Updated: Jul 17, 2020
Addressing localisation issues when you realise they occur is more challenging than preventing them from happening.
If you are planning to introduce localisation and/or translation into your operations to support your international marketing efforts, it is the right time to start developing a localisation strategy and think about how your organisation would need to change to support multilingual content management efforts.
If you are already localising your content but the results are not as great as you would like them to be, you must be missing essential elements in your localisation process and a clear direction for localisation.
Either way, here are a few actions you can take to ensure your localised content performs as you expect.
# 1. Foster a continuous exploration of cultural differences between your domestic and international markets
In a different market, culture is always different even where the same language is spoken. The existence of cultural differences can have numerous implications that go beyond language, because it is the culture, not the language, that shapes people's preferences, needs, wants, reactions and expectations. For this reason, translated content might not always deliver the expected results when cultural differences are not taken into consideration.
Depending on their national culture, customers might need more or less information before they can make a decision, or they might prefer that information to be delivered in a more or less explicit way. Thus, your Dutch communications might need to be more direct, but the opposite would apply to Japanese.
To make a brand, value proposition, product or service appealing to customers in another market, it might be necessary to add or remove some content, or even replace it completely. Your brand voice might also need to change depending on your target customers' culture. Effective marketing and brand strategies and content production processes accommodate for these needs.
Always remember that what is appropriate and desirable in one culture might be unacceptable in another. Think, for example, about why fashion in the Arab world is so different from what people wear in the Western countries. It is always a good idea to conduct a quick in-context check of content intended for a foreign market before that content reaches the audience.
# 2. Ensure information flows between all localisation and translation stakeholders
If an organisation lacks the mechanisms enabling all localisation and translation stakeholders to understand the cultural difference important for the business and the implications they have for its marketing and content strategy in international markets, localised content will inevitably underperform and even pose a risk to the brand image and reputation.
If you were told that your localised content is not good, you should audit your translation and content management processes because your translators and key stakeholders do not receive the information they need to produce content that can deliver the expected results and resonate with international audiences.
Without knowing what content needs to achieve and what strategy and techniques are used for that purpose, translators would not be able to create content in their language that would be effective for delivering the same result. Ask your translators what information would help them do the job you expect from them and implement the mechanisms allowing the relevant stakeholders share information easily.
# 3. Ensure alignment on localisation and translation objectives
When a team responsible for production of multilingual content is referred to as "Localisation" but it does not have a say in shaping a company's localisation strategy, or when stakeholders do not understand how localisation differs from translation, this leads to confusion between responsibilities and objectives. It can easily jeopardise not only your international marketing success but also make the entire organisation dysfunctional and compromise the relationships with service providers supporting your localisation efforts.
It is possible that the function that should ultimately translate strategy into content is not given the tools it needs to make it happen while getting penalised for not achieving what is beyond its remit. When translation is not well integrated into the content creation process, what might look like a poor translation can actually be related to business issues which translation cannot address.
Identify all your localisation and translation stakeholders and ensure they share the same understanding of your localisation strategy and process. Ask them whether they believe anything is missing and what they view as hindering their efforts.
# 4. Understand how technology impacts translation process and quality
If you notice suboptimal translation quality, it is possible that the way you produce content or use software to manage it is not translation- and/or localisation-friendly. This means that your translation management tool might not have the flexibility needed to adapt your content for the local markets.
Knowing both the advantages and the limitations of technology that supports your localisation efforts is essential for developing effective strategy and processes to produce translation that can bring expected results. Does your technology allow you to share enough context with translators to help them understand what the audience will see once the content is published, so they can find the right words to ensure your intended message can be delivered seamlessly?
To be able to control translation quality, it is important to have a good understanding of how the technology you use to produce, deliver and manage content integrates with and impacts the translation process. Will your content get published in the language of your home market before translation is delivered? This can result in a mixed-language experience for international customers who would see partially translated content. This will lower their trust in your brand and the perceived quality of your offering. You can understand how to change that if you map out your multilingual content creation processes.
If you plan to introduce or already rely on AI-powered translation technology and are mindful of translation quality, your teams' writing style and your brand terminology might need to change to accommodate the technology limitations. One of my clients struggled to control translation quality because the machine translation tool would translate what was supposed to mean "membership renewal date" as "bicycle date" and "don't be a stranger' as "don't be a foreigner".
For that company, improving translation quality implied introducing rules into content writing in English and using more pre-translated templates. However, the translation quality remained suboptimal. If the team relying on that translation solution understood the limitations of that technology and their implications, it would have chosen a different option.
# 5. Invest in developing robust localisation and translation management practices
The outcome of localisation and translation is only as good as the way to achieve it. Localisation without a strategy underpinned by clear and comprehensive guidelines will always be ineffective. A translation process without a mechanism to provide translators with context and feedback will never produce quality content.
Make sure your multilingual content production process is designed in a way that can be effectively managed, and that those who manage it have the knowledge, tools and resources to do it.
If you are hiring someone to manage your localisation and translation efforts, give them the time and the support they need to introduce good management practices. As someone who has been there, I can assure you it will pay off.
If an existing member of your team is taking the responsibility of outsourcing translation, do invest in their training. Even a half-a-day translation management workshop will not only help you save more resources than you can imagine, but it will also minimise the risk of producing content than can damage your brand image (something that might not be easy or even possible to fix).
Changing bad practices and flawed processes is a lot more challenging, time-consuming and expensive than building a solid foundation from the start.
If you want to prevent localisation and translation issues from happening, formulating a localisation strategy, taking a close look into the processes and dedicating some attention to the stakeholders will surely help you get there. Let me know if you need any assistance with building a foundation for localisation or improving existing processes.
If you believe your teams can benefit from developing a better understanding of your target customers' culture, I can help you introduce initiatives that will allow you to foster cultural awareness within your organisation with zero budget and minimal efforts, or conduct a thorough local market research for a fraction of what an agency would charge.