6 essential steps to planning a successful localiz...

You’ve got your local business up and running. Content strategy for your local market is good to go – you’ve thought about your customers, your brand ...

6 essential steps to planning a successful localization strategy

You’ve got your local business up and running. Content strategy for your local market is good to go – you’ve thought about your customers, your brand and the style of language you use.

A logical next step is to think about translation and localization. After all, if you want customers in other countries to interact with your business, you’ll need to communicate with them in a language they understand, and in a way that resonates with them. So, do you need a localization strategy?

The likely answer is yes, you do. To ensure that customers around the world can buy from you just as local customers do, you will need to think about the localization and translation of your brand, as well as checking that your marketing and content strategy are adapted to foreign markets.

This post will help to get you started on your localization and translation journey. It provides a basic overview of what the difference is between localization and translation, then goes on to help you define a strategy to ensure your localization efforts are successful.


What’s the difference between translation and localization?

We’re often asked this at applingua, as the words translation and localization are mistakenly interchanged. This definition from GALA (the Globalization and Localization Association) explains it neatly: “Localization is the process of adapting a product or content to a specific locale or market. Translation is only one of several elements of the localization process.”

In other words, localization is the process of making your content seem local in an international market. Translation, on the other hand, is the process of converting text from one language to another. Translation is just one part of the localization process.

Translation without localization can often be problematic. For example, how does translation cope with things like date and time formats? Currencies? Perhaps more importantly for your business, how does translation overcome purchasing norms? How much does your local brand rely on local cultural references?

To get past these problems, localization is key. Planning a good localization strategy is therefore important for your content, brand and business to succeed in an international market.


Planning your localization strategy

While the complexity of your business and content strategy may call for more detail than we can provide in a single article, a basic outline of your localization strategy will look something like this:

  1. Choose your target market
  2. Make technical preparations
  3. Translate your content
  4. Test your content in its target market
  5. Go live
  6. Deal with customer support

Let’s take a closer look at each of these steps, outlining what you can do to plan for a successful localization strategy.

  1. Choose your target market

The first thing you need to think about for your localization strategy is which countries you want to target. If you already know where you want to start marketing your business abroad, then this is an easy choice.

If you don’t, a good way to start is to look at your website or app analytics. Where are existing customers or consumers accessing your business from? If you see a large number of customers or website visitors originating from a specific place, make a note of it. If your product is already proving popular in this market, it’s likely to be a good target for localization.

Now it's time to start your research about that market. It’s important to remember that what works in your local market won't necessarily be as effective for your business in another market. Be conscious that your brand and marketing may need to adapt to connect with a new audience.

It's a good idea to spend a little time researching the target market. What do competitors do in this space? What is their local brand strategy? Is their content formal or informal? How does it compare with your content? Write down your findings or save some links to send to your translation partner later.

It may be that your local brand is a selling point in the international market. For example, products that offer ‘German engineering’ or that are ‘Made in Britain’ have proven popular all over the world, not just in their local markets. Consider how much your brand relies on local marks of quality, if at all.

  1. Make technical preparations

Once you’ve decided on a target market, it’s time to start looking at the technical practicalities of offering your product or service there.

Search online for technical differences between your language and your target market’s – think about dates and times, pluralisation rules, currency and numbers. You should also consider differences in digital tools, such as accepted payment gateways and social media integrations. 

It's common to think that the whole world reads text or numbers the same way as us. In reality the world is a very diverse place. If you are working with a localization partner, they should be able to advise you on any technical differences that should be considered. There are also forum posts and websites that can help if you look for them online.

If you’re making an app or website, it’s highly likely you’re using a framework or SDK (software development kit) that makes these things easy. But you have to lay the groundwork first. For example, if your site is based on Wordpress, you may want to look at the WPML (Wordpress Multilingual) plugin and get that set up before sending any text away for translation. Other CMS (content management systems) and development tools usually have convenient ways to approach these technical problems.

  1. Translate your content

It’s time for the fun bit: translating your content into the language your customers expect.

This isn’t necessarily as straightforward as it seems. Let’s imagine our target market is Mexico. You may think that all Spanish is the same, but it’s an incredibly diverse language with many regional adaptations and dialects.

That’s not to say that a Mexican can’t understand Spanish from Spain – in the majority of cases they can. But why would you want to make your content a challenge for the reader? Choose a Mexican to translate your content, and ultimately your brand, into the local Spanish. All good agencies will accommodate your wishes.

  1. Test your content in its target market

This is the part everyone forgets – even large multinational companies. It’s so important to test your localization in the target market before going live.

There are so many cases of this going wrong (here’s a great article that highlights just a few of them). You don’t want your business to make a mistake like Ford, whose slogan read “Every car has a high-quality corpse” when translated for the Belgian market. You can read up on some tips from big businesses here.

Fortunately, when translating tech products like websites, games and apps, it’s easy to send your localized version to users in that market, so really there should be no excuse. A localization strategy without testing is no strategy at all. Just think about what could happen to your brand if you ignore it!

  1. Go live

Once you’ve dotted your i’s and crossed your t’s it’s time to go live. This is an exciting moment for a lot of businesses, but it can also be the beginning of a new mountain to climb.

If you’re running a successful business that’s already proven popular with international customers, localization should make those customers even happier. This means your strategy has partly paid off already. However, if this is the first time you’re entering a foreign market where you’ve previously had no presence, you’re now at the beginning of a marketing mountain that must be climbed in order to win sales in that country.

Don’t be disheartened. At the very least you’ve now successfully localized your product and service. It’s now time to start thinking about the localization of your marketing strategy too.

  1. Deal with customer support

An inevitable consequence of localization is that you’re going to start receiving emails and support queries from customers who do not speak your language. Of course your business wants to excel at customer support, so you need a support strategy that works for both local and international customers.

If business is going well, consider employing or outsourcing your customer service for that market to someone who speaks the language. If this isn’t practical or affordable, think about creating some helpful content in the user’s language which can be shared repeatedly, such as FAQ pages and support documents. 

This doesn’t have to be an exercise of feeling in the dark. You can look at your customer stats – what are they trying to access? What do they normally email you about? (If you don’t understand an email, you can always get the gist by chucking it into Google Translate, but avoid using it to write a reply!) Answer any common queries in a support document, then have it professionally translated so that you are armed whenever the need arises.

In conclusion

Planning your localization strategy may be daunting at first but it is always manageable. You owe it to your brand and your business to ensure you are doing more than just content translation. What may work for your brand in your local market may not work internationally.

The size of your project could mean that each of the above steps increase in their individual complexity, but the majority of businesses will be able to follow the steps above in some form.

Localization without strategy can be a bumpy ride. However, with the right localization strategy, going from a local business to an international business will one day be just another feather in your cap.

You want your local content to shine wherever ‘local’ may be. And that's the key to good localization.

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