Reaching customers all over the world is within the grasp of most any business thanks to the internet. That’s an amazing opportunity, but it isn’t as simple as making a website or releasing an app. Meeting your customers and users where they are and earning their business means developing with native languages in mind. To do that, companies need a localization strategy so customers can easily understand and use their product. A successful localization strategy can make the difference between a product or service that struggles and one that’s a solid success.
What is a localization strategy?
Companies planning on having a presence in multiple countries, or working with customers across multiple languages, need a localization strategy — a plan for adapting content for user’s languages and cultures. The strategy includes how to manage the changes in content and user experience, like copy in support documents and manuals, text in interface elements such as menus and alert dialogs, images, and overall message.
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.
Localization is also known as l10n, which is a mix of the first and last letters in the word with “10” representing the number of letters between the two.
Why is a Localization Strategy Important for Your Business?
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.
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 doesn’t break your app or website. It also sets up business to succeed in other ways:
- Customer and Brand Loyalty: Giving users interfaces and content in their native language, and also adapting to their local culture, creates a more friendly experience. It also sends the message that the company cares, in turn 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.
- Convert to Sales: Loyal and happy customers generate more sales. Giving them an experience where they don’t feel second class makes it easier to nudge potential customers into paying users.
- Easier to 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. Instead of sifting through code and documents to find everything that needs to change for language, context, and culture, localization for the elements that need to be adapted. The process saves time and money, letting companies move into new markets quicker and more efficiently.
- 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, and supporting local currencies saves them from trying to convert from dollars, for example, and potentially getting the math wrong.
Localization vs. Translation: What’s the Difference?
Localization isn’t as simple as letting a computer translate English into another language. It includes converting text from one language to another, but also involves recognizing the locale by accurately adapting elements like sentence structure, grammar and punctuation, spelling, address and number formatting, appropriate graphics, and conforming to culturally acceptable norms.
Even English benefits from localization when content is available in different countries. The statement, “I used a flashlight to see the color of the sign in the elevator when the lights went out,” for example, makes sense and is natural in the US. In the UK, “I used a torch to see the colour of the sign in the lift when the lights went out” is more natural because it uses appropriate spelling and terminology.
Translation, on the other hand, is the process of converting from one language to another. It’s part of localization, but isn’t synonymous.
When Should You Create Your 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, for example.
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. Along with helping ensure customers in other countries can understand and use your product or service, the strategy helps build a plan for entering a market and gauging success.
Conduct Market Research
Focus groups and surveys are useful for market research, as is tracking the countries and regions where people visit your website, but they aren’t the only options. Watching local social media platforms and online forums can reveal how people interact with brands, show brand and product preferences, identify pain points for potential users along with problems in competing products. This is also useful for seeing which social media platforms are most useful in specific markets.
Working with local culture-related consultants is useful, too. Quality consultants are intimately familiar with the local culture and can provide insights into the market that isn’t possible through other research methods.
Knowing what needs to be included in localization saves you from missing something that becomes a problem later in the process. That includes things like code updates and changes to accomodate 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, in print, video, and audio. Look at which markets your company is ready to move into now, and which are being considered for later growth.
Set Goals and Determine Priorities
A solid localization strategy needs goals and priorities to keep everyone involved on task. That includes tasks such as setting a time table 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 time tables may change, however, based on market research.
Localized 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, favorite local pastimes, social activities, religion, economic status, and more all play a role. Knowing which social media platforms are popular is important for reaching users and potential customers, as well. Facebook and Twitter, for example, are heavily used platforms in the United States. But in China, it’s WeChat and Weibo.
Cultural Norms: Awareness and understanding of cultural norms help show how and why customers make the decision 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 sales 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 adapted 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.
Purchasing Patterns: 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, too. They may restrict how a product is presented, what claims can be made, and even the types of imagery used.
Failing to honor government-mandated restrictions and requirements can lead to costly fines and time consuming legal battles.
Identify Localization Opportunities
Once all of the market and regulatory 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 colors used in software and marketing materials, help and support documentation, social media and other communication channels, currencies, shipping methods, and products offered.
Develop Process Clusters
Efficiency helps the l10n processes progress faster. Look for steps that can be combined, like converting logos and colors for marketing materials and the website. It’s likely they’re the same, so they don’t need to be modified twice.
Choose Localization Products
Localization doesn’t need to be manual processes. In fact, it’s 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 makes 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, spellings, 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. Developers, for example, can focus on implementing new software features while the localization platform handles the changes for each language and culture.
Confirm Your Marketing Channels
Thorough and well conducted market research should make it clear which channels should be targeted. A website tailored for the local market is a fairly obvious choice for most companies.
Businesses also need to select the other channels that will be most effective. That may include some mix of television, radio, and print advertising. Social media platforms may be appropriate, too. 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 even get product support.
Prepare Your 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 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. For many companies, keeping a handle on how those changes impact software or websites include tools to automate the tracking and testing process. That helps prevent launch delays, bugs and broken interface elements, and leaving users in different locales feeling like second-class customers.
Continuous Systems: Working in 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 shipping. 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 that work within the developer’s IDE can check for issues before code is submitted. That streamlines the development process even more since fewer problems will make it all the way 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.
Test, Measure, and Refine
Localization is an ongoing process. When content changes, or software get new features, it’s time for localization updates. Making sure that’s happening as it should, and that your efforts are effective, requires testing, measuring, and refining.
- Testing: Involves making sure elements impacted by localization changes function and appear as expected. This is another area where a localization platform is valuable. It can automatically check for issues like text that breaks out of menu items and alert dialogs, for example, before updates roll out to the public.
- Measuring: Measuring 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, marketshare, and sales.
- Refining: The data you collect is critical for determining what’s working in your localization strategy, and what can be improved. Your localization needs may change as your company expands into more markets, too. Use that information to refine your l10n process so it’s more effective and efficient.
Localization Strategy Tips and Best Practices
Developing an effective localization strategy for your company takes some planning and refining. Here are some tips to help make that strategy more effective.
Think Globally, Speak Locally
Serving markets around the world means planning strategies that support having a presence and brand in multiple countries. How that brand is presented, however, needs to adapt for each locale. Culture and language matter. Treating customers like first-class members in your business builds loyalty and trust.
Make Data Driven Decisions
Use the data you collect to make intelligent decisions. Knowing what to change and what’s working comes from data and knowing how to interpret it. That’s the path to increased sales, more customers, and growth into new markets.
Be Aware of Cultural Sensitivities
Don’t make the mistake of pushing into new markets without identifying and respecting cultural sensitivities. Offending or confusing potential customers can be hard to recover from.
Make a Localization and Brand Guide
Your company’s brand needs to be consistent. Building a guide that details logo, color, typeface, and other brand-specific elements is key for consistent brand representation.
The brand guide should include localization guides, as well. Logo, color, typeface, graphic, and other market-specific changes are part of the localization guide. It can also note cultural guidelines, and what to avoid including in content and messaging.
Make a Localization Team
It’s easy for a localization strategy to get left behind without a team to support it. This 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.
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 localization process, increases the odds of getting a strong foothold in new markets.