Expanding into international markets is a no-brainer for companies looking to grow; stats aplenty confirm. Here are a few pertinent ones from CSA research: only 25% of the world’s population speaks English; 65% of people prefer to consume content in their own language, even if it’s poor quality (that’s not an excuse to settle for sub-standard localization!); and 40% of people won’t buy products in other languages. It’s no wonder then that the world’s most successful media companies, education providers, consumer brands, or B2B tech companies have implemented content and communication localization strategies for capturing new markets worldwide.

Localization is often wrongly regarded as interchangeable with straightforward translation, which makes for a poor consumer experience – no matter what the content or product. In this guide, you’ll find an overview of what to consider before building and implementing a localization strategy. We’ll cover the following:

- What is content localization?
- How to know if now is the right time to localize?
- Why localize?
- How to approach localization for different content types
- What not to do when localizing

What is content localization?

Localization is the process of taking content produced in a specific language, geared towards the expectations and needs of one market, and adapting it so that it’s relevant for a new market. Localization is often confused or seen as interchangeable with translation, but in practice, translation is only a part of a good localization strategy. While translation is the process of making content produced in one language available in another, localization is the process by which content is adapted for a new audience based on a researched understanding of the market and the culture and expectations of its consumers.

How to know if now is the right time to localize?

Taking media companies as an example – it’s important to ascertain whether the home audience is indeed saturated. The best way to do this is by conducting research, using the tools in this blog post, to understand if all avenues of extending reach at home have been exhausted. Could distribution be diversified? Is there an untapped demographic that hasn’t yet been reached on the platform or with the content they’re after? As part of this, it's worth looking into the efficacy of owned channels – website, emails, pushes, newsletters, advertising. If it looks as though there is an untapped audience in the home market, a simple cost/benefit analysis of the potential new content stream is key to understanding the value of implementing a strategy to reach that segment. Testing localized content in new markets simultaneously is a good method for seeing where the returns are greater. It's often more expensive and time-consuming to reach the remaining portion of an existing audience, than it is to reach completely new audiences in new markets.

The growth potential of adjacent markets is the next thing to consider. While this does require a level of localization, it’s not the same as a Japanese company expanding to America, or vice versa. For example – when Netflix began its expansion program, it started with Canada; same language, similar culture, new audience. This staged approach to localization demands less effort but is a practical way to demonstrate the potential returns of expanding further.

Why localize?

  1. Meet consumer expectations. Referring back to the statistics at the beginning this piece, consumers expect content to be relevant to them. Localized content yields better results (higher conversion or engagement rates, for example) because content is easily understood and resonates with the target audience.
The big streamers have been one of the main drivers of this trend. Netflix says that from 2019 to 2020, it has seen viewing hours of non-English content grow by 90%. This is due in large part to the company’s huge investment in creating local language content that foremost appeals to markets with growth potential. 
  1. Reach the bulk of the world’s population. Referring back to the stats again: almost three quarters of the world doesn’t speak English, which is a huge number of potential customers. Of course, it’s impossible to target all markets, but a strategic approach to tapping into those with the greatest growth potential is a tried-and-tested road to successful global expansion.
  1. Gain a competitive advantage – Despite living in a globalized world, many companies only consider localization as an expansion tactic at a certain stage of growth and with access to huge budgets. That’s not true (see the point below); implementing a staged localization strategy can be the key to gaining an advantage over competitors.
  2. Reduce your cost–Localizing existing content costs less than investing huge amounts in advertising and marketing to reach the “unreachable” portion of an existing audience or creating brand new content for new markets. This is a primary reason companies localize for global reach.

  3. Capitalise on shifts in consumer behaviour – markets previously unaccustomed to regularly consuming dubbed and subtitled content have become more willing to do so. This is in part due to a familiarity with big content providers and therefore a willingness to discover more of their content, even in different languages. This is to say that – if creating native content for new markets is one of the adopted approaches – there’s nothing to say this content can’t also be rolled out in established markets to maximize ROI.

How to approach  localization for different content types

Subtitling or copy translation is quick and more cost effective compared to other localization methods. Dubbing, too, can be implemented as a standalone localization strategy i.e. the only element of the video that is altered for a new market. However, to use these methods alone, it’s important to be sure that the other content elements are truly global. Perhaps the content is purely educational and informative, for example, and doesn’t require the localization of imagery as well as spoken word. There are a few instances when straightforward subtitling or works, but it’s important to be sure that the content is right for this approach. Websites, as an example of what is all too often perceived as a “straightforward” copy translation job, in fact contain images and user experience copy that are dependent on an understanding of cultural context.

When it comes to video localizing, there are a plethora of routes to take. Dubbing and subtitling can also be used in the context of versioning – whereby multiple elements of a video are adapted to meet local market expectations. Images might be switched out or interviews redone to resonate with the intended market, in addition to dubbing or subtitling the content. In versioning, the important elements of the content are adapted to suit the target audience.

Thirdly, there’s transcreation, the holy grail of content creation whereby completely new media is created for the new market based on research. The downfall here is that it’s expensive and can be time-consuming, which is where testing and learning and a cost/benefit analysis on piloted content is key. 

What not to do when localizing?

1.Assume all content deserves the same localization strategy. It doesn’t. This means adapting the process for creating different content types and/or making sure to plan a staged approach to rolling out content. A/B testing off the back of research is a good way to de-risk rolling out content in new markets. 

2. Assume that the same insights derived from home markets can apply across the board– It’s important that research is conducted each market in which content will be rolled out. By researching the markets, it will be possible to understand where there is existing content that be simply adapted to suit multiple markets.

3.Neglect to understand the importance of localizing non-language components – Translation is just one part of the process. The most common mistake that many companies make is assuming that translated copy is enough. It’s important to map out the approach for each content type – and understand which elements require localization and what is contingent on internationalization.

Investing in building a picture of the current company situation – understanding the success of existing content and home market audience saturation levels – before commencing research into the target markets not only optimizes the chance of building a successful localization strategy, it ensures that investments can be made wisely when doing so. This might look like expanding reach at home by diversifying content types and/or platforms while simultaneously testing relevant content in new markets. Whatever the outcome of this initial audit stage, when a company has a comprehensive view of its current situation, planning global expansion becomes infinitely easier, less risky and more effective.