The impact of digital marketing disruption on the localization industry

It’s no surprise that more and more businesses are moving their marketing efforts to focus on the digital landscape, but some are going even further and are becoming purely digital brands. Businesses from a variety of sectors are challenging traditional marketing models and disrupting the digital landscape — brands such as Amazon, Airbnb, Netflix, Uber and Deliveroo — with a seamless crossover of offline and online activities.

This transformation of and dependency on digital marketing means that the traditional split between offline and online marketing no longer stands, and they are no longer classed as separate, segmented activities, but must be integrated in order to deliver the optimum experience to the end user.

Increasing access to the internet

Mass internet access isn’t limited to Europe and North America; for every internet user in the developed world, there are two in the developing world. Internet users in India increased 30% from 2015 to 2016. In comparison, internet users in the United Kingdom increased 0.9% for the same time period. The Middle East and Africa are also seeing more and more individuals, households and businesses connecting to the internet for the first time.

While there are 870 million English-speaking internet users, there is also a huge multilingual audience on the web, and the rate of non-English webpages is expanding rapidly too. From 2001 to 2011, the amount of internet content written in English grew 281%, Spanish content grew 743%, Chinese content grew 1277% and Arabic grew 2501%. These almost unbelievable numbers highlight the need for multilingual content to satisfy a wide linguistic variety of internet users connecting from all over the globe. As more users, markets and countries come online, the spread of languages on the web grows wider, and so too does the need for content in the user’s native language.

How digital content affects the user experience

It’s well known, even if it’s not evident to all decision-makers everywhere, that users don’t engage with websites that are not in their own language, and the average internet user expects more than just the necessary information to be translated. Supporting content such as product reviews, forums and FAQs are expected to be offered in multiple languages as well.

It’s not enough to merely translate a website as a one-off project and leave multilingual sites dormant for months, even years, while only updating the English language version. With only one in four users moving onto the second page of a search engine results list, and more non-organic content now appearing on results pages, the battle to make it to page 1 is tougher than ever. While search engine giants such as Google and Bing like to keep quiet about components that affect page ranking, it’s generally accepted that new or updated content signals an active website. Translating content such as blog posts, press releases and news alerts is just as important as the main website, if organic search engine optimization (SEO) is important to the business.

Digital content localization must now encompass all of a brand’s assets, given the consumer shift to online activity. Website localization as a standalone project — without multilingual SEO, translation of banners and adverts, multilingual video subtitles or localized email marketing — will result in a fragmented, confusing experience to a non-English speaking user. By ensuring that their full suite of digital assets is localized, brands can be confident that the same service is delivered to any customer, no matter their language.

Some of the big online powerhouses even give a gentle push in the direction of localization. Video sharing platform YouTube allows users to submit their uploaded videos for community-contributed translations for multilingual video subtitles, or purchase translation services directly via YouTube, in order to widen a video’s audience and boost watch time. What’s more, it’s now easier to create and build multilingual websites, with content management systems (CMS) such as WordPress offering multilingual plugins to make it easier to send content directly for translation and removing manual tasks such as downloading and uploading content.

Consumer habits across markets

There’s an argument, however, that in order to properly serve global customers, brands need to localize, not just translate. The definition of these terms may change depending on whom you’re speaking to, but the underlying difference is that localization takes into account a user’s location and cultural background, not just language, and how this impacts their behaviors and perceptions.

Cultural differences in consumers’ habits and behaviors don’t necessarily disappear in a digital setting. Take the difference between US and UK consumers as an example — two markets that share a language but have different online behaviors. UK consumers are thought to be more careful than their US counterparts when it comes to online purchasing, and prefer to see reviews, FAQs and payment security before spending. When it comes to digital advertising, US users are usually more affected by emotional advertisements and engage with emotive calls to action.

The preference for distribution can also vary. In the UK, younger consumers prefer to buy online rather than in-store, with the preference for online over in-store purchases reducing as age increases. However, in Germany, studies show a different picture — shoppers aged 30-39 are the group most likely to make an online purchase, more so than those aged 18-29. Digital and physical purchasing have also become more cohesive across the globe: 60% of French retail outlets are equipped with interactive display screens to guide users and boost customer loyalty. Using data and information of this kind to tailor services to different markets, for example, offering German customers the opportunity to check their local store for product stock, or French customers the option to instantly find an in-store product, forms part of the localization process.

However, a brand isn’t just limited to a website anymore. This shift toward digital has been partly enabled by the mass ownership of mobile and tablet devices, meaning online audiences are using multiple platforms and are expecting a localized, personalized service, which they can call upon any time and from anywhere. Fully 95% of the global population live in an area covered by a mobile network, and smartphone and tablet applications offer even more convenient and personalized features, and the language in the app itself, reviews and technical details all need to be translated into several target languages. As our routines and lifestyles become more mobile, so do our technologies.

New technologies and the Internet of Things

In recent years, the adoption of smart devices across the globe has increased enormously. The internet used to start and end with a large chunky desktop computer, but now, we’re constantly connected, whether it is by our phones, watches or tablets. From wearable fitness gadgets to household appliances, smart devices are now predominant across global communities, and this connected network is expected to expand further in the coming years.

Companies using mobile technology and connecting with smart devices are boosting engagement and retention among customers, as they become more committed to providing a personalized service that fits around consumer lifestyles, making their user journey more convenient and hassle free. This unprecedented scale of personalization means translation is now the bare minimum, and needs to be considered as part of a wider localization strategy. It’s every marketer’s dream to turn customers into brand champions and advocates, and greater affinity with a user’s language and culture can help spark evangelism.

With the introduction of devices that connect seamlessly with other devices and humans, these innovative forms of communication pose a new challenge when it comes to language. Two-way communication platforms, where devices must be able to identify user’s accents and intonations in their voice, require advanced processes and methods of localization. For example, Apple’s voice recognition software Siri understands commands, questions and jokes in 15 languages and is designed to pick up regional dialects and accents. In the next few years, this technology will continue to advance, and what was once considered new and exclusive will soon become the norm.

It might seem like a minefield out there — the more content you create, the more you need to localize. That being said, there are tools and strategies available that can help to reduce your workload while maximizing translated output. These should become the focal point for marketing teams in particular — adopting the following methods as part of the overall strategy will allow for a more integrated localization process.

It should (but doesn’t always) go without saying that it’s imperative for any brand to know its market. Website analytics tools show the geographic location of website visitors and the language of their internet browser. This data is gold dust, a direct insight into a digital audience, which can help to shape strategic decisions. Using an existing customer database to research client locations will highlight any potential language gaps, as well as confirming what you may already know or suspect.

Making the most of technologies that simplify the process via automated workflows means a small initial investment, but this will result in cost and time savings further down the line. Rather than having to implement complex version control, this technology manages the online multilingual content process. Plugins can be purchased at a small cost and these sit within a CMS, send digital content directly for translation, monitor progress and return translated content directly in the CMS.

Quality, productivity and connectivity

There are three main pillars that should be considered in order for any digital localization project to be successful and well integrated into a business strategy: quality, productivity and connectivity.

In localization, everyone is looking for good quality. If translations are good, engagement and retention rates among multilingual customers and stakeholders will increase. Using automated processes and technology will increase the productivity of the translation workflow, improving turnaround times and reducing costly manual involvement. Connecting systems to allow for the direct flow of source files to the translation management environment further reduces manual activities, such as downloading and uploading content, and allows for a detailed overview and reporting of each translation project.

Applying advanced technology to the localization process is key to being able to react to changes in the digital marketing landscape. Translation technologies such as sentiment analysis and natural language processing can be used to scan instant, online content such as social media updates, or interpret from voice recognition software and provide accurate translations in a short timeframe.

Trends may come and go, but smart, well-thought-out technology and devices are changing our daily habits. No matter what sector a business operates in, at some point changes in the digital landscape will impact your business, your products or services, and the way your clients interact with you. It’s not just the big players that are plowing time, effort and resources into digital. Online food delivery business Deliveroo started life just three years ago and has since spread to 84 global cities and has seen huge success. They were able to identify and service a change in consumer habits, which was shaped by a digital transformation.

It’s worth keeping your finger on the pulse of the changing world, bearing in mind that your marketing, systems, processes and even ways of thinking will have to change if you’re to survive this digital revolution. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking it is just business-to-consumer companies that will be affected. Consider the way business interactions have changed in the past few years: viewing live demos of systems before purchase, video conferencing colleagues on the other side of the globe, online training modules and human resource management via a shared portal — all of which now seem to fit seamlessly in with our work life. Digital marketing has changed the way we interact with the world, both in our personal and professional lives, and thanks to the constant connectivity of smart devices, these are overlapping more than ever before. As they say, “in digital marketing, change is the only constant.”