When localizing software, websites or apps, it is essential to bear in mind that a new market or culture could be radically different from your own. Here’s what you need to watch out for when making your product for localization.
Localization is about so many more things than simply transposing your language into another, word for word. When localizing software, apps or any aspect of your company, you have to keep in mind that everything about this new market or culture could be radically different from your own. Failing to realize and appreciate this can cost you unnecessarily, yield underwhelming results or even give a negative impression of your company or product. Let’s clear up the mess around localization vs. translation.
This should really go without saying and may seem like a no brainer, but actually realizing, researching and maintaining that sensitivity when beginning a new international campaign can be a little bit tricker and more involved than you may at first think.
It’s important to remember that everyone views the world a bit differently from the way you do and your country and what may seem culturally insignificant could prove to be of the utmost importance and sensitivity in another.
Even across the borders of nations that seem relatively similar culturally and historically speaking — such as the United States and Canada — will you encounter issues and subjects that may or may not be a little bit more taboo than others.
That’s not to say that you need to ignore sensitive topics entirely. In fact, if you play your cards right you could manipulate the grey areas of cultural references and humor to your marketing advantage.
But to that, I say: Be extremely careful!
Don’t go rushing blindly into unknown territory with wild abandon.
Do some serious research into the minds and hearts of the people to whom you’re trying to appeal before you begin campaigning aggressively.
If you’re not 110% certain of what you’re doing it may be better to just avoid topics, images and other culturally significant references entirely. This can also be the most pragmatic approach when going after a general global audience, which I’ll get to shortly.
Cultural and historical references can be extremely funny and successful as marketing tools if done properly, but the risks may be too great if extensive demographic research isn’t done beforehand.
In most cases I’,d recommend avoiding these risks entirely.
The Ramifications of Bad Branding
Branding controversy can become a significant detractor from your company’s name if your imagery, phrasing or other locale-specific marketing strategies conflict with people within your target market.
To shed a little bit of perspective on the subject; while not exclusively a topic in localization per se, recently there has been a hot debate in the US as to whether the Washington Redskins (American) football team should be renamed to something else due to cultural insensitivity towards native peoples.
For those who may not already know; «redskin» or «red man» has been used as a slur towards the native population of North America for centuries and in the modern era has taken on highly racist, disparaging connotations.
It’s doubtful that when the name was chosen, those responsible thought that the name would elicit this sort of controversy. More than likely they thought that it glorified their team, likening the players to native peoples as strong, proud warriors.
After all, it’s a football team — that’s not an unreasonable image to want, right?
While this in and of itself is not an instance of localization gone awry, the lesson is still valid.
This issue represents a change in public perception over the course of decades. It is still an example of a serious branding problem that has led to an intense amount of racially charged backlash — a kind of backlash I’m sure your company can do without.
The times do matter though, and changes in public perception over a given topic — especially one that involves people and their histories — can change.
This is relevant because when you’re first approaching your new market it’s important that you shed your perception of the people you’re seeking to appeal to and approach it as an objective outsider without preconceived notions.
Avoiding branding fails such as this isn’t just a politically correct process by which you make people not hate you, it’s also just good business. People react better to businesses that respect them as customers — not to mention human beings — and part of selling your product is making people like you.
Changing Times and Staying on Top of Your Game
To continue with our sports example — the goal of marketing a product or service is not only about making the changes required to localize your software or service but keeping on top of those changes as time goes by.
I doubt very much that the people responsible for giving the Washington Redskins their name in the 1930s were trying to offend anyone.
They didn’t really put any tremendous amount of thought into the social ramifications of their branding, and it wasn’t until 1968 that native peoples started campaigning strongly against it.
In any case, your product needs to be adaptable.
Your marketing strategy needs to be aware of variations in the social climate and it needs to be constructed in such a way as to be flexible and ready for a change when public perceptions or opinions start to conflict with your current way of doing things.
One of the most amazing things about humanity is our adaptability to changing circumstances — a quality we seek to emulate in business practices and one that is especially vital in globalization.
Practices such as this couldn’t be more essential in emerging economies and markets that are beginning to blossom on a global scale.