It's an attractive fantasy to imagine a world where everything could be localized for every market. But we can't - not yet anyway. And for those who work with content localization, being able to communicate that internally is an uncomfortable part of the job. To help these conversations go smoother, let's look at some scenarios where this would be the case, and analyze why localization wouldn't be the right solution. But first:
Why do we localize content? (a reality check)
For clarity, the "content" we're referring to here is largely related to the materials an enterprise business would use to engage existing customers, or even win over some new ones. It could be web copy, a whitepaper, or a product video. How you would actually localize these different formats would vary of course, but the justification to localize in the first place is often very similar.
To remind ourselves why we need to be strategic about when we use localization, we can put three common assumptions under the microscope.
Assumption 1: Localization is a means to achieve growth
Content localization allows you to access or expand within new markets by creating or transcreating content relevant and accessible to the people within them.
Reality check: Pushing for international growth without a localization strategy in place can waste resources and limit results. Is the market size in that region worth more than another region you haven't identified yet? Do the majority of your customers in that country speak English at an advanced level anyway?
Assumption 2: Localization helps boost customer experience
By localizing your content, you can give your audience and customers the chance to engage with your brand in their own language (and even culture) so they have the most streamlined experience.
Reality check: Content localization needs to work hand-in-hand with other areas of localization so that the experience is seamless. Otherwise, people in your target region will sometimes interact with you in their native language, but will also be faced with your English content and communications.
Assumption 3: Localization improves content ROI and efficiency
Using the original content as the building blocks to produce new localized content increases the value of that initial investment because it can be reworked for new markets, saving money and time on new content creation.
Reality check: Depending on your localization methods and the potential revenue opportunity gained by the target market, localization can be a significant expense with little reward, decreasing your content ROI.
5 scenarios where you should say "no" to content localization
Now that we've had a dose of reality, let's look at a few hypothetical situations where you might have to reject localization requests. This can be applied whether you're part of a localization team under internal pressure, or whether you work on localization alone and need to sanity check your own decision-making.
1. The source content is low quality and performed poorly in the original market
While it’s true that different regions have different base standards for what “good” content looks like, if the original content you’ve been asked to localize has been ineffective, setting it loose in another market probably won’t see different results.
If we momentarily ignore the need to research a local market, there should still be some strong internal reasoning behind that content seeing further distribution, at home or abroad. It could be high customer engagement metrics, product relevancy, pipeline influence, etc. Wasting localization resources on content that can't deliver on business objectives is a no-go.
2. The content is going to be launched in multiple untested countries at once
This "spray-and-pray" approach happens often when people buy in to the assumed benefits we looked at earlier without considering the finer details. For example, you might be asked to localize a whitepaper in five new languages based on the fact that those languages have the highest number of speakers in the world.
This copy-and-paste localization does not take into account cultural preferences or market viability. It's purely a focus on growth for the sake of growth. You might see success in some of the regions, but you could risk alienating others and limiting your growth potential in a highly valuable market. Not to mention that timing a simultaneous content launch in countries without planning for national holidays, timezones, and religious events is a gamble.
3. There hasn't been a pilot to test audience response in the local market
Let's say you've been given a 60-minute video to localize for a new market. If you're going to hire a dubbing studio to do that work, it would cost about $10,000. Betting 10K on a new untested market is incredibly risky. Content localization can be made less risky by starting small and building up to your bigger pieces.
Every market should have a small pilot as part of your research phase to work out any bugs and gauge audience interest. Once you've validated the market, you can then think about investing bigger sums. An additional way to reduce risk is to lower your costs to localization, such as choosing automated dubbing over studio dubbing, but this will all depend on the content format you're working with.
4. The user journey hasn't been localized beyond the content
Content localization is only one facet of what a person sees when you’re targeting a new market. If you’ve been tasked with localizing a customer email that contains a video in English, but you’re only localizing the copy, this creates a disjointed experience for the recipient.
Similarly, if a CTA in that email takes the person to a landing page that’s not in the same language, there’s a high chance that experience will end that person’s journey, making your efforts meaningless. Think of your localization as experience-based so that the entire user journey is tailored to the local market, not just superficially custom. This might mean creating a completely different user journey to the English one to reduce how much you need to localize, but there's rarely a need to exactly copy your English experience.
5. There's no one local to consult on culture
As we've mentioned, content localization is so much more than translation. If you identify a region with high opportunities, run a pilot, and get good results, it could be tempting to localize a lot of content and launch it as quickly as possible. But depending on the content subject matter, diving in headfirst without doing a cultural sanity check with a local team could be a dangerous game.
When Proctor & Gamble launched a commercial in Japan, they learned this lesson the hard way. The video showed a Japanese man walking into the bathroom while his wife bathed in a bathtub, a relatively mundane scene in western culture. However, Japanese women were offended by the ad.
“It’s bad manners for a husband to impose on his wife’s privacy while she is bathing,” explains Mia Ishiguro on Japanese culture. “Our consumers resented the breach of good manners and overt chauvinism of the situation.”
Finding a local partner or a partner with experience localizing content for that region helps mitigate this risk.
Your checklist to get content localization right
While there are several scenarios like those above where content localization probably isn't the right play just yet, the benefits of getting it right are significant.
When Pipedrive, a CRM software company, decided to localize its training and onboarding videos for new customers, the team was faced with many of the questions we've looked at here. They knew that their English content was delivering on key business results (creating highly self-sufficient users), and they knew the most common geographical regions of their customers. The challenge was finding the right partner with the experience and resources needed to make it happen effectively. Ultimately, they partnered with Papercup to automate dubbing into four languages in a matter of days, with localization experts supervising cultural changes.
Before you decide to localize your content, always ask yourself these questions:
With this checklist in your arsenal to get ahead of any issues, you make the localization benefits we looked at earlier more likely to become your company's reality.