E.g., 02/20/2018
E.g., 02/20/2018

Localization beyond Translation

By: Pedro Gomez, Principal, PM Lead - Microsoft Corporation

30 October 2017

Traditionally, localization has concerned itself with the translation of user interfaces, online help, manuals, etc. Translation has typically enabled users to gain access to different language versions of the same product worldwide. 

In the future, successful digital products with global aspirations will have to go beyond presenting a standard data set in multiple languages, and they will have to do this simultaneously. Other than full-scale adoption of translation automation technologies, making products feel “native” and “fresh” in all locales (and possibly tailor-made to individual user requirements through personalization) is the single largest opportunity facing the localization industry. 

At first, this level of flexibility and configurability in digital products may appear daunting. But keep in mind that industries producing physical goods have been able to address this challenge by developing flexible production processes. Localization, meet mass customization

First, companies need help validating that their services can be legally expanded and that there is indeed a demand for them in other markets. Certain products or data sets are regulated and subject to restrictions in some jurisdictions. Companies will pay to gain access to a solid understanding of local legal frameworks that unlock accretive market expansion. An appreciation for the competitive environment in different regions of the world will also make or break products. There is, for instance, tremendous value in knowing that India is the largest market in the world for Google Play, whereas China is the largest grossing market in the world for iOS (data from the market research firm App Annie).

Next, digital publishers need to translate their experience to international audiences. Supporting different formats for names and postal addresses or being fluent in multiple payment instruments are table stakes. In addition, they have to focus on making the product feel “native”. Does the content payload of your services resonate in other locales? Is your UI metaphor appropriate in all regions? Are you present in the right stores to fuel growth? Being conversant in these nuances will foster product adoption. Global Product Managers of the future will understand what social sharing apps are most popular in each region and build products that tap into a host of social graphs natively, for instance. 

In addition, companies need to identify a promotion strategy that works locally. Companies cannot gamble that their products will “go viral”. Instead, they need to apply careful thinking to the design of campaigns that lead users through the proverbial Learn/Find/Try/Buy/Use funnel. In doing this, they must tune their message to each individual market. Again, there are good examples of this in the analog world: chewing gum is often advertised in the US as a way to improve oral health. In addition to that, in China the pitch includes increased concentration and reduced stress (see this article in the Wall Street Journal). 

Finally, savvy digital marketers will recognize that the launch of the product is not the end, but only the beginning of the customer engagement journey. Consequently, they will stand up support and listening mechanisms to understand how users are engaging with the products and perform sentiment analysis. They will seed and curate communities. They will identify hurdles in the conversion funnel by mining user forums. According to research by CNN, the ten-year job growth for Social Media Managers in the US is estimated to be around 9%. This trend is definitely not limited to the United States and will require global translation.

These are just a few examples about how future localization will evolve away from traditional translation. And this is where the opportunity lies. Consulting services that guide companies through the global roll-out cycle, from ideation to continued support on the ground, is the future. A future that must be embraced as an engine of growth rather than an onerous tax.

Pedro Gomez

Pedro Gomez works at Microsoft Corporation, where he leads a global operations team. Pedro has an extensive background in product development, cross-cultural communication, and international business. He holds a BA in natural languages and a Master’s Degree in Business Administration.