Emerging Markets and the Challenge of Localization

There is huge potential to open up new revenue streams in emerging markets around the world. But to do that, you need to offer your product in the language of your target country. This was reinforced in the 2014 survey “Can’t Read. Won’t Buy,” which is viewed as the gold standard for recognizing the importance of localized content and experiencesWhen businesses take the plunge and decide to expand their operations into new countries, there is a lot to consider. Obviously, their content, product labeling, user guides, and other written text need to be carefully translated by a native speaker; one who understands cultural nuances specific to the country. But what about localization?

Localization Challenge
What is localization, and is it different from translation?

Translation is essentially the transformation of text from one language to another. In contrast, localization deals with both the linguistic and the cultural adaptation of the content as a whole. It also involves considering technical obstacles such as the space required to display the target language. For example, a button on your website in English might read ‘buy now,’ however, in French, a direct translation would read ‘acheter maintenant,’ which requires significantly more space.

Though translation is part of localization, much more is needed to make the content appropriate for the country your business is expanding into. Other areas you will need to consider when localizing content are:

  • Symbolic meanings of images, videos, colors, emojis, etc., e.g., don’t use images of bacon when creating content for Islamic countries where pork is taboo.
  • Be aware of the legal requirements of the country you are translating for, e.g., GDPR or Strong Customer Authentication (SCA) in Europe.
  • Text length from English to other languages can be twice as long. This may require some creativity to find different wording that conveys the same meaning and fits into the design.
  • Writing right-to-left is common in Arabic and Hebrew and may necessitate a customized website design.

Translators and localization specialists will both need to consider:

  • Numeric differences like currency, units of measurement, and formats for date and time
  • Cultural preferences within your target country compared to your source country.
  • User data fields that apply to different countries, e.g., in the UK, addresses include the county; while in the US, it is customary to use state in the address.

Context is the most important factor to consider. Looking at where, when, and why the translated material is available will impact the wording used. Localization can be challenging for language service providers. There is so much to consider depending on the type of content being localized, and the region you are expanding your business to. All aspects impact what is culturally appropriate.

Why is localization so challenging?

When you start the process of localizing your digital assets—for example, your website, video, audio, and apps—you’ll quickly realize how complex it can be and how easy it is to get it wrong.

Researching the cultural nuances, colloquialisms, and slang of the country you are expanding into is essential. Ford discovered this when it launched the Ford Pinto in Brazil, where it was met with hilarity and mocking. In Portuguese, pinto means a man with tiny genitalia, not the message Ford wanted to send to its customers. Brand names innocuous in your home country can be hilarious, or worse, highly offensive in another culture. This is equally true of other aspects of your digital content.

Localizing to Arabic or Hebrew countries, where writing is from right-to-left instead of Western countries who write from left-to-right can be problematic, especially if you fail to realize that this also applies to graphics and icons. For example, a graphic of a dirty shirt next to a washing machine, then another illustration to its right with a picture of your detergent. The last graphic of a clean shirt next to the washing machine is easily understood in western countries. In Arabic or Hebrew countries, it would appear that you put a clean shirt in the wash and a dirty one was the result.

Videos and images that make sense in the US would lead to confusion in other countries. When Pampers launched its diapers in Japan, the packaging had a stork on it. In the US this image is understood as relating to babies; in Japan, it was met with confusion as the stork delivery of babies isn’t part of their folklore. Images can also carry subtle cultural messages within them, which may have negative connotations for certain viewers. If a travel site in a Muslim country featured scantily clad women dancing and drinking alcohol, it probably wouldn’t be successful. It may cause some degree of anger towards the site owner.

Localizing your content when you expand into a different country is vitally important. You only have one opportunity to make a first impression, and it needs to be a positive one. Taking the time to research that country’s culture thoroughly—understanding their slang, colloquialisms, and beliefs, will help you win over potential customers.

Localization is challenging and takes time and resources to complete successfully, but the positive impact on your brand reputation and success in that market makes the effort worthwhile.

If you want to learn more about how Protranslating can help you break into new markets by localizing your content, contact us today!

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