Evangelizing localization

You might be running an entire localization team, or you might be a one-man show and the company’s only point of contact for all localization-related operations. Your basic setup is most likely already there — you have a localization kit with a comprehensive set of instructions, guidelines and resources necessary for you to run the shop. You are working with a localization vendor. You might have even selected more than one. Maybe you are already running your operations smoothly, and are looking into optimizing and streamlining some of what you do.

No matter how advanced you are operationally, at some point you will need to start thinking about the business side of your shop. In a startup setting, starting early will give you the unique opportunity to shape the way localization — your department’s job — is perceived by the rest of the company in the many years to come. And since you’re dipping your toes into an industry that people tend to oversimplify and usually have plenty of misconceptions about, you’re facing quite a challenge here.

Align with company objectives

One of the common misconceptions people outside our industry have is that the localization department, and any kind of localization work being done within the company, is just a cost center — it provides services to other departments, but it doesn’t really generate any revenue for the business on its own. A cost center is less accountable for the company’s profitability and investment decisions, but what it means is that you might be sidelined and not perceived as an important stakeholder. It creates the expectation that your primary job, apart from rendering content into other languages, is to drive costs down. And while cost reduction is always something worth looking into, no matter which department you work for, ask yourself: should the company’s globalization strategy be primarily run by the need to save money? Or should localization rather be perceived as a worthy investment?

Even though localization is something that needs to be done for a company to achieve global expansion, at first glance, it doesn’t necessarily bring any noticeable benefits. Think of paying taxes — that’s also something that needs to be done, but what are you getting in exchange for your taxes? Not much when you first think about it, but the same way your tax payments help run the country’s infrastructure, localization helps with setting up and developing your company’s infrastructure, just outside of its core market.

Localization is an enabler. Sure, you won’t sell more product with localization alone, since a lot of effort is needed from the product, marketing and sales teams. But without localization, there is really no way for your product to go global. And if it’s done properly, it will make everyone else’s job much easier.

Now, here’s a challenge: how do you make your company, and especially the people above you, acknowledge the ROI of localization? In order to do that, you will need to make sure that whatever you and your team do is entirely aligned with the company’s corporate business objectives. And once aligned, it needs to be measured properly.

We tend to get so absorbed with measuring and producing data, we sometimes completely lose sight of what really matters and what doesn’t. Think about measuring localization effectiveness: is that how many words you translate in a month, quarter or a year? Or how many collateral assets you are able to deliver to the in-country marketing team? How many languages you released the product in over the past year? Does it really make a difference?

Let’s say the product is now available in over 30 languages. Sure, that’s great, but what does this mean exactly? How does it specifically benefit the entire organization? Being accessible in so many regions doesn’t mean a lot to your company unless you can showcase the increase in sales in those markets. If localization efforts helped with opening up markets that the company could not access in the past and, therefore, enabled generation of additional significant revenue, that’s a huge win. And that’s a very important point to make.

This is why your focus needs to shift from using standard industry metrics for measuring efficiency to opening other people’s eyes as to how much localization helped the company achieve its business objectives, whatever they might be.

Going into more detail: producing products, documentation or collateral assets in foreign languages usually helps the company sell globally, which in turn can generate a significant increase in revenue. This is one of the most common business objectives, but there are others: increasing the level of market penetration, improving user experience (UX) and client satisfaction, creating a stronger customer relationship with the brand or raising the share price. Localization can certainly play a strategic role in achieving all of those, so it’s up to people driving those efforts to emphasize their value to the company. And the best way to do that is to provide hard, quantifiable data: numbers, analyses, graphs and tables that all prove your point. Hard data is objective evidence of how well the department is performing and the best way to get the point across.

Once this is clear to the stakeholders, it will be much easier for you to become involved in the decision-making process itself. One of the strategic decisions to make is selecting new markets — and languages! — for the brand’s global expansion. This sounds like something the localization team should be involved in: as a team that deals specifically with languages, cultures and translation, it is uniquely equipped to advise within this area. Imagine that the company is targeting Mexico as its primary market, but also wants to have the content available to the rest of the Latin American users. Some people in your company might not be aware of the fact that Mexican Spanish is actually different than the Spanish used by the rest of South America, which leaves companies expanding into LatAm with three options:

1. Localize content into Mexican Spanish, but potentially risk alienating other Latin American Spanish users, who will notice right away that the Spanish flavor is different than their local one, and might feel as if the brand does not value them enough as customers.

2. Localize into the Latin American version of Spanish, es-419. So, Mexico will not be specifically targeted, but the content will sound fluent in the entirety of Latin America, and should resonate well in Mexico too.

3. Do both, which would be the ideal scenario, but could be twice as expensive.

Your company might even look into ways to achieve the best solution in a more cost-effective way; for example, look into reusing content translated into one Spanish locale and editing it for the other. This entire conversation might not come up, however, unless the localization department is involved.

Advertise yourself!

Localization evangelization has been a buzz phrase in the industry for the last few years, but in reality, it probably doesn’t get practiced often enough.

Once you are aware of how beneficial localization efforts are to the company — remember, using hard numbers will help you make your case — you need to start promoting them outside your department. Your goal is to create awareness of, firstly, how important localization is and, secondly, how it fits into the company landscape and how your team can interact with other departments. Unfortunately, it often requires putting in some additional hours early on. Very early. Actually, you’re likely already late to the game.

You’ll probably want to consider evangelizing in two directions: horizontally across departments, and vertically, by pitching upward to the executive team.

For the execs, make sure you document all of your successes. Use the figures you have developed while assessing how your team is aligned with the company’s business objectives, but also throw in some powerful numbers from industry research. The most commonly used argument is the “Can’t Read Won’t Buy” argument, based on research carried out by Common Sense Advisory (CSA Research). The data says that 87% of consumers who can’t read English don’t buy products or services on English websites. So, only just over one out of ten people outside the US will potentially buy a product available only in English. Localization opens up the product to the other nine people, and that’s a 900% increase. Not bad for an investment that small.

Executive buy-in is critical, but spreading the word across other departments is just as important. You need to understand where the other departments are coming from, and at the same time communicate your message to them in a way they can understand, and that they find valuable and interesting.

You might want to put together a monthly or quarterly newsletter and then use a subscription model to see who might be interested in reading it. Maybe there is another office you could join forces with. It might also make sense to host an event about interesting aspects of localization with speakers your colleagues look up to, who also happen to be strong advocates for localization. You also may want to volunteer to create a cross-department task force to solve a problem the company is facing. This could allow you to interact with people from other departments and together contribute to something useful to the company. Last, but not least, think about inviting people for a round of product testing if they speak foreign languages — this can prove to be both fun to others, and useful to you.

The main goal of such exercises would be to not only improve your team’s visibility, but to have other people understand how localization works and what drives its success. Localization, in general, works best if it’s a collaborative process with open lines of communication between different teams and stakeholders. Thinking globally should also start very early on in the product development process — ideally, at the design stage. If localization only starts to be considered once the product or marketing campaign is finalized, that’s much too late. Usually this causes a lot of back-and-forth between departments and creates extra work for everyone. If the fancy fontset used in the source collateral assets does not support all targets, the teams need to look into other font options available for some locales. This is not only a waste of time, but it also makes the global marketing campaign look less cohesive and potentially impacts the image of the brand in some regions. With more serious issues, it could also mean a longer time-to-market and potentially, losing a competitive edge (and a loss of potential revenue). And it could have been avoided by several people just getting together and having a discussion.

Having support from other people will not only make your life easier, but it will also allow you to create advocates and champions outside your own department. Your champions are people who have seen with their own eyes how useful localization can be, and can talk to other people about how it can benefit them as well. The more people there are who understand how localization works and what advantages it gives, the more potential champions you have. And the more champions you have, the less time you need to spend evangelizing — they will help out with that — and the more people you will reach in your efforts.

Nearly everyone in the company has a stake in localization. What that means is that evangelization becomes this never-ending process you will need to perform throughout your career at that company, and the wider net you can cast, the more benefit the entire company can reap.

Partner up with your vendor

It’s not easy to find a good and reliable localization vendor that will fully understand your needs and give you the level of attention you should have. But if you have a vendor like that, hold on to it. If your vendor offers not only linguistic work, but also partnership, take them up on that offer, because you have just found an unexpected ally in all your localization struggles.

Your vendor, having easy access to linguists, quality teams and creative talents, might be able to help you answer the linguistic questions you or your stakeholders might have. Let’s say you have a marketing campaign that you want to launch in Japan, but you have no access to a Japanese stakeholder. You might have some doubts whether your US content is culturally appropriate and even worth translating for a market as unique and independent as Japan. With no access to internal resources, asking your vendor would be the best way to go — they can quickly check with Japanese linguists and talents, and advise whether your content would work with only some minor modifications, or of it’s better to scrap it and start working on something entirely new. Similarly, if your stakeholders still have doubts whether translating into Latin-American Spanish or its Mexican flavor is the best way to go, you can simply get everyone on a call with Spanish language specialists and help everyone make the best decision.

A good partner will probably not come cheap, but will help you save money in the long run. If you take into account the number of changes and corrections you will be saved from making, coupled with your increased satisfaction in both the translation quality and process, then finding a reliable vendor might be a worthy investment.

The business of localization

Running your department in a way that is operationally sound might not be enough, and whether you like it or not, you might need to consider the business side of your shop to help it grow and become increasingly significant. Whatever steps you’re planning to make, remember to think holistically — not only about your own department, but about the entire company and how different departments are intertwined with each other — and think long-term. Your decisions today should allow for scalable solutions and help you shape tomorrow, next quarter or next year. Create partners and advocates where you can, and make other people aware of how much advantage you give to the company. This job is never finished, but with each day it will make your life easier and your job more rewarding and with a higher likelihood of success, whether you’re trying to preserve funding, onboard new internal clients or simply make sure your voice is heard.