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The importance of accurately globalizing your message for new markets

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ClientSide News Magazine pictureAt some point you may have wondered or asked yourself: what does the term localization really mean? If you have, don’t feel bad. Few people outside the industry can describe what is actually involved in the localization process. And it seems like even fewer realize how complex and potentially time-consuming the process of producing accurate, superior-quality localizations truly can be.

Contrary to what many people assume, localization does not only confine itself to not merely about text translation. Let’s start with some definitions that are often incorrectly and interchangeably used to mean the same thing. According to the Localization Industry Standards Association (LISA) localization is:

  • The extent to which systems and business processes are tailored to meet the needs and cultural expectations of audiences within identified markets, or a particular region or country (i.e. locale) other than the one where it was develop. This is done by adding locale-specific components and translating text from one language to another. These markets can be international or domestic.
  • Translation is the process of converting written text from one language to another.
  • Internationalization is the process of designing an application so that it can be adapted to various languages and regions without requiring engineering changes.
  • Globalization is the process of integrating localization throughout a company, after proper internationalization and product design, as well as marketing, sales and support.

Those involved in the foreign language translation and localization business understand that there are multiple factors that come into play during a translation or localization project. For those needing the service, however, two of the crucial questions that should be addressed include:

  1. How do you want your organization’s brand and message presented to non-native speakers of your source company language?
  2. Would you want to risk offending your international target audience with poor translation/localization?

Inferior quality translation not only has the potential to offend a culture and its values, but even worse (from the commercial standpoint, at least) it may negatively impact any possible chance for a sale to your prospective clients. In the context of globalization, localization usually effects specific areas of content and requires expertise that is hard for an organization to find internally unless they have international offices. Expertise in these areas includes:


The words, images, audio, and video that are integrated with the information architecture and visual design to communicate the brand. Areas of consideration will include functionality, visual design and the content itself. Critical factors affecting accurate localization include an understanding of: symbols and icons, product/function availability, legal and financial, graphics using gender, age, people and well known places and items of country-specific reference. What needs to be adapted to locale standards will vary with each business and the application or materials involved.


Issues include literacy, pedagogical methods, language correlation, word order and wrapping, line breaking, sort order, language terminology.


Issues include content access and connectivity, multi-byte enablement and support for foreign character sets, fonts, numbers and date formats, written and spoken language expansion and contraction. Technical consideration also relates to the structure behind the application or website, such as the file structure or repositories for the translated content, based on the number of languages involved. This affects the functionality of the content as the user navigates through the materials to ensure that the right language content is presented and the visual layout is correct. Further complication arises depending on the backend structure of the application or website and whether content is static or dynamically presented.


Is a shared set of learned assumptions, values, and behavior developed over time, which influence thoughts, feelings, and day-to-day actions. This being one of the hardest areas to get right, factors include local knowledge, metaphors, ethnicity, role and gender models, behavioral norms, graphics, icons, fashion, gestures, interests, and color. Color is extremely symbolic: “green with envy”, “blue” or can “see red”.

These issues will all affect your brand, which is the combination of the brand experience from interacting with the website or marketing materials, as well as the psychological aspect, known as the brand image, consisting of all the information and expectations associated with a product or service. It has long been known that business-critical know-how transmitted in a language foreign to the recipient will have a 60% failure rate, with a correspondingly disastrous effect on ROI and company performance. (Laufer & Yano “Reading in Foreign Language” 13(2) 2001)

Are You Ready, and How Do You Assure Success

When thinking about localizing materials for other cultures, whether it is a comprehensive localization of your website into multiple languages, or a marketing brochure that needs to be translated into Spanish, the following can help you to decide on a strategy for getting your message across properly in one or more languages:

  1. Calculate the ROI and pros and cons of spending the money to have your translations executed by professional, reputable resources.
  2. Ask yourself if you want to risk offending your potential target market with subpar quality work in order to save some money by having it done internally by a foreign-speaking employee as a part- time responsibility.
  3. Determine if, in the long term, targeting overseas or ethnic domestic markets, and communicating with them in their native languages will enhance the brand reach of my company.
  4. Ascertain whether properly localizing your 4. content into multiple languages will ultimately increase your market share, add to your revenue stream, and foster good will with your intended audience.

Deciding what to localize is a marketing and business development decision. Content is usually customer facing and includes marketing collateral and communications, the product itself, product manuals and user guides, marketing websites and materials for support services. Organizations should consider market demand and revenue, competitive analysis, budget and available resources.

The costs vary depending on the localization services needed, which can include actual language translation work, pre and post-translation engineering of software, multimedia or web-based source files, documentation and help formatting, and the level of testing and project management needed. The size and complexity of the project, the content involved (i.e. software, website, documentation) and the knowledge of regulations and subject matter expertise will affect costs and the timeline of the project. These issues are then compounded by the number of target languages that will be required. Fortunately over time or for subsequent releases, the costs of localization decrease and the return on investment increases through the use of industry-specific technology such as translation memories. This can lead to savings of 10 to 50 percent or more.

Calculating the revenue and net return derived from localization can be more challenging than determining the cost. Market data and sales history numbers for the existing language product are the most reliable components. A trial project with one language and the review of pre and post-usage information and Web trends from your IT or marketing team will give you justification for considering expanding to additional languages.

The critical importance of accurately globalizing your organization’s message for new markets

Without current data, many companies use estimates or market trends to predict expected revenue, basing them on market and potential sales forecasts of the target audience or market. Recent census figures tell us that 1 in 5 Americans speak another language other than English while at home. Of this group, those speaking Spanish were in the vast majority. There are more than 30 million Spanish-speaking consumers in the US, with a combined purchasing power of more than $800 billion. Both IDC (International Data Corporation) and LISA (Localization Industry Standards Association) are also good sources for information on foreign language audiences and market potential. According to these organizations, over 100 languages are spoken in the US alone. Of these 100 languages, there are 11 languages that correspond to populations greater that 500,000 people in the US. Almost 50% of this population identifies itself as having limited English skills.

Today many large US corporations already generate more than half of their revenue from international markets. 50% of Internet users worldwide do not speak English as their first language. In the next two years, this number will increase to 66% and is projected to keep growing. The US dominated the Web for many years, but now ranks only sixteenth among countries worldwide in terms of its residents having broadband access to the Internet. The 12 largest global markets, in terms of GDP, consist of the US, Japan, China, Germany, United Kingdom, France, Italy, Canada, Spain, Brazil, Russia, and South Korea. Localizing a Web site into French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Japanese enables nearly 220 million Internet users from these countries to access that site in their preferred language.

With the right marketing information and business strategy, even a small company can make its products and services available to millions of potential consumers around the world. Members of LISA reported in 2001 that, on average, they achieved $10 of additional revenue for every dollar spent on localization. By 2007, the ratio had increased to $25 of additional revenue for every dollar spent. Today, the weakening dollar is driving this ratio even higher.

The Bottom Line

Most organizations do not have the internal resources and cultural expertise required to successfully plan and execute a multilingual project. Even when these resources do exist, their availability can be limited and usually do not allow the work to be done cost effectively, on time, and with the quality that will be accepted by the target audience or locale.

While smaller. One-time translation projects can certainly be handled in-house, there are many benefits to outsourcing larger multi-language projects to the right full-service multi-language service provider. Benefits include:

  • The benefit of project management experience completing many similar projects through a single point of contact
  • Qualified and redundant locale-specific resources for each localization task
  • Experience and investment in the latest technologies to assure efficiency and reduce costs
  • Support of multiple languages and the ability to provide simultaneous launch of multi-language projects
  • Freeing up of your internal resources to act as subject-matter experts instead of being responsible for completion of all tasks

Some of the criteria to consider during the selection process include:

  • Resource availability and flexibility in process and pricing
  • Number of languages that can be provided
  • Partner approach with interest in long-term relationships and improvement through best practices
  • Technical competence and expertise with similar projects
  • Commitment to quality and customer service reflected in customer retention


Bill Johnson is Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Interpro Translation Solutions. Bill is a seven-year veteran of the localization industry, and has implemented globalization solutions involving both language services and technology for Fortune 2000 companies across many different industries. Bill’s ability to understand his customers’ business processes come from his diverse career background. He has worked in Operations, Product Development, Marketing, Client and Professional Services, as well as in direct and channel sales. Bill also has extensive expertise in adult learning, blended media design and implementation management, having worked in the eLearning industry for over 15 years. He holds an MBA from the University of Detroit, a BS in Marketing and Economics from Marquette University, and is active in a number of industry groups and associations.

Nicholas Strozza is Marketing Coordinator at Interpro Translation Solutions. Nicholas graduated Summa Cum Laude at Northern Illinois University with a B.S. in Marketing and a minor in French, and worked in the eLearning and web development industries before coming to Interpro. Nicholas has a strong interest in languages and cultures and is fluent in both Italian and French.

Published - February 2010

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