Managing localization while ensuring your global image

Entering the global arena is an exciting step for any enterprise, but it inevitably requires an in-depth focus on localization. Too many organizations confuse localization with translation. While translation does play a significant role in localizing a product, it’s only one step. Localization is a much more comprehensive approach, one that is sometimes referred to as transcreation, whereby a product and other technical materials are adapted to both the language and culture of a specific locale.

In most cases, localization attempts lead to frustration and heavy costs. Simply adapting a product for launch in multiple countries and languages can be demanding, particularly for software products. Additionally, website localization and the adaptation of marketing content have stymied even large multinational industry leaders. Issues with localization arise primarily because the process involves several moving parts. To effectively manage the localization process and ensure the integrity of an enterprise’s global brand, it is essential to identify these parts and how best to adapt them for local markets.

Successful localization management can be broken down into three considerations. The first is obtaining an understanding of the target country and culture, not just the target language. Translation deals strictly with the language of a region. As previously defined, localization is the means whereby a product or content is adapted to both the language and culture of a specific locale. This goes beyond word-by-word translation and adds other factors to the equation such as local attitudes, customs and culture.

The second is knowing what to localize. Common questions asked by companies as they draft a localization strategy include how far to go with localization efforts and how to determine what to localize and what to leave out. The answer is that localization should occur wherever culture intersects with your product. This pertains particularly to the localization of marketing content. Marketing is intended to inform a target audience why they need this product and how it can be useful to them. Answering these questions is impossible without an intimate understanding of the target culture.

Along with this, of course, is knowing what not to localize. The localization process isn’t only limited to the components that must be adapted. Enterprises should also determine which aspects of their brand cannot change from country to country. There are fundamental elements that form an organization’s corporate identity. Flexibility is needed for localization, but such are brand boundaries. Localization should render the product such that it appears as if it originated in the target country. The core messaging, however, should remain intact.

The third consideration involves identifying the qualities of a professional localization team. Many localization concerns can be alleviated through the use of an experienced localization company. Due to the proliferation of translation and localization services, it is necessary to know the best practices and qualities that set professional localization teams apart from all the others.


Target language, target culture

Relying on an across-the-board translation approach can risk damaging an enterprise’s global brand. Simple translation doesn’t take into account the distinctions that exist between countries that share a language. For example, although Portuguese, Spanish and English are spoken on multiple continents, a mere translation doesn’t address the cultural differences that distinguish the Brazilian from the Portuguese market; El Salvadoran Spanish from Mexican Spanish; or US English from Canadian or British English. Even within countries, regional dialects and cultures can lead to even further differences.

Localization is so fraught with risk that an entire category of urban legends has sprung up around the unfortunate translation errors allegedly committed by companies that didn’t do their homework. Here are two examples that aren’t folklore. They are genuine mistakes made by companies that thought translation equals localization.

IKEA, the world’s largest furniture retailer, found itself all over the German news when it released its new furniture catalog. The cause of the sensation was the name of a new candelabrum: Armleuchter Söder. In Swedish, the word Söder means south. In Germany, Söder is the last name of the Bavarian finance minister. Unfortunately, the word armleuchter also had a double meaning. It can refer to either a candelabrum or a bonehead. Needless to say, the Bonehead Söder made quite a splash; just not in the way IKEA intended.

In Street Fighter II, a popular Japanese video game, one of the characters, Ryu, says to a defeated enemy: “If you cannot overcome the Rising Dragon Punch, you cannot win!” The translator read “Rising Dragon” and thought it was the name of a new character being introduced in the game, so the line was changed to: “If you cannot overcome Shen Long, you cannot win!” When the game was released in the United States, gamers went wild trying to unlock the Shen Long character and beat the game. In 1992, Electronic Gaming Monthly even played a cruel April Fools’ joke by publishing an elaborate series of difficult instructions intended to unlock Shen Long. The magazine didn’t reveal the hoax until that December, after gamers had wasted countless hours trying to reach the elusive Shen Long level.

What can be gleaned from these examples? First, tailor your localized products to the expectations of your target audience. Consider age range and subculture, as well as the nature of your product. Second, be aware of cultural differences and linguistic peculiarities that may impact your localization efforts. Are there any taboo topics, or distinct aspects to the culture’s humor? Third, consult local experts and localization professionals early on in the process so localization isn’t performed as a haphazard last-minute step.

Knowing what to localize

Localization entails an incredible amount of translation, research and testing. The scope of this process not only extends to the product’s documentation, but also to the entire marketing campaign and service network surrounding the product, from online help to CD labels.

Your website plays a significant role when it comes to customer interaction. Many localized websites following the transcreation vs. translation rule function more as individual sites rather than as extensions of an original company site. Here is a list of website components that often require localization:

 Content Management System (CMS). Since some languages can take up 30% more room than English text, it’s important to use a CMS, or a web publishing platform, that is flexible enough to accommodate the extra space requirements. Your CMS should also be capable of handling accented and double-byte characters.

 Content. It should be translated, yes, but that doesn’t mean all of it all at once. Limit your initial content translation to texts that support your product and address customer needs. Avoid the use of jargon or slang.

 Time and date format. Not every country uses the same time and date stamp. Many countries rely on military time. Others put the day before the month when recording the date.

 Phone number and address layout. Contact information can be a key factor in the customer experience. Phone numbers and address layout can vary from country to country, even if they share a language.

 Navigation. Some languages, like Hebrew and Arabic, require right to left layout, which can affect text, menus and buttons.

 Images. Your website images should reflect the culture you are trying to reach. Image titles and alt text should also be localized.

Something else to consider is search engine optimization. According to Search Engine Watch, 73% of all internet users search the web in a language other than English. It is also important to note that Google is not the principal search engine in other parts of the world. Russia and China have their own local search providers (Yandex and Baidu, respectively) that follow different rules than Google. Finally, remember that local search engines always give preference to local sites, which is why your localized website should feature a country-specific domain name.

No doubt you’re familiar with the usual lineup of social media channels: Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn. Despite the worldwide popularity of these networks, they have local rivals in other countries that can provide valuable social media streams for multinational organizations. Localized websites that are optimized for these resident social networks provide international users with a simple and straightforward means to share offers and content.

Localizing software can be every bit as tricky as website localization. Very often it requires the combined efforts of both translators and engineers. To avoid the garbled text and fonts usually associated with faulty localization, you should implement localization efforts in the early stages of your software development and rigorously test your localized software throughout development. Produce a localized help guide or user’s manual along with your software localization. This helps guarantee consistency between your documentation and your software.

Technical documents require a slightly different approach. Since they describe complex topics and technologies, cultural localization isn’t as essential as technical localization. This documentation must be clear and accurate for end users, requiring translators who not only possess linguistic skills, but also intimate knowledge of the technology involved.

Localizing audio and visual products is usually a matter of transliteration along with translation. The basic challenge is maintaining the accuracy of the content while also capturing the feel of the original message. Localization professionals should employ translators and narrators who are native speakers of the target language and whose delivery betrays no accent. Matching program length and lip synchronization can also prove challenging when localizing media products.

There are cases when you may not want to localize. Debuting on the global stage is as much about introducing your brand to the world as it is about adapting your content to new markets. Too much localization can deprive you of your corporate identity and erode the value of your brand. There are elements of your enterprise’s core that should transcend localization and remain constant from country to country. Pinpointing those central principles is a deeply individualistic exercise for every company, but it is part of the balancing act involved in the localization process.

McDonald’s global strategy provides one example of how a brand established this balance, along with the choices the process entails. The fast-food giant had to do some soul searching as it expanded into global markets. It had to determine whether the McDonald’s brand identity relied on its signature menu items, like the Big Mac or on some other quality they wanted to maintain.

In the end, McDonald’s decided that its brand’s core identity was that McDonalds was a fun place to eat. It launched an aggressive localization campaign, offering customers a menu of localized foods to enjoy in the signature McDonald’s environment, with McMolletes in Mexico and Chicken SingaPorridge in Singapore. The Big Mac is still available in just about every restaurant worldwide, but in places like India, it is made from chicken.


Gaining a professional localization team

The localization process can be daunting for any organization, so don’t tackle it alone. Professional localization teams specialize in localizing technical and marketing materials, as well as software, manuals, website content and audio/visual products.

To begin with, it’s not enough to hire translators with linguistic skills. Localization teams should employ culturally and technically adept native speakers to provide accurate translations in even the most specialized contexts. Teams should combine the efforts of terminologists, translators, engineers and linguists to produce localized products.

You should also consider your tools. Quality translations incorporate translation tools into the localization team’s efforts. Translation memory is one such tool, allowing translators to leverage past translations and formatting in order to streamline future translation turnaround times.

In software localization, your team should master various operating systems and platforms. Whatever the software’s stage of development, a quality localization team can provide language support for products, documentation and websites. A professional team is also able to handle a variety of formats, including java, C++ and HTML, in addition to multimedia editors and operating systems like Microsoft Windows, Mac OS, Linux and UNIX.

Keep in mind that neglecting terminology management can lead to errors and omissions in different versions of highly technical translated documents. A centralized terminology system used across all countries and languages keeps an enterprise’s internal vernacular consistent. The localization team should coordinate the development of glossaries and dictionaries, research and develop terminology databases, and develop and implement style guides.

Finally, a stringent localization provider will subject itself to rigorous and redundant quality control measures, using both technology and team members to provide oversight. Clients should also be kept up to date on their product’s progress through the localization process, preferably through a client checklist or dashboard.

No two enterprises undergo localization in the same manner. More than just a balancing act, it is a highly customized undertaking for companies, requiring difficult choices that force an enterprise to define the qualities that constitute its identity and brand. However, by implementing a localization approach and hiring translation teams early on in product development, you can bypass many frustrations as you bring your products to market faster, with higher quality and less risk.