At a certain point in the growth of a company, localization is a no-brainer for international expansion. Building the strategy is however, lamentably, harder than the idea. But like most challenges in life and work – what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger and there’s no doubt that reaching people in their own languages with references, visuals and experiences that resonate with them is a surefire way for a company to win in other markets. But if there’s one takeaway from this post, it’s to plan. Localizing for localizing’s sake is not worth the time, money or complications that will ensue.
Here we lay out the framework for a solid localization strategy, focusing on the business strategy side of things rather than technical considerations.
Agreeing on the impact
Nataly Kelly, VP of localization at Hubspot and Born to be Global founder, highlights a key stage in any localization process: agreeing on the business impact or the business metric localization intends to move. Knowing this from the very beginning will dictate whether or not localization is in fact the best method for achieving the business objective. It’s also a key consideration when it comes to mitigating any risks associated with investing in localization.
As an example – Latin America is fast becoming a huge market for free ad-supported platforms, so a company’s content team decides to localize its existing social content for that market in a bid to increase reach there. It’s true that localizing at first seems a quicker solution than producing native content for that market, but viewers willing to watch ads in exchange for free content expect the content to be worth it i.e. hyper relevant. It’s also true, as Kelly points out, localization can only be as strong and scalable as the original content creation process; if that process is not built with scaleability in mind, the localization process will be equally cumbersome.
In the case of a content team wanting to expand into Latin Amercia on ad-supported platforms, it’s likely in this scenario that a majority of the budget should be allocated to creating native content for that market with the rest assigned to localization. This way, our hypothetical content team grows an engaged, loyal audience, while laying the groundwork for making the process scalable in future with localization or even automated localization based on native content they learn is successful in that market. There is even the option to localize, like Netfllix, from emerging markets into established markets where audiences are already loyal.
Building the team
Ideally there would be a localization team in-house and this team would be responsible for gathering requirements and assigning vendors and/or project managers, but for smaller sized companies, this isn’t realistic. For large companies, however, there’s little point in having an in-house localization team if they’re not involved in the decision-making process from the offset. By integrating this team into initial discussions on localization, potential bumps and roadblocks can be highlighted by an expert team from the very beginning. For example – when it makes more sense to create native content, which content lends itself particularly well to the localization process and what are the timeframes for actually delivering and measuring the success of localized content.
For companies using a localization agency, service provider or even in-house native speakers, the process of team building is – same, same but different. There still needs to be a project manager: someone who can gather requirements and be the keeper of different department’s timeframes. Also – although it's tempting to begin localizing with what resources are available in-house, it’s worth investing in a localization solution that is scalable from the very beginning as unpicking an ad hoc process is far from easy.
Audience and market research
Research is arguably the most important step in building any localization strategy. Just because content has been successful in the home market does not mean a direct translation of that content will be successful in another market. The first season of the US office tanked until it was adapted (localized) to suit the humour of the new target American market.
The audience and market research stage is heavily tied to the business objectives. For example – if a company’s strategy is to grow in a new market as fast as possible and monetize that audience later, the primary objective of localizing content would be % of content localized which may become supported language revenue further down the line. Knowing this from the beginning affects the research stage because the company would choose the markets for localization based on the ease and speed of the localization process i.e. for an English-speaking country, that might mean choosing Spanish-speaking countries over those that use a completely different alphabet. It could also look like picking content that is informative over entertaining, so that automated or machine localization can be used. Whatever the approach, a balance always has to be struck between speed of growth as an objective and delivering a good consumer experience.
Beyond deciding on headline metrics ahead of time, spending time understanding that target market and its audience, as well as competitors is critical to the success of any localization project. The tools and techniques for doing this are covered here.
Deciding on content and localization type
As with any strategy framework, each part is interlinked. In the same way that deciding on the business objective for localization informs the research phase, the research phase will inform the prioritization of content types and localization methods.
An example – Papercup client, Sky News UK was achieving solid reach (in its home market) for its video content through TV broadcast and diversification (syndication and social channels), so much so that it made more sense to think about increasing global reach rather than investing in trying to tap into the, as yet, unreachable UK audiences. It identified (through research) the Spanish-speaking market as a way to increase its global reach (its objective).
Furthermore, not only did it have an existing catalogue of award-winning video content at its disposal, it was news content – a lot of which was truly relevant for a global audience. In this case, content type was dictated by the existing source content (video) and the category (news/informative content) dictated the localization method (automated dubbing).
Identifying parts of the business that lend themselves to a specific localization method or that are at a stage of maturity that means that they can be localized with relative ease is a sensible approach for most companies, whatever category their content falls into. A media company with several verticals, for instance, might choose to localize for a single platform like Snapchat) and within a single vertical – say food DIY. This is a good way to test out the scalability of the company; if the original content creation process isn’t scalable, the localization process won’t be either.
Like with any project, setting business objectives at the beginning is only worth it if the company has a clear idea of how to measure success. Because localization can be used to solve an array of different business challenges, it would be impossible to list all the possible business objectives, but there are some catch-alls that give a good indicator of success across the board.
- Non-English customer/employee survey. This could apply to consumers of content and enterprizes localizing to improve, say, improve compliance or employee engagement.
- Staff turnover, before and after. In the same vein, if a company is localizing to improve employee engagement, they might measure staff retention rates.
- Increased reach/watch time. For media companies, if global expansion was the business objective, they might choose to measure metrics that are prerequisites to monetizing their content.
- Supported language revenue. Following on from that, a company might want to assess the value of the localization process itself to understand its worth. Support language revenue is just that – “it reflects the revenue derived from countries where localization plays a heavy role” (Natalie Kelly, Born to be global)
- % of content localized. This is a measure that shows what % of all content intended for localization has been completed. This might be part of a strategy that looks to phase its objectives – starting with localizing a bank of content (which is where this metric would come into play) and then deploying that content to reach a different business objective.
A mixed bag of example metrics here, but the salient point is that there’s no point in setting a business objective that informs the research phase, the content type and the localization method procured or implemented to then fail to measure its success. Agreeing on metrics relating to the objectives ahead of time is critical and it may be that for larger projects, there is more than one metric allocated to a specific team or part of the process. This way, on review – it’s easier to see where the roadblocks were and how best to tackle them.
Localization can be complicated, but with planning, it can also be simple. Research is key, as is the prioritization of business areas, understanding the localization methods available and building the right team; one that is, vitally, singing from the same hymn sheet. Get these things right and localization is one of the best strategies for reaching audiences in a way that truly resonates.