This should not come as a surprise: in today’s global market, where thousands of companies worldwide compete to catch the attention of a growingly demanding customer base, designing a localization strategy that addresses the needs of each local market adequately is no longer a value-added feature but a requirement in order to be competitive. However, all too often the localization starts being taken seriously when it is too late.
Localization Planning: The Earlier, the Better
Ideally, the localization process is designed along with the product or service to be deployed globally, so that most considerations regarding each particular audience are taken into account well before issues arise, ensuring that the offer blends in perfectly with the target culture.
And I say most, because any reasonably seasoned expert in localization will agree that it is virtually impossible to foresee every scenario and rule out every potential issue in each market. Nevertheless, a wisely planned localization strategy does help reduce the chances of failure dramatically. And less problems means less time fixing things, which means that more resources —both human and financial— can be assigned to I+D and other key strategic tasks, ensuring the long-term competitiveness of your company.
Sounds appealing, right?
Easier said than done.
Constraints Preventing Your Perfect Plan
Nowadays, the localization industry has reached a very reasonable degree of maturity. Thanks to that, business venturing abroad have plenty of information and tools available in order to maximize the benefits of their localization efforts.
However, life happens.
Regardless of how badly a company wants to deploy the perfect localization strategy for their products, there are always unavoidable constraints that stand in the way, namely:
- Lack of internal expertise
- Lack of native consultants
How do these constraints prevent your localization strategy from being deployed correctly? Let’s dive deeper and explore how you can overcome them.
In an ideal world, your planning would include several months before starting the actual production steps in order to design the most comprehensive localization strategy and take into account every potential hiccup at each step through completion and launch of your product/service.
Unfortunately, in a market where your competitors do their homework and develop their solutions at a frightening speed, you need to come up with a plan as quickly as possible in order to stretch your time to market (TTM) while ensuring that all the relevant project milestones are set in place and nothing is left to chance.
There are not many localization projects where budget is not one of the main constraints.
Developing a bulletproof localization plan requires time and money and it can definitely be achieved. However, besides their core mission, business launch products and services to make profit, so every step and decision taken needs to be weighed against the cost factor.
And good localization is not cheap, but we know for a fact that a lack of localization —or even worse, — can be way more expensive in the long term and drive away customers because of poor decisions made at this stage.
3. Lack of internal expertise
Do not take me wrong: you probably know your local market better than anyone else, but playing your winning cards in a different poker room is a completely different game.
Knowing your product/service in depth and anticipating how it will behave when it reaches your local audience is certainly difficult; some companies have mastered it, boosting their sales by adapting their offer to what their customers look for within the company’s own culture setting.
And you know —either from previous errors or after hearing success stories from competitors— that localization is essential to ensure a win on foreign markets. But you do not know where to start.
Trying to reverse-engineer success cases internally is time-consuming and it does not ensure that the resulting process to be deployed will work, because you may not have considered all factors that only an expert L10N handler with the adequate experience built over (this is KEY!) a varied portfolio can devise.
Yet, no matter how carefully crafted your localization plan is, it will be doomed and stored as wet paper unless you can count on a team of the ultimate specialists in adaptation to local markets: the locals.
Native specialists will play a role that nobody else can when it comes to deciphering your message from the original and ciphering it again so that the product experience (and not only the words) is ported correctly.
However, we are talking about professional linguists with a deep command of their mother tongue and fully immersed in their target culture, thus capable of grasping all the nuances, choices and ultimately the effect of the language chosen. And, obviously, with extensive experience and translation skills.
You cannot expect non-natives to list and implement all those considerations, as they may not be aware of many of them.
- Why should an average Korean translator know all the nuances linked to the use of certain colours in Japan when localizing a video game or a design campaign?
- How would an average European Spanish translator, no matter how competent and skilled, be aware of the many subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) connotations that many common word choices have in Mexico, Argentina or U.S. Spanish?
4. Lack of native consultants
Each Localization Challenge is a New Puzzle
You are right, there is no single answer to the above questions.
Each localization project, because of its very nature, presents a series of intertwined challenges that need to be tackled separately while taking into account the above constraints. This will force you to make some hard decisions regarding where you should cut costs, speed up certain steps of the process or even decide which languages and markets you will keep as preferential over others that may be discarded at this stage.
Again, there is no fixed formula, but if you are on a tight schedule, try by all means to spend enough time on planning localization: fixing errors at a later stage is always, ALWAYS more difficult and costly, as it requires more resources and time and might impact the late stages of the project.
Imagine that you have localized wrongly a text displayed in a videogame that has already been prepared and packaged, translated, processed for the in-game display or dubbed (very costly!) and mixed in 6 different languages… Because you were in a hurry and did not consider it.
Imagine that you did not use the correct regional settings when displaying or storing dates in a software application or database because you did not think that other countries would use different systems, and now all the data entries stored are scrambled and your customers very angry.
Even if we step away from those tragic scenarios, imagine simply that you are missing the opportunity to land your product in multiple foreign markets because you believe that you can take care of the whole localization process or that you do not need localization at all. Well, you would be missing an incredible opportunity to boost sales and improve your company’s image beyond your country borders.
Localization Boosts Sales: Proof
A comprehensive localization strategy does not simply consist in translating text, or even adapting regional formats, complying with local regulations and other formal aspects of the process. There might be much more to it, and if you devise and apply a well-crafted plan, your sales will have a very real positive impact.
A couple of quick examples:
- This one’s a classic: EA Sports FIFA is one of the best-selling games since its first release in 1993. FIFA’s first editions featured English and eventually added French, Spanish and other major languages, but no real modern localization efforts were made. Over the years, we have seen FIFA expand its universe by adding up to 18 fully localized languages featuring dialogs and —a genius move— local sports commentators, featured players from each national League and a myriad of personalized content aimed specifically at a local audience, including translated AND original digital content on their website and a host of 3rd party platforms. The outcome is easy to guess: EA Sports sales boosted dramatically.
- On another fine example, AliExpress, the giant online retail services, did a rather poor start when they entered the European market, as they simply relied on light (and I’m being polite) machine translation post-editing to get the gist out of their product descriptions. However, thanks to a progressive investment in their website localization, the different sections started to look more polished in all 12 languages featured thanks to a more careful approach to localization, which not only includes the previous light MTPE, but now has dedicated human translators taking care of the most relevant products.
Certain brands hosted by AliExpress feature different products —and even colours and tones or human models— depending on the country chosen. For example, AliExpress has recently launched a quality outfit line of products specifically designed for the Italian market, where nearly everything looks and feels way more Italian than it used to. The result? Italians, even if they know that the manufacturer is foreign, embrace the swift towards Italianization and, yes, sales have improved noticeably. Obviously, this would not have been possible if they did not rely on native consultants following the directions of an international localization team coordinating the efforts between the local specialists and the client as the main content creator.Following their success, AliExpress is likely to apply the same strategy to other countries where they already perform nicely, such as Spain, France and the UK.
What is the conclusion we take from all this?
Localization is a multi-layered process and a long-term strategy which requires deep knowledge of the source and target cultures as well as the expertise provided by technology and language specialists who can put together all the pieces of the puzzle and design a solution that fits each project and each client, knowing that there are no generic solutions and the key to success lies in content customization and answering the specific needs and expectations of each local market.
Each localization project is an adventure in itself where technical, financial, planning and creative skills are used to ensure the best possible solution in a never-ending learning process for all players involved, making projects evolve into a professional symbiosis between the localization service provider and the client over trust and experimentation.