Localization Examples: 6 Successes and 2 Failures

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.

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In this article, we’ll examine six examples of successful localization strategies, exploring the approaches these companies used. We’ll also look at two instances where localization strategies didn’t go as planned, highlighting the challenges they faced and providing solutions.

Examples of Localization that Worked

Business growth isn’t limited to just one country. But, stepping into new regions doesn’t automatically lead to success. Successful global companies all have one thing in common: They’ve carefully planned and implemented strategies for internationalization and localization.

In the first part, we are going to look at six international companies – Airbnb, Workday, Playrix, Roblox, Coca-Cola, and Uber – that have effectively overcome cultural and linguistic barriers to connect with global audiences and drive their international growth.

Airbnb: global expansion with 62 languages

Airbnb’s localization example showcases how the company expanded globally by supporting 62 languages. Their localization strategy included collaboration between design and globalization teams, use of machine translation, and creating scalable design systems. Let’s take a closer look at how they achieved this success.

Intensive localization efforts:

While the average global high-tech company supports fewer than 30 languages, Airbnb has made its platform available in 62 different languages to reach users worldwide. Here’s a look at how the number of languages offered expanded over just six years.

Increase in the number of available languages on Airbnb over six years. Lingoport l10n blog

Expanding the number of languages we support is our way of being Superhosts to Airbnb’s wider community.

Salvatore Giammarresi, Head of Localization at Airbnb
Source: Words of Welcome: With 62 supported languages worldwide, Airbnb reaches even more native speakers

Collaboration between design and globalization teams:

The Design and Globalization teams at Airbnb have worked closely together as essential components of the language expansion program. Their collaboration focused on design thinking and implementation, particularly in creating new selectors for languages and currencies. This cooperative effort extended beyond these two teams to include the entire company, involving multiple departments such as the Design Language System, Payments, Policy, and Customer Support.

One of the biggest challenges .. was evolving our support from a language to locale basis, where we take into account the unique offerings of a location—its dialects, spelling, currency, formats, cultural nuances, and more. Designing for one locale is difficult enough, but here, we needed to consider 62 unique locales, designing a scalable design system that supports each one and can continue to support newer locales in the future.

Taido Lantz Nakajima, Principal Experience Designer at Airbnb
Source: Words of Welcome: With 62 supported languages worldwide, Airbnb reaches even more native speakers

How to solve challenges in multilingual design?

Use localization tools that integrate with Figma. This will allow your team of translators to easily collaborate with designers, moving the content automatically to translation and back to design, previewing and adapting designs on-the-go, and speeding up localization.

Strategic use of machine translation:

Airbnb has utilized machine translation for user-generated content, such as reviews, enabling the provision of relevant and localized content to users worldwide. While machine translation is not a perfect solution for every context, it proves incredibly effective for translating high-volume, non-sensitive content. When applied correctly, it can streamline processes and reduce costs without significant quality compromise.

Type of content 
where machine translation can be especially useful. Lingoport blog article

Workday: cultivating globalization mindset among developers

Workday’s localization team, supporting 37 languages, exemplifies a successful localization framework built on a globalization mindset and ongoing collaboration between localization managers, development teams, and QA teams. However, this success did not come overnight; it was preceded by significant effort and dedication. To achieve this, they implemented several key strategies:

Start localization education with those who are most engaged. The Workday localization team began by collaborating with product teams eager to go global. They also engaged with those already using Globalyzer, creating a dedicated Slack channel to build a community. This strategy established a precedent, leveraging this success to motivate other teams.

Starting with the teams that were hungry and really wanted to work with us was a great place to begin because we build kind of, I would say, energy and a shared passion and interest in doing the right thing with those groups

– Loy Searle, Sr Director Localization & Globalization at Workday
Webinar “Building a Globalization Mindset with Development Teams”

Integrate i18n tools that developers love: The use of Globalyzer became a cornerstone of Workday’s localization strategy, enabling teams to effectively integrate internationalization into their workflow. This tool helped identify and resolve i18n issues, simplifying the process for product teams to adapt their offerings for global markets.

globalyzer interface

Create Internationalization resources & trainings: To ensure information is easily accessible and utilized from the start, they established standards and ensured that all new hires, especially engineers, received internationalization training. This approach established a more standardized process for product localization.

Provide constant support: The localization team offered varying levels of support depending on the product’s lifecycle and the team’s familiarity with internationalization practices. For new products, particularly acquisitions, they conducted extensive i18n assessments and prioritized customer-facing UI elements.

Before moving to the next case which is from the game industry, we need to say that localization for games goes beyond simple translation. It focuses on many aspects that you would never see in any other industry like: dialogues, narratives, character names, interactive elements, specific slang, symbols, humor etc. This is a much focused area of localization called culturalization

Playrix: putting culturalization at the core

Playrix is a highly successful gaming company, ranking among the top mobile game publishers alongside Tencent and NetEase, with a revenue of $1.8 billion. It is particularly known for its top-grossing hits in the match-3 category, such as Homescapes, Gardenscapes, and Fishdom. One of the aspects of their success is the ability to create an emotional bond with the player, something Playrix excels at by paying a lot of attention to historical sensitivities, religious beliefs, and ethnic considerations when culturalizing their games.

The Playrix Culturalization team has established a highly successful culturalization process, reflecting in the great success of their games. Here are several tips they shared:

Choose a proactive approach over reactive: Don’t wait for your users to report issues with localization. The Playrix team collaborates closely with developers right from the beginning, designing characters, landscapes, etc.

Developers wanted to add a sort of a cornbowl, we suggested changing it to a grill which is smth more natural for players in that region. And for bigger things our team helped to develop the character who would look like people from that region or somebody they can identify themselves with.

Richard Lloyd Morin, Localization specialist and team lead
Video “The 3 Secrets of Culturalization”

lingoport blog illustrations - Lingoport blog Design in localization by Playrix

Educate developers: Foster an understanding of the importance of culturalization and establish a safe learning environment.

Set up effective communication: Identify contacts at various levels within the company and develop direct communication channels with them, organize internal webinars, and establish a platform (such as Slack) for exchanging opinions and sharing articles.

Make resources easily accessible: Encourage independence by providing flexible tools, guidelines, templates for tasks, a knowledge base etc.

Roblox: breaking language barriers with AI

Roblox is a massively popular social gaming platform that has captivated millions of users from 170 countries, predominantly children and teenagers. 

Roblox Age Distribution pie chart Statistics data as of December 22: 9-12 years 23%, 16-24 years 22%, < 9 years 22%, > 25 years 17%
data sourse

Increasing engagement and providing seamless communication between players who speak different languages are significant yet challenging objectives. To address this, Roblox decided to utilize AI technology.

In February 2024, they introduced their new real-time AI chat translations. This innovation allowed a user chatting in English and another in Korean to interact without noticing the language barrier. Too achieve that Roblox used their custom multilingual model, which supports direct translation across 16 languages.

Roblox example of multilingual interaction between English speaking and Korean users

It’s important to emphasize that Roblox optimize its translation model for speed and efficiency without sacrificing quality. This contrasts with the common approach where user-generated content (UGC) is translated using machine translation (MT), often at the expense of quality. As an initial result, user engagement increased by 6%.

Roblox plans to keep improving the model based on user feedback and new data. They aim to expand the range of languages covered and explore automatic translations in various formats, including voice.

Uber: tailoring UI/UX to global cultures

Effectively adapting the user experience for international audiences involves more than just translations. According to various studies (1, 2, 3), culture significantly influences website usability, impacting how users interact with digital platforms and affecting their satisfaction and performance.

Uber has dedicated significant efforts to its design, tailoring images, color palettes, layouts, and animations to reflect the cultural nuances of each country it serves. 

For instance, in Ireland, the Uber app showcases a color palette inspired by Georgian architecture and the country’s lush greens, aligning with local aesthetics and cultural references.

Uber's design color palette for Ireland
Uber localization example. Chinese interface with red colour used for cars.

In China, where the color red symbolizes luck, the app’s car icons are not the standard black or gray found in other countries but are instead bright red.

Uber’s localization example illustrates how they tailor their UI/UX to reflect cultural nuances of each country, enhancing user experience.

Coca-Cola: the transcreation behind #ShareACoke campaign success

Coca-Cola’s localization strategy example, particularly with the #ShareACoke campaign, demonstrates how transcreation can effectively adapt marketing messages to resonate with different cultures.

Transcreation means changing a message to fit different languages while keeping its original meaning, style, and feelings. It makes sure the content connects well with people from different cultures, going beyond word-for-word translation to add local touches and cultural details.

Following its initial success in Australia, which led to a 4% sales increase, the campaign was introduced in the UK, featuring the most popular names. In Ireland, Coca-Cola included beloved Irish names such as Aoife, Cathal, Gráinne, Áine, and Eimear.

However, Coca Cola had to fully reinvent the campaign for the Indian market. The local research indicated that the concept of ‘relationships’ would resonate better than names. Coca-Cola replaced names with relationship titles like ‘Bhai’, ‘Didi’, ‘Ma’, and ‘Papa’. Each title was paired with a unique descriptor, such as Grandad (Old School, Yet Cool), Grandma (Scolds me, Spoils me), Daddy (My teacher, My friend), and Mom (Above the rest, Simply the best).

Coca Cola Share a Coke campaign in India

To recognizing India’s linguistic diversity, Coca Cola produced labels in 12 languages: English, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Bengali, Malayalam, Oriya, Assamese, Gujarati, Punjabi, and Marathi.

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.

HSBC Bank

In 2009, HSBC Bank initiated a marketing campaign featuring the tagline “Assume Nothing.” Unfortunately, this campaign encountered translation difficulties, resulting in unintended interpretations in several languages. Initially intended to express openness and trust, poor localization efforts mistakenly converted the phrase to “Do Nothing,” significantly distorting the original message.

The bank invested $10 million in a rebranding campaign to rectify the error, adopting the new global tagline “The world’s private bank,” which presented a clearer and more universally appealing message. 

How to avoid it?

Conduct a research: Carry out thorough cultural and linguistic research to ensure your messages resonate correctly across different regions. Consider engaging a local team if targeting a specific market, as Coca-Cola did before entering the Indian market with their #ShareaCoke campaign.

Implement Regular Quality Assurance: Set up comprehensive QA protocols for all localized content, covering linguistic, functional, and cultural checks.

Utilize Localization Technologies: Leverage advanced localization tools and platforms to ensure consistency and enhance efficiency. Utilize products like Localyzer and Localyzer QA, which enable translation and QA review of code strings without involving developers.

Cultivate a Globalization Mindset: Provide ongoing training in cultural competence and localization for your marketing teams to foster a globalization mindset throughout the company, similar to the strategies implemented by Playrix and Workday.

Nintendo

In 2016, Nintendo launched Pokémon Sun and Moon with a single Chinese localization strategy aimed at the markets in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. This decision, meant to streamline costs and marketing, led to significant negative reactions, particularly from fans in Hong Kong who were unhappy with the new character names and changes to the localized content they were familiar with.

Why did it happen?
  • Nintendo aimed to streamline marketing and cut costs by using the same localization for China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.
  • the unique cultural identities of these regions meant that Pokémon fans in each area had formed distinct connections with the franchise.
  • the language variations weren’t fully considered. Even though all three regions speak Chinese, there are significant differences in dialect and writing.
How to avoid it?
  • Understand and respect the distinct markets: Recognize the cultural, linguistic, and business differences among the regions.
  • Tailor localization to the audience: Use the specific language and slang of the target audience to ensure better engagement.
  • Manage translation glossaries early: Establish and maintain consistent terminology from the beginning to avoid confusion and backlash.
  • Resolve translation issues quickly: Take complaints seriously and address them promptly to avoid escalations and negative publicity.

Conclusion

These examples illustrate that understanding and respecting local nuances are crucial for effective global expansion. Based on the unique needs of their customers, companies have chosen different localization strategies. Companies like Airbnb, Uber, and Coca-Cola achieved success by supporting multiple languages, tailoring their designs to local cultures, and using transcreation to adapt marketing messages. Workday’s focus on internal training, Playrix’s culturalization efforts, and Roblox’s use of AI.

What unites these successful companies is their recognition of the importance of localization and their thorough planning. In contrast, failures like those of HSBC and Nintendo underscore the risks of insufficient cultural research and one-size-fits-all strategies.

Sometimes you might not have enough resources or expertise to develop and establish a successful localization process. We can help. 

For more than 20 years, Lingoport has been providing a wide range of globalization, localization, and internationalization services that can support you whether you are developing or already implementing a localization strategy. Our services, together with Globalyzer and Localyzer, have helped companies like Upwork, Workday, Snap, and others achieve international success.

Contact us today!

Author

Picture of Kate Vostokova
Kate Vostokova
Kate is a seasoned B2B content marketing manager with a five-year journey in the localization industry. She is passionate about crafting various types of content to educate people about internationalization (i18n), localization, and the latest technological advances, including Large Language Models (LLMs).
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