With localization, when you’ve done a good job, nobody really notices. But on the flip side, errors can be very glaring. By not paying attention to and investing in localization, you not only risk getting it wrong, you risk losing out on a new market.
At Blueprint Technologies, one of our key practice areas is localization. We still find that many do not understand the basics of localization, nor do they accurately estimate the benefits to be gained from getting localization right early and on the first attempt. We interviewed one of our localization experts, John Simpson, to help answer some of the most asked questions.
What does localization entail?
Localization is essentially the process of taking source content and adapting it to fit a specific market or locale. Translation is a big part of it, but it is just a part. Localization might also include adjusting fonts, formats of dates and addresses and making sure all those things are in compliance with local laws, regulations and expectations. You need to adapt images, graphics, design, layout and modify content to give a product the look and feel of having been created specifically for that target market rather than adapted to it. That is the difference between simply translating something and localizing it.
Can you give me an example?
Say I wanted to market a product in Spain. Obviously, we’d need to translate the information into Spanish, but you’d really want to make sure that the person doing the translation is from Spain rather than from Colombia or Mexico, where they use Latin American Spanish and have their own slang. When you are putting source text through a program like Google Translate, it will just do a word-for-word translation. But localization changes it to sound like something a native speaker would actually say. Imagery benefits strongly from localization as well. Say you were working on something created in the U.S. and it was talking about school. The imagery would likely include a yellow school bus and apple icons. Those are ubiquitous images to Americans; they understand what they mean. But somebody in Spain or Italy might not know the intended impact because they don’t have the yellow school bus.
What makes Blueprint’s localization efforts different?
We’re really going against market trend right now. Over the past several years, it has become very common to leverage machine learning to cut down on costs. Localization can quickly get expensive, so a lot of firms will use machine learning and translation memory term bases. Essentially, a term base works by storing pre-translated terms for repeated use as base translated copy that is designed to then be edited by a human. While we use term bases when it makes sense, there’s no replacement for a strong human translator who really understands the meaning of the source content. You wouldn’t ask someone without a legal background to translate a legal document because it probably wouldn’t sound very correct and key components could even be missing. That analogy applies to the medical field, software engineering, gaming and numerous other industries. For any project, we ensure we understand the type of work our clients will be doing, and we make sure our clients’ needs match our staff profiles. That ensures they have the right background to understand the source material and the client. This produces better quality work and makes the translation/localization process faster.
What are the major components of effective localization?
It really does start with the people. Our methodology starts with people with the right skillset, background and knowledge to match the work they will be doing and then supporting them with the right technology. We make sure we have the right hardware and software for the job to help enhance the abilities of our staff. If there is a huge creative component to the work we’re doing, companies do need to budget time for learning. If you focus too much on deadlines, you can end up with mistakes in your work and a lower quality product. At Blueprint we also do our localization quality assurance in-house. Some firms outsource that, but we feel it is vital that the people doing QA reviews understand the source material intimately.
What are the benefits of getting localization right?
If you’re a company trying to break into a new market, the hardest thing to do is build that credibility and brand equity. It’s crucial to get it right the first time. There are plenty of examples of companies getting it wrong. If it is done well, though, it can be an accelerator for a product. In Japan, for example, KitKat has been warmly received in part because the verb Katsu means “win.” So, when you say KitKat in Japan, it has a very nice sound – it sounds like the Japanese exclamation for “I won!” Whether or not that was intentional, it’s an advantage. KitKat candy is extremely popular over there. Here we have white chocolate and milk chocolate. There, they have something like 100 flavors. That success comes down to understanding how your product is going to be perceived and taking advantage of that. If you have someone who really understands the local market and how people think, that is potential equity for a brand and a priceless opportunity to establish local credibility.
What are the risks companies run by not paying attention to/investing in localization?
With localization, when you’ve done a good job, nobody really notices. But on the flip side, errors can be very glaring. For example, there was a beverage company that was trying to break into the Irish market. They called their product The Black and Tan because it was Guinness flavored, but what they didn’t realize was The Black and Tans was the nickname for a terrorist group during the Irish War of Independence. If their product localization had included input from people who understood the locale they were trying to market to, they would have advised against that name. Localization isn’t just about getting the words correct and making sure the art looks good, it is also understanding how your product is going to be perceived. You only get one chance at a first impression, so localization is really about taking advantage of the work you are doing everywhere else in the product chain and making sure it is presented correctly, to the right people and at the right time. All these things are critical, and they are all part of the localization process. By not paying attention to and investing in localization, you not only risk getting it wrong and losing out on a new market; you also fail to take full advantage of all the other investments you’ve already put into developing your product.