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Planning Your 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. But then you ask, what about translation and localization? Don’t you want customers in other countries to interact with your business? Do you need a localization strategy?

The likelihood is yes. One day you will need to think about the localization and translation of your brand and ensure your marketing and content strategy are adapted so that customers the world over can buy from you just as local customers do.

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

So what exactly is localization and translation?

We’re often asked this at Applingua as the words translation and localization are mistakenly interchanged. This definition from The Globalization and Localization Association (GALA) 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 something appear like it belongs in that market. 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.

You can probably already foresee the limitations of translation in certain circumstances. 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?

Localization is key and planning a good localization strategy is the answer for your content, brand and business.

Planning your localization strategy

While the complexity of your business and content strategy may call for more detail than we can provide in this post, the basic premise for your localization strategy is this:

  1. Choose your target market
  2. Prepare your product or service technically
  3. Translate your content
  4. Test translation and service in target market
  5. Go live
  6. Deal with customer support

Choosing your target market

The first thing you need to think about for your 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 however, 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, write it down. This market will likely be the first you start the localization process for.

Now it's time to start your research about that market. Note that what may work in your local market, won't necessarily work for your business or brand in another market. This is not to overcomplicate localization, but be conscious that your brand and marketing may also need to adapt to work in that market.

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? Now's a good time to write that down or save some links to send to your translation partner later.

It may well be that your local brand is a selling point in the international market. 'German Engineering' or 'Made in Britain' has worked for brands in those countries also abroad. Consider how much your brand relies on these marks of quality, if at all.

Preparing your product or service technically

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 - think about dates and times, pluralisation rules, currency and numbers, accepted payment gateways, social media integrations etc. It's common here to think that the whole world reads text or numbers the same way as us, but in reality the world is a very diverse and exciting place. If you are working with a localization partner, they should be able to advise, else there are a great deal of forum posts or websites that can help online.

If you’re making an app or website for example, it’s highly likely you’re using a framework or SDK 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 plugin and get that set up before sending any text away for translation. Other CMSes and development tools usually have convenient ways to approach these technical problems.

Translating your content

It’s time to do the fun bit - translating your content in the language your customers expect. ‘In the language your customers expect’? What does that mean?

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 heavily regional adaptations and dialects. That’s not to say of course 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.

Testing your content

The part that everyone forgets - even large multinational companies - test test 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 and you don’t want your business to be the next Ford whose slogan reads “Every car has a high-quality corpse” in Belgium… do you? You can read up on some tips from big businesses here.

Fortunately most tech translations - websites, games, apps, etc - make it quite 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 and just think about what could happen to your brand if you ignore it!

Go live

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

If you’re already running a successful business in your local market and other markets and customers abroad are already accessing your product or service, then localization should make those existing customers happy. Your strategy has in part paid off already. However, if this is the first time you’re entering that market and have little presence in it, then just like your local market, you’re at the beginning of that marketing mountain you must climb to get sales in that country.

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

Dealing with 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 just 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. This may not be practical or affordable, so instead think about creating some helpful content in the user’s language which can be shared repeatedly: canned responses, FAQs, support docs, etc.

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 are they normally emailing about (remember if you don’t understand the email, you can always get the gist by chucking it into Google Translate - just try and avoid writing your replies through GT!). Make a list then get those replies professionally translated so 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 follow the steps above in some form whether they are conscious of it or not. Sometimes localization, without a localization strategy, can be a bumpy ride. With a 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 localization.

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