Increasing Localization Value
as Global Language Operations

by Bruno Herrmann

When I tell localization folks that I prefer to refer to localization as “global language operations,” under the larger umbrella of global content operations, many react skeptically. Sometimes, they even respond by accusing me of “diluting” localization in a broader framework. I typically reply that language operations offer a safe path to increase, demonstrate, and capture the value of localization. It’s actually quite the opposite of “dilution,” as this terminology allows localization teams to more tangibly express the value they create within global content operations. Moreover, it allows localizers to better control the level of localization readiness of the source content and more accurately measure the overall performance of the content they have localized. Localization effectiveness is best when we are able to deliver customers a product that meets their needs and desires. Therefore, I argue that localization should be extended, elevated, and enriched as “global language operations,” in order to speak the customer language.

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As you surely know, globalization is evolving faster than ever and makes localization more challenging today than it was in the past. It has become crucial to calibrate and streamline localization according to the value it creates both for businesses and for customers. This implies defining and scoping it in a comprehensive way so that it is well-executed by localization teams and well-understood by localization stakeholders. The word “localization” can sometimes mean very different things to different people, hindering common understanding. Reestablishing a sense of mutual understanding is the first step to increase the profile of localization leaders and elevate their work as a profit driver, instead of a cost driver.

All too often, “localization” is merely viewed as a synonym of “translation,” mostly by folks who work in other functions and disciplines within global organizations. As a result, some localization teams feel isolated in their role as the people in charge of the transaction of content that has to be converted from one language into another one. The assumption that localization is merely about language adaptation has led a number of stakeholders to view it as a matter of words, and therefore they underestimate what it takes to localize content in a cost- and time-effective manner. Who among us hasn’t heard product leaders or marketing managers question the need for professional translators, since they have multilingual team members who “speak another language and can probably do the job.”

Ultimately, I’d argue local customers are most impacted by a poor understanding of localization, as they’re the ones who receive poorly localized content or services. This explains why some localized content may reek of translation instead of being perceived by local customers as something specifically designed for their market.

Thus, localization deserves a description and a definition the reflects what it truly entails. As the goal is to engage audiences locally and to delight local customers personally localization has to be seen as the value chain that enables a business to deliver local customer experiences. In other words, localization effectiveness should be founded on linguistic, cultural, and functional effectiveness since these factors make or break customer experience in general and local customer experiences in particular. Linguistic effectiveness may be the most straightforward effectiveness indicator to agree on. Obviously, local customers expect correct content in their language as far as grammar, syntax, spelling, and terminology are concerned. Linguistic effectiveness also covers accuracy, fluency, consistency, and other more or less specific indicators.

However, content that is linguistically correct isn’t necessarily appealing or engaging — after all, there are plenty of grammatically correct sentences out there that aren’t exactly fun to read. Speaking the customers’ language means using their words but also respecting their values, standards, and practices. This is where cultural effectiveness comes into play, making localized content feel relevant and appropriate. There are many examples of localized marketing campaigns or e-learning modules that were spoiled by wrong imagery, inappropriate colors, or distasteful styles in markets where customers have found them odd or even offensive. Cultural faux pas with local customers can cost a lot — it takes far more time to win and retain customers than it takes to lose them. Considering the fact that much of the content we consume is now digital or digitized, we also can’t forget functional effectiveness. Localized content that is linguistically and culturally up to snuff must also run smoothly. It must not only be rendered and displayed clearly but all functionalities must be available and accessible to local customers.

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After all, how much is a localized application or platform that is linguistically and culturally correct worth if local customers cannot see and enjoy it? Nothing. Functional effectiveness requires timely and customer-centric testing, validation, and certification.

The term “global language operations” makes it easier to explain the value that local content creates as a profit driver and better justifies the cost of doing things well. While the word “localization” is obviously not wrong, I have started relabeling it as “global language operations” for a couple of reasons. First of all, each word in this label matters. The word “global” suggests that it creates value for the global business it is tied to. Likewise, “language” emphasizes the value of speaking the customers’ language. Here, I mean the words, visuals, sounds, and all linguistic components touching all customer senses and delivering multi-sensory experiences. Lastly, “operations” acknowledges that we create value through a set of activities, tasks, and imperatives that require scalable capacity and specific capabilities. Driving language operations upfront with professional and dedicated resources does not make it cheap or expensive or slow or fast — it makes it cost and time effective. And, equally importantly, it enables localization leaders to be visible and engaged in content calendars, product roadmaps, and service delivery blueprints.

Leading global language operations comes with some challenges that are tied to global content operations and local customer experiences.

Articulate language operations centers on content reach, resonance, and reaction for products and services locally. Local content must be perceived as if it has been created specifically for the local audience. The effectiveness of language operations must also be captured by breaking down the performance of the various roles and responsibilities of people involved in the value chain. Only when content is produced in the customers’ language and embraces their cultural values will it prove to be fully valuable and generate a full return on investment in local markets.

Innovate in language operations by prioritizing, customizing, and premiumizing local content. Focusing on the most critical content with the highest return on acquisition, conversion, and retention of local customers helps reduce or contain costs by premiumizing that content in your plan of records and in the mind of your customers. AI-driven content management solutions or localization platforms can definitely show a good way to achieve this potential shift in practices.

Educate colleagues and stakeholders to grasp the holistic nature of local content. Walking in the shoes of someone else is not easy. This is why language operations must be based on unwavering empathy for local customers. Turning local content into local experiences should be the first point to make. Briefing and training sessions are useful to create and develop awareness on multilingual, multicultural, and multifunctional communication. Leading dedicated workshops with designers and developers enables us to dive into local content specifications. Educational initiatives also facilitate the selection, implementation, and adoption of technology that is not just designed for leaders of language operations as it also empowers people in marketing, communications, operations, and other departments to contribute to the delivery of local experiences.

Differentiate your local content by making it as personal as possible for local customers. Hyperlocalization and transcreation may help you customize content, specifically when it requires more than “standard” localization like in marketing or advertising content. In some cases co-localization may be useful. Involving local and specialized resources internally or externally can accelerate the overall localization process or make the localized content more locally immersive. You should also try to produce and deliver snackable content to match any micro-experiences along the customer’s journey, ranging from the search for information to the purchase stage. Such content is a competitive advantage.

Captivate with performance indicators and metrics reflecting the created value, including quick wins and low-hanging fruit that your organization can put forward. Do not stick with vanity metrics that are mostly showing how much you have done in terms of production and productivity. Local experience metrics really tell how well you have performed with language operations by speaking the true customer language. 

Bruno Herrmann is a consultant and advisor with more than 25 years of experience in technology, market research, business intelligence, and life sciences localization.

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