How to Run a Successful Localization Program
There are many misperceptions about creating products for global markets. One common belief is that translating from one language to another is all that’s needed to succeed. While many focus on the increased revenue and competitive advantages from new markets, the investment and planning required to create localized products aren’t always fully understood.
Localization is often more like a marathon than a sprint. Rather than a quick win, a successful localization program requires many elements, including a defined strategy, a customized approach, and a strong partner.
If you are new to localization, or if your responsibilities include localization, here are some practical tips on how to run a successful localization program.
Define Your Strategy
An excellent place to start is to do some homework with an internal fact-finding mission. New markets might seem like a quick way to grow a new business, but the potential pitfalls can be devastating without asking the right questions and developing a detailed strategy.
What countries or markets is your organization targeting?
A region that seems ripe for localization must be viewed through a cultural and business lens. Entering new markets should be supported by input from regional teams that confirms the market is ready for each product or service. Determining if enough demand exists to support ongoing localization should also be considered.
Is your product or service ready for localization?
Before jumping straight into translation, knowing whether your product or service has been internationalized can avoid many headaches.
First, it’s worth briefly touching on the difference between localization and internationalization. Localization generally focuses on people, specifically how the user’s experience benefits from translation into their language. Internationalization considers whether a product is adapted at the code level, so it’s ready to be localized into a target language.
Localizing without internationalizing can introduce bugs, such as incorrect currency, date, or time formats. Ideally, engineers will create code that takes global differences into account. If not, then these issues will have to be fixed after the fact. One problem may need to be fixed 26-30 times if the product is translated into that many languages! More important is the reputation of your product in each market.
What and how much are you translating?
As potential markets are identified, you’ll also need to determine what content needs to be localized. Today’s products are supported by substantial content ecosystems that can include user guides, help, chatbots, marketing collateral, sales enablement content, videos, landing pages, social media, and user and privacy agreements, to name a few.
Will all this content be localized for all markets? Or will a subset be translated based on each market’s potential? This is something to determine upfront to save on localization effort and cost. Often regional or in-country teams can provide valuable insight into what is needed and what they will use.
Find the Right Partner
Identifying the right partner is one of the most critical factors in the success of any localization program. Today’s language partners offer many customized options and expertise levels to meet basic and complex requirements.
Do you prefer the ease of working with one partner who can manage all your language and technology needs? Or would you rather have multiple specialized partners? The right fit depends on your priorities and how you see your program growing over time.
When evaluating potential partners, there are many factors to consider beyond cost. ISO certifications, translation technologies, and references will give you an idea about methodologies and experience. Understanding how technology is used to guarantee quality, meet delivery times, and continuously improve will benefit your program in the long term. Exploring specialized services is also worthwhile since you can outsource and free up internal resources for more critical tasks.
Assemble Your Team
Your localization team will likely consist of both external and internal resources. Externally you’ll work with your language partner, their linguists, and any technology partners, all of whom will be an extension of your internal team.
Internally, a small company or small localization program can have as few as one or two people. In larger organizations, dozens across several departments can be involved in global initiatives.
Several key functions need to be supported when building a new localization team. Someone needs to liaise with stakeholders across departments who need localized content. Someone with technical knowledge must respond to queries about the product or functionality. Having someone from each market who can decide on terminology for glossaries can be a huge time saver. Timelines, quality, and budgets also need to be managed. Include anyone who can support the organization’s efforts to go global, from documentation teams to product managers to marketing and legal.
Employ the Right Technology
Why use technology at all? Because while human translators and other language service professionals are always at the heart of a localization project, humans cannot scale enough to support today’s localization programs. Whether AI, neural machine translation, or workflow automation, technology offers a more innovative way to work and tangible benefits such as faster market time, lower costs, and scalability.
One of the core functions of a localization program is project management, which has typically been a time-and-labor-intensive process. Technology, such as a translation management system (TMS), can help your organization scale by centralizing and automating processes, especially when multiple stakeholders are involved. Neural machine translation (NMT) can help translate content faster while reducing costs.
While identifying the right technology for your needs might take some time and effort, investing in these foundational technologies will pay dividends now and in the future. Your language partners can recommend different solutions based on your goals and desired outcomes.
Put the Right Processes in Place
Just like translation is not a one-size-fits-all solution to engage new clients, there is no one-size-fits-all project workflow.
First, consider whether you need a different process for different types of content. For example, UI strings may require an agile or continuous localization model due to the small amount of content, frequency of drops, and tight turnaround times.
Organizing workflows by department is another possibility. Legal may require multiple reviews due to compliance requirements and the specialized terminology used. Marketing may need a transcreation process, where taglines and social ads are re-written in each language to be culturally appropriate and resonate with each audience.
Once translation is complete, an often-overlooked detail is where translated files will be kept. Designating where final files will be stored will save time for updates, allow new projects to launch faster, and avoid costly re-work if the wrong file is used by mistake.
Monitor, Correct, and Improve
A program would only be complete with data collection and performance assessment. Data such as the number of words translated, TM leverage, total spend, and on-time deliveries provide benchmarks to help drive your program’s growth and direction.
Monitoring translation quality, critical errors, and mistranslations can help ensure the language meets each market’s expectations. If not, data will help you to make corrections and get back on track.
Once you have data, setting Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for how you want your localization program to perform can support continuous improvement. Be sure to meet regularly with your language partner as a part of this – they are a good source of valuable data. Discussing your program’s performance in Quarterly Business Review (QBR) meetings is an excellent opportunity to collaborate on how to refine and optimize your program.
Achieving success in localization isn’t an easy or quick win; it’s a process that requires strategy and the right people, processes, and technologies to make entry into new markets possible.
In a best-case scenario, when localization is done well, your end users won’t even realize a product has been localized to their language and culture. They’ll think it was created just for them in their language.