Mastering the Art of Localization: An Effective Guide to International Expansion

Mastering the Art of Localization: An Effective Guide to International Expansion

Firms that have successfully captured the local market may ponder over global prospects and undertake the process of localization. Localization entails adapting their current offerings to accommodate different cultures and languages, which can include translating various materials such as the company’s website content, promotional materials, contracts, and more.

There are plenty of instances, often amusing, where such attempts at localization have gone haywire. For instance, when Wix, the website builder, ventured into the German market in 2015, they were quick to realize the inappropriate implication of the company’s name in German. More recently, a risqué Barbie movie poster in France was not quite compatible with the film’s PG-13 rating.

Companies can prevent such mishaps by transforming their missteps into learning experiences, as Wix did by humorously acknowledging their mistake on their website. However, it’s always best to prevent such slip-ups from occurring in the first place. Here are three strategies to simplify the localization process and avoid errors.

Take into account cultural subtleties When deciding on which overseas market to venture into, it’s crucial to rely on data and strategic decision-making, rather than allowing language barriers to dictate the choice, advises Hila Shitrit Nissim, chief marketing officer at Blend, a Tel Aviv-based translation and localization service provider. Companies then need to decide whether to utilize an in-house translator or hire an external service for translation.

Nissim points out that a common mistake companies make in this process is to solely depend on machine translations. She observes this frequently in food manuals and outdoor signs. Using Google Translate and then having the entire country mock your mistake is not an ideal scenario. Thus, the human element remains indispensable.

Also, a direct translation is not always the ideal approach, Nissim emphasizes, since the translated text must align with the cultural context and references. Significant differences exist even between countries that share a language (for example, ‘apartment’ in the U.S. versus ‘flat’ in the UK). Therefore, a native speaker should ideally “review, edit, and refine” the content, Nissim suggests.

Maintaining the brand’s voice throughout the process is equally crucial, asserts Brenda S. Stoltz, CEO of Burg Translations, a company based in Chicago. The translation process should be a collaborative effort between the company’s translator (or service provider) and the brand to ensure the brand’s style, intent, and tone are preserved.

Begin cautiously and invest judiciously It may be more beneficial to focus on expanding into one or two countries at a time, as this approach might lead to a more mindful transition compared to entering multiple markets simultaneously, Nissim suggests. This is particularly relevant if you’re a small business, considering the attention and resources required.

Similarly, when it comes to the task at hand, companies should commence with smaller translation projects, like Facebook and Google ads, to gauge potential new markets. Subsequently, they can transition to website content and other assignments to enhance the complete customer experience. “Map out your customer journey … and identify the modifications or adaptations needed to operate in the new market,” Nissim advises.

Budget constraints are an important consideration for smaller businesses, so leaders should strategically plan their investments. For instance, translating a simple manual may lean more heavily on machine translation, while a legal contract demands meticulous crafting, notes Georg Ell, CEO of Phrase, a localization firm based in the Czech Republic.

Moreover, companies need to identify the areas where their translations can make the biggest impact to ensure the resources and funds invested in localization yield a worthwhile return, Ell suggests. One such area could be keywords for search engine optimization.

“Translating the entire website, having a visually pleasing website, and having high-quality resources and materials isn’t enough; you also need to drive traffic to your site,” Nissim points out. It’s crucial to understand the keywords your competitors are using in the local market and to again consider cultural subtleties (for instance, where would people search for a “jumper” instead of a “sweater”?).

Companies need to establish their priorities, keeping their expansion objectives at the forefront, Stoltz advises. “Efficiency impacts cost, but effectiveness impacts revenue.”

Start the process sooner rather than later If localization is already on your radar, the time to start is now, Ell advises. He posits that as generative A.I. becomes more sophisticated and widespread, localized content will proliferate. Therefore, companies that are ahead in this game will enjoy the rewards, while the ones who are lagging will fall further behind. “This is not something you can accomplish overnight,” Ell warns. “So I would suggest: invest now.”


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