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Localization: How to Reach International Markets

“Localization” – the term is buzzing and people are throwing it out left and right… but what exactly is “Localization” and is it really that important?

What is Localization?

The adaptation of a product or service to meet the unique needs of a particular language or culture is what we call “localization”. In other words, it’s the action of adapting content to fit in the intended market and to appear as if it has been created within that local culture.

For example, an American company needs to adapt its marketing material before launching in England. Even though both markets use the same language, adaptation is needed to blend in and reach the British audience. Words such as “color” need to be spelled “colour”; Fahrenheit needs to be converted into celsius, etc. In addition to idiomatic language translation, details such as religious references, time zones, currency, national holidays, product or service name translation, or geographic references must all be adjusted. Unfortunately, this is not something Google Translate can do. At least, not yet.

It's the art of adapting your message to a local audience, making it culturally relevant, in order to create a feeling of proximity, respect and confidence.

Martin Ouellet, CEO of Addendum Communication – a new Los Angeles based company which provides language solutions for businesses and institutions, shares:  “Localization is the key to the translation process. It goes way further than adapting the currency or measurement. It is the art of adapting your message to a local audience, making it culturally relevant, in order to create a feeling of proximity, respect and confidence. A Machine Translation (MT) can’t do that, nor can a simple and literal translation. Localization is especially important for small businesses who are about to take the stressful step to expand internationally or who wish to increase their sales in foreign markets. The first impression is crucial.”

How does localization apply to small businesses?

Any business wishing to reach more than a single limited market needs a strong localization strategy. “You have to communicate in an effective way with your future global customers. To do so, you must talk to them in their own terms, with an excellent understanding of their socio-cultural traits, consumption habits, idioms, common expressions, manner of speech and taboos. You have to make sure that your message reflects what you want to inspire. The same joke, the same slogan, the same message, the same rallying cry doesn’t work everywhere and what is efficient in France won’t necessarily succeed in French Canada,” shares Ouellet.

Larger companies, such as the nation’s biggest fast-food chain, have been doing that for years. Did you know that in Canada, you can buy poutine at McDonald’s? 

Translation firms are now heavily advertising their localization and adaptation services as businesses are aware that a literal translation won’t have the desired effect.

If you want to be global, go local.

Where to start?

Once your business plan is clear and you know the market you are ready to conquer, look for a localization firm that prides itself in having native talents; that is key. You want someone who knows not only the language but the culture of the market you are reaching. That person has a real understanding of the people you want to reach, and that depth will transpire in the work. Remember, the goal is for your service or product to appear as if it has been created within that local culture. As Ouellet puts it; “If you want to be global, go local. In order to establish a lasting and fruitful relationship with your future international clients, make sure to connect with them.”

Start with your website as this is most likely the first line of contact between you and your customers. Then revise all your marketing material; brochures, flyers, commercials, taglines, etc.

Remember that language plays an important role in purchasing as most people are more comfortable shopping on websites in their own language. It is not surprising to learn that almost 90 percent of people who can’t understand English won’t buy on an English-only website. Globally, more than 40 pour cent of shoppers will never make any purchase in languages other than their own. When asked to share a localization success story, Ouellet says; “One of most eloquent localization story to come to mind is the one of ‘’Bureau en Gros“ in Quebec. This office retail company has an excellent reputation, owns 65 stores and employ almost 2500 people. The brand is so familiar in Quebec that people tend to think of it as a local brand… But it is a big American corporation! Staples rebranded its name ’’Bureau en Gros” specifically for the francophone market in Quebec and it worked!”

Unless you are satisfied with not expanding your reach, the answer to the first question in this article is: “yes, it is really that important”.

Written by Mukta Cholette, Founder of Creative Marketing Ninja. As seen on Kivo Daily.


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