086,244,000               1,771,561,000
20277,794,868,400               1,948,717,100
20288,574,355,240               2,143,588,810
20299,431,790,764               2,357,947,691
203010,374,969,840               2,593,742,460
Table created by Doug Antin

Given this growth rate, it’s possible to expect that the total english speaking population on the web will double by the end of the decade.

It’s also arguable that useful web languages are contracting to be dominated by a few primary languages. It isn’t a stretch to believe that English will become an even more dominant language in the near future. This language contraction increases the global opportunity space for english language businesses. It also showcases the value of adopting a second language from the top 10 dominant web languages.  

Regardless of whether English remains a quarter of the world’s chosen web language and whether the rate of internet adoption grows by 10% a year, it’s clear the global digital opportunity is much larger than focusing exclusively on the 350 million people in America. 

Digital Businesses Product Margins & 1000 True Fans

The margins for most digital products are excellent. Fixed costs are the time and energy it takes to create the digital product. These are typically up front and considered sunk costs. The variable costs can be near zero but are impacted by costs such as human resources and marketing.

Because digital business margins are large, you don’t necessarily need to sell as many goods as you would a physical product to make a worthwhile profit. With digital products, you also don’t need to worry about manufacturing or shipping costs.

This lesson was well articulated by Kevin Kelly’s 1000 True Fans essay. The gist – find 1,000 people willing to spend $100 per year in order to make $100,000. If you open yourself up to the opportunities of the global market, you stand a much better chance of finding your 1,000 true fans. If you’re adaptable to experimenting with pricing models, the world becomes your oyster.

Digital businesses benefit most by embracing the internet’s long tail.

Geopolitical Resilience for Digital Businesses

Governments have different approaches to fiscal policy but in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis and COVID-19, interest rates are virtually zero on a global scale. And government stimulus is flowing freely. Cash flow becomes increasingly important in a world filled with this type of inflationary environment.

A digital business is well positioned for resilience given these circumstances.

But it’s also important for digital businesses to cultivate resiliency by diversifying their income sources. Not only through their products but also by diversifying the time zones and geographies with which they operate in.

The goal being to earn money while you sleep and reduce geopolitical risks such as changing regulations or open hostilities from political rivals. Having income in different locations empowers the business operator to relocate to friendly jurisdictions should the need arise.

Simple Tactics For Globalizing Digital Businesses

Marketing copy, advertisements and customer segmentation can be broken out to appeal to global audiences. Instead of targeting American culture, digital businesses should focus on global utility of the product.

  • Tap into the global news cycle by using current events from around the world to sell your product
  • Focus on location agnostic problems and solutions – problems everyone has and universal answers to the problems
  • Simplify sales copy so that English as a second language readers can understand the point
  • Segment your subscriber lists and craft unique copy for different geographies
  • If you do have an Americanized product, be sure to teach your audience the history of these features
  • Incorporate global audience into a shared communities and build an inclusive environment
  • Find partners to help alter copy to appeal to other cultures
  • Promote the global audience – let them see that the product is used by everyone
  • Focus on time zone list segmentation in addition to language oriented segmentation- optimize your campaigns accordingly

The Bottom Line

It’s easy to get caught in the trap of targeting one specific culture of people. But in order to maximize the value that can be extracted from a digital product, businesses need to focus on global opportunities. The growing web dominance of a few languages combined with the internet adoption rate create an important market dynamic for digital businesses.

To capture this growing value, businesses must reframe their tactics to include global english speaking audiences. It’s even better if they add one of the few dominant languages to the mix.

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