The internet has made it possible for businesses of all sizes to reach customers worldwide. While this presents amazing opportunities, it’s important to recognize that simply having a localized website or releasing an app isn’t enough. To truly connect and engage with global customers, providing them with content in their language is crucial. This means developing content with languages in mind.
To do that, companies need a well-planned localization strategy so customers can easily understand and engage with your products or services. The success or failure of a product or service often hinges on the effectiveness of a localization strategy.
In this article, we’ll discuss all things related to a localization strategy.
What Is a Localization Strategy?
Companies that plan to have a presence in more than one country or work with customers across multiple languages need a localized strategy — a plan for adapting content for users’ languages and cultures. A localized strategy includes how to prepare content, release it, and manage changes in content and user experience. Content includes things such as copy in support documents and manuals; social media messages; website copy; and text in interface elements such as menus and alert dialogs, images, and overall messaging.
Defining the elements that need to change depending on the target language and culture, and then efficiently implementing them, is an ongoing process. Companies need to include localization in the initial app or website development phase as well as during new feature releases and updates.
Translation vs. Localization: What’s the Difference?
Translation and localization may be used interchangeably, but they aren’t the same thing:
- Translation is the process of converting words from one language to another. While translation is a part of localization, they aren’t synonymous.
- Localization includes taking culture and regional norms into account. It involves converting text from one language to another, as well as recognizing the locale by accurately adapting elements like sentence structure, grammar, punctuation, spelling, address and number formatting, appropriate graphics, and conforming to culturally acceptable norms. Localization is also known as l10n, which is a combination of the first and last letters of the word “localization” and “10” represents the number of letters between the two.
Even the English language needs to be localized when content is available in different countries. For example, the statement, “I used a flashlight to see the colour of the sign in the elevator when the lights went out,” is what people would say in the US. However, the localized version in the UK would be, “I used a torch to see the colour of the sign in the lift when the lights went out.” This is an example of how English varies in different countries.
Why Is a Localization Strategy Important for Your Business?
A localization strategy is essential to grow your business. Here are some of the many reasons why a localization strategy sets up a business to succeed.
#1 Gain a Competitive Edge
Businesses are always looking for a competitive edge. Creating processes that ensure on-time release cycles, safely manage customer data, and effectively manage company assets are important, but they don’t address the needs of customers who speak other languages and live in different cultures.
#2 Get Accessibility to a Larger Customer Base
Developing a localization strategy—and sticking with it—makes your product or website accessible to a much larger customer base. A well-planned strategy also ensures that changes in code and other content won’t break your app or website.
#3 Build Customer and Brand Loyalty
Giving users interfaces and content in their native language and adapting to their local culture creates a friendlier experience. It also sends the message that the company cares, building trust and loyalty in the company and the brand. Loyal customers are also more likely to recommend your software or service to colleagues and friends.
#4 Convert Customers to Sales
Loyal and happy customers generate more sales. Giving them an exceptional experience makes it easier to nudge potential customers into paying customers.
#5 Enter New Markets
Expanding into new markets is much easier when a system is already in place to adapt software, websites, and other resources to the locale. An automated system that finds elements to adapt to language, context, and culture is much more efficient than sifting through code and documents to find everything that is needed. The process saves time and money, letting companies move into new markets quicker and more efficiently.
#6 Give Users Something Easier to Use
Creating obstacles for users leads to frustration and increases the likelihood they’ll find another company that meets their needs. Presenting information and interfaces in the local language makes it easier for users and potential customers to understand how to use apps and navigate websites. For example, supporting local currencies saves them from trying to convert from dollars and potentially getting the math wrong.
When Should You Create a Localization Strategy?
The best time to develop your localization strategy is before moving into a new market. Messaging needs to fit the culture to avoid offending or confusing users, and the local language may require different interface designs for software and websites.
Creating that strategy early saves companies from having to change code they’ve already written to accommodate localization. It also makes it easier to localize for additional countries as their market grows.
The market will make it clear it’s time to start working on a localization strategy. That can come in the form of demand for your company’s service or product outside of its current market or competitors already moving into a new market.
10-Step Guide to Developing a Localization Strategy
A localization strategy involves several elements. A strategy builds a plan for entering a market, helping ensure customers in other countries can understand and use your product or service, and gauging success. Read on about our 10-step process for developing a localization strategy
Step #1 Conduct Market Research
To get started, conduct market research using focus groups, surveys, and tracking the countries and regions where people visit your website through tools like Google Search Console. In addition, social media listening can be a wealth of information. It involves watching local social media platforms and online forums to see how people interact with brands, show brand and product preferences, identify pain points for potential users, and learn about problems with competing products or services. Social media listening is helpful to see which social media platforms are the most used in specific markets.
Working with a translation vendor or local culture-related consultants is also beneficial. These groups are intimately familiar with the local culture and can provide insights into the market that aren’t possible through other research methods.
Step #2 Conduct Local Market Research
Learning what matters and why in a local culture can have a big impact on sales and a company’s overall success. Businesses need to understand and include these aspects in their localization strategy. Popular sports, favourite local pastimes, social activities, religion, economic status, and more all play a role. For example, while football is a very popular sport in the US, “football” is the US version of soccer in most of the world and is a major sport. Knowing these types of local cultures can help you adapt content as needed.
In addition, knowing which social media platforms are popular is important for reaching users and potential customers. Facebook and Twitter, for example, are heavily used platforms in the United States. However, in China, it’s WeChat and Douyin.
When conducting local market research, look for cultural norms, purchasing patterns, and local laws and regulations.
Awareness and understanding of cultural norms help show how and why customers decide to buy. Adapting content to align with the culture increases the chances of being successful and reduces the risk of embarrassing cultural mistakes.
KFC’s problems in Israel are an unfortunate example of failing to adapt to the culture. When the popular US fried chicken chain opened restaurants in the country, its chicken batter included milk. Cooking meat and dairy together violates kosher regulations, which made their primary food offering off-limits for the Jewish community.
In contrast, Starbucks adapts its messaging and products for each market. In areas where coffee isn’t as popular, the company promotes its tea drinks. It also offers foods that cater to the local culture. The company even removed the text from its logo so it doesn’t need to be translated into different languages. By adapting its messaging and menu to fit each market, the company has replicated its success in countries around the world.
Understanding what customers buy, as well as how and when, makes it much easier to change marketing materials and other content to increase the likelihood of sales.
Local Laws and Regulations
Laws and regulations governing how — and which — products and services are sold vary from country to country. Understanding both has an impact on how your company moves into a new market.
Marketing is impacted by local laws and regulations. They may restrict how a product is presented, what claims can be made, and even the types of imagery used. Your marketing localization strategy needs to include regulatory requirements.
Failing to honour government-mandated restrictions and requirements can lead to costly fines and time-consuming legal battles.
Step #3 Conduct an Internal Review
Knowing what needs to be localized up-front prevents you from missing something that becomes a problem later in the process. The best way to do this is to conduct an internal review to include the types of things that may need to change as well as the types of customer-facing content you produce.
Some of the types of things that may need to change include code updates and changes to accommodate localization, websites, text, and other copy in support and marketing documents, payment systems, and currency conversions. The review should also consider where content is impacted beyond localization software and websites. Affected content can also be on social media, print, video, and audio.
Step #4 Set Goals and Determine Priorities
A solid localization strategy needs goals and priorities to keep everyone involved on task. That includes creating a timeline with deadlines for completing market research, identifying candidates for l10n automation platforms, and launching in a new market.
Choosing which markets to target for expansion is important, too. Market choices and launch timelines may change based on market research. Look at which markets your company is ready to move into now and those you may consider in the future.
Step #5 Identify and Prioritize Localization Opportunities
Once all of the market and local research is done, it’s time to identify what needs to be included in the localization plan. Along with language translation, that can include user interface changes, graphics and colours used in software and marketing materials, help and support documentation, social media and other communication channels, currencies, shipping methods, and products offered.
Once you’ve identified localization opportunities, prioritize them by regulatory requirements, user experience, sales, etc. Not everything needs to be done at once, so prioritize the most important things.
Step #6 Develop Process Clusters
Being efficient will help you move the l10n process faster. Look for items that can be combined, like converting logos and establishing standard colours for marketing materials and the website. Company information such as customer support, terminology, and cautions and warnings are other things to consider.
As you make decisions, you can create a translation style guide, which is a set of rules for how to present your brand in other languages and locales. It may contain things like company information, tone of voice, formatting instructions, colour definitions, logos, and more. A style guide should be part of your marketing localization strategy and will help you internally initially and your language service provider when it’s time for translation.
Step #7 Choose a Localization Management System
Localization is much more effective when partnering with companies that specialize in l10n and internationalization processes. Internationalization, or i18n, prepares software code for localization. It involves identifying the elements in code and user interfaces that need to change for different languages and cultures and making them essentially modular so they’re more easily adaptable in each market.
Companies also need translation specialists who can convert one language to another while also taking into account important locale elements like dialect, spelling, sentence structure, and context.
Quality platforms automate finding and updating elements that require localization, manage the process of sending content to your professional translation partner, and then incorporate the translations back into your product.
Using a localization platform reduces the workload on teams that otherwise would have to find time to implement changes for each market. For example, developers can focus on implementing new software features while the localization platform handles the changes for each language and culture.
Step #8 Confirm Your Marketing Channels
Thorough and well-conducted market research should make it clear which marketing channels to target. A website tailored to the local market is a must. Social media platforms are also appropriate for most businesses. Depending on the product and market, social media is important for brand visibility. It’s also a common way for customers to interact with companies and get product support. In addition, some businesses may include a mix of television, radio, and print advertising.
Step #9 Prepare Software for Localization
Internationalization builds the foundation for software and website localization. Setting up your software so language and cultural changes can be automated when updates and new features roll out makes localization practical, and it cuts down on the time spent making sure apps and websites function correctly for all users, regardless of where they live or the language they speak.
The i18n process is complex because so many elements need to be included. Without a well-thought-out process, it’s impractical to stay on top of those as updates and new features roll out. Many companies manage changes that impact software or websites via tools that automate the tracking and testing process. Automated tools help prevent launch delays, bugs broken interface elements, and customers in different locales with a bad user experience.
A continuous monitoring system automatically scans for i18n issues. Developers are alerted to any problems found so they can be addressed before releasing updates to users. Code can be monitored for locale-related issues, problems with embedded and concatenated strings, static file reference issues, and general pattern problems. That takes the onus off developers to manually check for—and potentially miss—localization-related bugs before releasing updates. An i18n and l10n continuous workflow helps keep your localization up to speed with the rest of your development cycle.
Internationalization from the IDE
Automatically reviewing code as it’s submitted to the source repository isn’t the only place i18n and l10n screening can happen. Internationalization and localization tools within the developer’s IDE can check for issues before the code is submitted. Developers can run automated i18n measures in commits and pull request reports to check for i18n issues. This streamlines the development process even more since fewer problems will make it to the repository.
Internationalization and localization go hand in hand, so partnering with one company for both is a smart plan. Well-integrated i18n and l10n platforms lay the groundwork for an effective localization workflow.
Step #10 Test, Measure, and Refine
Localization is an ongoing process. When content changes or software has new features, then you need to update the localized content. To ensure that updates are happening they should require testing, measuring, and refining.
Testing involves making sure elements impacted by localization change function and appear as expected. This is another area where an automated localization platform is valuable. For example, it can automatically check for issues like text that breaks out of menu items and alert dialogues before updates are released.
Measuring results helps determine if your localization strategy is effective. Key indicators can include social media engagement, website page views, decreasing customer support requests, support article views, market share, and sales.
The data you collect is critical for determining what’s working in your localization strategy and what can be improved. In addition, your localization needs may change as your company expands into more markets. Use that information to refine your l10n process so it’s more effective and efficient.
Localization Tools and Platforms
Many tools and platforms are available to help the localization process be more efficient. Consider the following tools and platforms.
Continuous Localization for Software
Software development processes create their own special needs for localization processing. Changes to user elements needing translation typically come in smaller loads, measured in words, with a frequent cadence given release schedules. Files containing user interface string resources need to be checked for changes and those changes then need to be processed for translation. There are different file types for various programming languages, issues of strings sometimes stored in databases, and irregularities within file formatting that happen with some file types and the nature of independent team thinking. Localization CI/CD systems can automate these U/I change detection, verify files for formatting and localization processing correctness, and synchronize the flow of files being sent and received for translation in multiple target languages. Such a system should have simple onboarding of repositories, automatic file detection and a simple dashboard to drill down and manage the translation status for each repository in question. The system should connect the repositories to multiple translation management systems, machine translation options, localization vendors and more, to give future flexibility to the localization supplier tools and vendors of the future, without disrupting the ongoing software development process.
Translation Management System
A translation management system (TMS) is a software tool or platform designed to manage content that’s translated from one language to another. Many businesses use a TMS to manage all kinds of multilingual content, such as websites, technical content, marketing materials, and training. A TMS stores content automates workflows, incorporates translation tools, and generates reports. Note that a client-managed TMS is not a requirement. TMS support can be provided by a translation vendor as an alternative.
Translation Tools: Translation Memory and Terminology Database
Translation tools such as a translation memory and terminology database have numerous benefits for translation. A translation memory stores all the native and target language content so it can be reused in future projects. A terminology database is a repository of key business, product, service, and industry content along with the translated versions of that content. Once the terms are established, they’re stored in the translation memory for reuse in the future.
Software and App Internalization Tools
For businesses with software or apps, internationalization tools (like Globalyzer) are essential for adapting the software to other languages and locales. Internationalization tools have capabilities such as separating locale and language-dependent components from the core code to support the needs of global audiences with more flexibility and ease. These tools can perform pseudo-localization and static analysis, address localization file issues, and assist with in-country reviews, resulting in error-free software targeting global audiences.
Localization Strategy in Different Industries
In addition to common localized assets such as a website, each industry has unique localization needs. As such, every localization strategy should be tailored to a specific business and industry. Below are three examples illustrating the unique needs across various industries.
In e-commerce, providing customers with a customized, local experience is key. It means knowing what products to prioritize, where they should be displayed, providing customers support, and making the purchasing process seamless. Important requirements include a targeted multilingual website, product and content adaptation, currency and payment options, shipping information, customer support in the audiences’ time zones, and data protection.
In the technology industry, and for any business with software or apps, localization is essential to make the technology accessible, customized for each locale, and user-friendly globally. Take localization into account as development is occurring in order to find and fix any problems. In addition to software and apps, localize any content associated with them, such as the help system, documentation, and customer support.
Localization in the entertainment industry involves a deep understanding of each target market’s cultural nuances, preferences, and legal requirements. A localization strategy for movies, games, and other media should include subtitles, dubbing, correct cultural references and humour, character and location names, a good user interface and navigation system, community support, and more. You must understand the local licensing and distribution requirements for each target market.
Measuring Success in a Localization Strategy
To measure the success of a localization strategy, you can put some key performance indicators (KPIs) in place. Tracking the impact of a localization strategy on your business goals will give you a foundation to improve and change as needed. Some of the KPIs you can track include:
- Market share growth
- Customer satisfaction
- Customer service feedback
- Quality checks
- Website metrics
- Time to market
- Compliance metrics
- Return on investment
Each industry and business will have KPIs that are more important than others. For example, the number of returns for global customers will be very important for e-commerce businesses. Software companies may have time to market and social media responses as top choices.
5 Localization Strategy Tips and Best Practices
Developing an effective localization strategy for your company takes some planning and refining. Here are five tips to help make that strategy more effective.
#1 Think Globally, Speak Locally
Serving markets around the world means planning strategies that support having a presence and brand in multiple countries. However, how the brand is presented needs to adapt for each locale. Culture and language matter. Treating customers like first-class members of your business builds loyalty and trust.
#2 Make Data-Driven Decisions
Use the data you collect to make intelligent decisions. Understanding what’s working and what to change comes from data and knowing how to interpret it. Making data-driven decisions leads to increased sales, more customers, and growth in new markets.
#3 Be Aware of Cultural Sensitivities
Ensure a successful entry into new markets by proactively identifying and embracing cultural sensitivities. By respecting and understanding different cultures, you can forge strong connections with potential customers, fostering trust and long-lasting relationships.
#4 Create a Style Guide
Your company’s brand needs to be consistent in any language. Creating a guide that describes company information such as logos, colour, typefaces, and other brand-specific elements is key for consistent brand representation.
In addition, create a translation style guide for other languages, such as market-specific changes. cultural guidelines, and what to avoid including in content and messaging.
#5 Establish a Localization Team
It’s easy for a localization strategy to get left behind without a team to support it. The localization team should include people responsible for managing the overall strategy, translation experts, developers, designers, and QA specialists to review and test translations and other localization elements.
To learn more about localization strategies, we recommend reading these articles:
- Out of the Flat Black Box: Mobile Apps Localization Strategy
- 9 Best Practices for Internationalization
- What is Continuous Localization?
- Why Starbucks Succeeded In China: A Lesson For All Retailers
Expanding into new markets has the potential to increase customers, sales, and revenue. Successfully making that move involves planning, and an important part of that is crafting a localization strategy. Global companies that most effectively do that act like local businesses by adapting to the language and culture so customers feel seen and respected.
Taking the time to develop a localization strategy with quality market research, plus a platform to help automate the internationalization process, increases the odds of getting a strong foothold in new markets.