The potential for business growth extends far beyond the borders of any single country. Simply moving into new regions, however, isn’t a guarantee for success. Companies that have successfully globalized their brands share something in common: Well planned and executed internationalization and localization strategies.
Internationalization, or i18n, is the process of designing software and websites so they’re ready for localization. i18n lays the foundation so companies can use automation to help streamline the localization process.
Localization, or l10n, includes translating text and other content for a specific locale. That can include graphics, colors, logos, currencies, number formats, culture-appropriate content, and anything else that gives local users a native-feeling experience.
Consumers: Examples of Localization that Worked
Embracing the global economy has worked out well for many companies. Adapting their products, messaging and brands to fit the local culture plays a part in that success. ASOS, Netflix, and KFC are all examples of localization playing into a winning consumer strategy.
ASOS is a UK-based online retailer known around the world for its fashion-focused clothing lines. More than half the company’s business comes from international sales, thanks in part to its strong localization efforts. That includes ensuring their website is translated into the correct language for the countries where they sell, prices are in local currencies, and locale-appropriate products are displayed on the website. Ensuring customers get a native experience regardless of where they live helps drive ASOS’s success.
While entertainment is universal, audience interests vary between countries, regions, and cultures. The streaming video service Netflix embraced that idea by going beyond offering its service in local languages. The company also suggests series and movies based on the locale, and offers dubbing and subtitles for each region’s languages. That lets Netflix cater to local audiences and ensure they have a friendly and native experience.
KFC in China
KFC’s fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and biscuits are distinctly American, as is the drive to sell high volumes every day. In China, KFC took a different approach by embracing the local culture. Restaurants have substantially more square space than their US counterparts, the menu is much more diverse with local items, and recipe changes that cater to local tastes. Without extensive cultural research, KFC’s success in China likely wouldn’t have happened.
Businesses: Localization Examples that Were a Success
The B2B market reaches around the world, too. Understanding what businesses as customers need in different regions is as important as meeting the needs of consumers. Amazon, Oracle, and IBM have each found ways to successfully leverage l10n for the B2B space.
Amazon was already a case study in successfully adopting localization strategies for consumer online sales when its business division launched. In addition to localizing its own business services, the retailer developed resources for its new division that show companies regionally-focused information on selling to other businesses, and steps on selling through Amazon. The company created a double win for itself by giving businesses a native online portal, and by leveraging its own success offering resources to help B2B companies sell online.
Instead of simply offering a translated website for its business customers, Oracle chose to embrace more of their needs. Along with its products and services tailored by region, Oracle’s site shows relevant local news articles, research documents, and case studies. In essence, the company turned its business sales website into a local resource portal for its business customers—something it couldn’t have done without first learning what matters to its customers wherever they may be.
IBM sells its products globally without taking a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, the technology giant caters to each country it serves with a web experience in the customer’s native language, and by displaying only the products available in that area. That’s critical for business customers who don’t want to wade through workstations,server models, and services that aren’t an option where they live. Software customers purchase is localized, as well. The overall experience helps customers feel confident they’re buying hardware, software, and services that are native, which makes it easier to run their own businesses.
Examples of Localization Strategies that Failed
Big brands don’t always find success when they expand into new markets. One key i18n and l10n element in successfully competing in new markets is understanding the local culture, which includes knowing what consumers are interested in buying, as well as why. Starbucks and Home Depot both failed to do that when they tried moving into certain markets.
Starbucks in Australia
There’s a Starbucks on practically every corner, but not in Australia. Even though the country was already enjoying coffee and coffee shops, locals didn’t flock to the stores as they did in other countries. The fatal mistake the coffee seller made was failing to adapt to local tastes and interests. Their drinks were too sweet, and stores didn’t offer the kinds of food available in other coffee shops. After eight years in the country, Starbucks closed most of its stores, and hasn’t been able to recover.
Where KFC succeeded in China, Home Depot failed for the same reason: research. The DIY supplies retailer lasted only six years in the country because it didn’t adapt to the culture and advertised its products for the home improvement market, which is just a fraction of its US counterpart. In the end, Home Depot couldn’t get a foothold in the country because it didn’t look to see that there wasn’t a large enough market for it to serve.
What to Consider when Localizing
Translation into other languages is an important part in the localization process, but it isn’t the only element to consider.
- Research Before localizing software or websites, companies need to know if the markets they’re considering have the potential for success. If so, they need to understand local culture to avoid offending customers with potentially brand-tarnishing content and products. Research also reveals cultural norms, like China’s lack of interest in DIY.
- Resources Localization doesn’t end with the release of a software product or the launch of a website. Software and website updates need to be localized to avoid broken features, content that isn’t readable, and creating the impression that non-English speaking customers are second class users. Coder and translation teams need funding and time to ensure localization doesn’t fall behind in development cycles.
- Tools Localization needs to be part of the development cycle, and not an afterthought. Giving developers the tools they need to confirm their code supports internationalization and localization that fits into their existing workflow and IDE. Makes it easier to ensure proper support, and is much more affordable than fixing potential bugs later.
Being a localization success story involves market and cultural research, adaptability, offering customers a native experience, and giving developers and translators the tools they need to bring the pieces together in software and websites. Companies like ASOS, Netflix, and Amazon have shown that putting the resources into creating a first class localized experience for all of their customers is worth the investment, and gives them an edge that’s hard for competitors to match.