What Is Localization?

Most people discussing localization think of it in terms of micro-components. They may focus on the translation, the marketing, or the overall project management, but they rarely piece all those parts together to understand what it is. The right question isn’t “what is localization?” It’s “what needs to happen to my product, company, or service so that it can work somewhere else?”

Localization is an art that involves structuring the process for entering new markets in a manageable, scalable, sustainable, and achievable way. It’s not something a single person can manage independently, nor is it a one-off task. By appreciating the broad scope of a localization process, you’ll be better prepared to address this massive undertaking.

What Is Localization?

Many people view localization and translation as interchangeable—but translation is only a small part of the overall project. It’s the linguistic focus of the strategy. You need to consider dozens of other components aside from just how the text of your content will translate. Some to think about include:

  • Intersystem operability
  • Cultural/linguistic mismatches
  • Engineering
  • Aesthetic choices
  • Governance

Intersystem operability

The architecture of a program must support an approach that targets multiple languages. You have to decide how the new content will be uploaded to programs and in what forms. That may include developing customized plugins, setting up pipelines, building sub-directories, or using translation proxy servers. On top of that, supportive processes like PPC campaigns and SEO strategies must work with the new languages. All of this will require keyword mapping and research.

Cultural/linguistic mismatches

Some marketing campaigns that work in the U.S. may not translate to other countries and require updates before any significant localization efforts. American Motors made a notable gaffe with this in the 1970s, when it tried to roll out a car called the Matador in Puerto Rico. While Matador may symbolize virility and excitement in some markets, in the Puerto Rican one, the word loosely translated to “killer.”

Engineering

Translation can wreak havoc on code, causing poor formatting issues, line breaks, and overall damaged user experiences. It’s vital to work out strategies for parsing, segmentation, and anti-code corruption during the process. Testing protocols require early establishment, especially when translating highly sensitive products like video games, websites, or mobile apps.

Aesthetic choices

It’s not just marketing strategies that fail to make the transition to new markets. Aesthetic choices like logos and color schemes may not resonate. To see how this changes, one only needs to compare a Western website to one from an Asian country. While the U.S. may see high conversion rates with websites that use shades like blue or gray—indicating trustworthiness—Chinese websites may not garner the same results with those colors. Red may be a better choice since it is associated with good luck and excitement in China.

Governance

What kind of processes are you going to have to ensure all the translations happen within specific guidelines? Localization is a total program. It’s not a one-off thing. You have to develop a strategy that allows for its quick, regular conversion as changes occur. Without a robust governance plan in place, the maintenance of a multilingual website will soon grow unsustainable.

Why Localization Fails and How to Fix it

A lot of the reason localization fails is because people don’t want it to succeed. They fear that a program that works too efficiently could put their jobs in jeopardy. As a result, people create an overly technical strategy or have unnecessary components that require management. Alternatively, they may not understand what goes into localization and create a very unstructured program. They may attempt to save money upfront, but that’s detrimental to the long-term results.

Consider a company that operates in both Japan and the U.S. When trying to localize content for the market, they may hire Japanese translators and manually update all documents to save money upfront. From there, they’ll have to monitor their original text for changes consistently and issue new jobs as needed. They also likely won’t have anyone in the Japanese market looking at the content from the consumer’s perspective, monitoring results. As a result, the ROI will be low and the process itself deemed unsustainable.

Instead, the company could invest more initially by hiring someone in the Japanese market to monitor projects and review results. They may leverage a localization management platform to connect directly to linguists and rapidly push new content live. With a very sophisticated program, they could create engines that trigger jobs as soon as a change occurs to the original content. While this may mean a bit more upfront investment, it’s the type of work that pays dividends in the long run.

“What is localization?” is a complicated question because the answer encompasses hundreds of processes and projects. This broad approach helps you execute the right strategy to gain acceptance in new markets. By investing more in the front end, you can enhance your ROI and simplify your rollout to subsequent markets.

Bureau Works offers expert localization assistance through a collaborative platform that provides an end-to-end path to content updates and management. To learn about how we support localization, contact our team.

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