"Localization" and "translation" are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same. "Translation" simply means changing the words of a text from one language to another. Localization is a more sophisticated process that includes translation, but goes beyond it to adapt the content in question to the culture and psychology of the intended audience.
Here are 3 important ways that localization differs from translation (and why it matters for any business looking to succeed on a global level.)
Localization goes beyond language
Translation involves the written word, and while it's a necessary component of a localization strategy, it's only one step in the process. Language is important to get your foot in the door of a new market. CSA Research's "Can't Read, Won't Buy" 2020 study showed that 65% of consumers prefer content in their language, and 40% won't buy in other languages at all.
However, the language you use is only the first step in creating a successful international or multicultural business. There are a variety of cultural factors and practical considerations that can make or break your localization strategy.
For example, here are just some of the items that businesses expanding into other countries and cultures must plan for:
● How your product is packaged, including the images on the package
● What marketing channels you use to connect with potential customers
● Whether your offers or messaging need to be adjusted for a better cultural fit
● What currencies and payment options you offer
● How your products will fit into the target culture
● Laws, regulations and other compliance issues
● And much more
Without taking these factors into account, you may fail to attract customers in your target market regardless of language. For example, consider Starbucks Coffee's ill-fated expansion into Australia. They opened 90 new stores, only to have to close 70 percent of them because their product offerings didn't fit into Australia's existing coffee culture. There wasn't a language barrier to overcome, but there was still a cultural barrier.
Localization is the key to getting past both the language barrier and the culture barrier.
Practical considerations for localization
Practical considerations are important, too. For example, as Shopify observes, preferred payment methods vary considerably in different countries:
"Digital payment systems (such as Shop Pay and Apple Pay) reign supreme in China and Western Europe. Customers in India and Eastern Europe, however, prefer cash on delivery. In the Netherlands, almost seven in 10 of transactions are made using a domestic payment method called iDEAL."
The words on the website may be clearly translated and the messaging may be culturally appropriate, but customers will still be much less likely to buy if they're asked to convert from one currency to another or to use less desirable payment methods.
Other potential sticking points can include formatting of dates and times, website accessibility on different device types (for ecommerce), and the availability of customer support in the target language. Anything that creates barriers or friction for customers in the target market should be addressed if possible.
Culturally adapted messaging is crucial
To ensure your brand messaging resonates in your new target market, translation alone may not be adequate. Often, it’s necessary to adapt your messaging to suit your target audience.
This is where its vital to have a deep understanding of the culture and psychology of the people you're trying to reach. Only then can you craft offers, advertising campaigns and persuasive copy that will appeal to them.
Let's look at an example from the B2B world. According to Gartner, "Buyers in France looking to buy new software have a higher preference for market-leading brands, whereas, in Germany, they have a higher preference for software providers they have already worked with."
Right from the beginning, you can see that potential customers will have different preferences, which your marketing and advertising campaigns will need to account for. Buyers in each country also have different motivations for deviating from these preferences. Your marketing goals might be the same in both countries, but the path you take to reach those goals will be different because the culture is different. If you don't adapt the content with these cultural factors in mind, you'll lose sales.
Holidays, humor, beauty standards, cultural references, clothing choices...all of these can vary widely from one country to the next.
That's why direct translation is sometimes insufficient. What works in one community may not work in another. Instead, the best course of action may be to redesign your content from the ground up, to make it relatable to your target audience.
Teamwork makes the localization dream work
Localizing your business is a comprehensive process. To do it right, you need a team of experts behind you. That's why we assemble a "localization squad" for each of our clients. Each member of this team of localization superheroes is carefully selected for their expertise.
Who's on your squad? Depending on your business needs, your dream team might include:
● International marketing experts
● Graphic design pros
● Web development specialists
● International SEO experts
● Project managers
Managing a localization project may sound overwhelming, but with a team of experts on your side, your business can connect with new customers around the world.
Translation vs localization: The bottom line
All too often, we see localization and translation used almost as synonyms. That's why we prefer to talk about "cultural adaption" rather than localization: it gives a clearer picture of what we do. We make sure that your company's offerings are completely adapted to your target audience, wherever and whoever they may be. When you make the effort to connect with your audience, they become more engaged and more likely to convert into customers.
Ready to get started with your own localization squad? Contact us to get started!