5 Localization Challenges to Expect When Entering a New Market

And 5 fixes to make your message resonate

Last Updated: July 25, 2019 5:45PM

We often hear the question, “Is localization hard?”

The simple answer is no, it doesn’t have to be. But localization done right is time-consuming, intricate, and multi-layered. It can be tricky to manage if you don’t have in-depth knowledge of your target culture. It can quickly become overwhelming if you don’t have an air-tight plan in place. In short, it can be really hard if you choose to go it alone without an experienced partner.

Here are five of the most common localization challenges. (Spoiler alert: Lionbridge can help you overcome them all.)

1. Communication involves more than just language

When we deal primarily with people who share our own cultural backgrounds, it’s easy to forget how many elements effective communication comprises. You can change the language of a piece of content by translating it. Translation alone, though, fails to touch on all the contextual and visual nuances that create true meaning.

These non-verbal elements make content feel familiar and relevant, and that’s the kind of content today’s customers want. Research shows that people most want to interact with media that matches their cultural expectations—and feels personally targeted to them. As content creators in one culture and language, how can we know what we need to localize for another?

The Fix

Well-localized content is methodical and purposeful. At Lionbridge, we view localization through three distinct lenses. This allows us to place each element of communication into one of three different categories:

  1. The perceptual level: How people in a culture understand what their senses take in.
  2. The symbolic level: Cultural norms and semiotic meanings, such as those that a culture attributes to colors, symbols, myths, etc.
  3. The value level: The beliefs that help us set priorities in our lives. For example, do we prioritize the community or the individual? Independence or stability?

When we review content and design using this three-fold approach, we can identify the elements that have different meanings in other cultures.

2. Brand voice can clash with cultural norms

According to intercultural competency group CultureWizard by RW3, eight dimensions of culture govern communication. Two that can cause difficulties with localization are formality and group thinking.

In the US, for example, we have a cultural preference for casual relationships that has spilled over into advertising. American commercials tend to sound friendly and informal. Those commercials might rub someone the wrong way in Japan, for example, where word choice depends on the status of the speaker as well as the listener. This can cause problems when a company with a very casual brand voice decides to expand to Japan.

US companies can face similar issues when their brand voice focuses on individuality and personal expression. In a collectivist culture, where people see themselves primarily as parts of a connected whole, that need to stand out may not be as present. This can cause brands that arose from individualistic cultures to fall flat in collectivist ones.

The Fix

These kinds of cultural disconnects run deep. To find and address them, a company needs an in-depth knowledge of the target culture. It needs to understand fundamentally how people from that culture prefer to do business.

At Lionbridge, we’ve been doing just that for more than 20 years. Our team members are on the ground in our clients’ target markets, in more than 5,000 cities, and they make sure we transform content so it’s culturally as well as linguistically resonant.

3. Localization takes time and money

You only get one chance to make a first impression. Yet companies often try to rush the process of preparing to enter a new market.

According to research, hurrying to get things done results in lower-quality outcomes. That’s a risk you just can’t afford to take when entering a new market. According to the Content Marketing Institute and Marketing Profs, brands that release ineffective content are 40 percent less likely to make sales.

Too often, companies cut corners on localization and rush into new markets. The team that is responsible for localizing ends up needing to choose between doing a job that’s thorough and one that’s fast and cheap.

The Fix

Localization always takes time to do right. The solution is to treat it as an investment. Good localization will pay off in global revenue, but it’s important to trust the process.

But don’t make it more complex than it needs to be. The less content you have to localize, the better. Don’t create sparse content, but do use simple sentences and concise language that will get the message across without adding more subjective elements that could be more difficult to localize.

Try thinking of your content as a series of components. Each component should be succinct enough that you can create it, localize it, and re-use it within the target market. If you need to add to a piece of content, you simply create a new component and integrate it as needed.

4. Translation affects design, and vice versa

Design and content creation often happen separately, then come together immediately before release. That’s fine if you’re operating only in a single market, but it doesn’t work for a global company.

For one thing, phrases are longer in some languages than in others. “Buy now” in English is “acheter maintenant” in French. If your web designers size your “buy now” button for English, the French words will run off the side of the button.

Buy now localization challenge

Some languages run top-to-bottom or right-to-left. If your website template only supports left-to-right writing, you’ll have trouble entering markets where readers move from right to left, as in Israel, for example.

The Fix

Centralize your localization strategy. A single comprehensive language service provider can take care of:

  • Consistency and relevance of brand messaging
  • Language services
  • Content management
  • Workflow design

The service provider can then work with decentralized contributors (like multilingual SEO experts, in-country data collectors, and graphic designers) to make sure everybody is collaborating, and nothing’s getting missed.

5. Infrastructure must be ready before localization can begin

The most centralized process in the world won’t result in successful localization if your company’s infrastructure can’t support global operations.

Consider your content management system (CMS), for example.

  • Does it support all the characters and accent marks in your target language?
  • Can it format dates, currency, measurements, etc. correctly for the target culture?
  • Can you customize it so in-country users can edit content?

These are just a few of the functionalities in just one of many systems that you need to consider as well. Everything that interacts with your localized content needs to be designed with multilingual and multicultural operations in mind.

The Fix

Review all the software programs you use for your domestic operations. Make sure you have:

  • E-commerce functionality and online chat, preferably in your target languages
  • Compatibility with all integrated services, like marketing automation, email services, and CRM systems
  • Workflows that support global operations
  • Globalized templates

It’s a lot to keep track of. That’s why the most important thing you need is a localization services provider that can examine your business and tell you what you need to do to get ready to localize.

Lionbridge works with every aspect of localization, globalization, and transcreation. We know what it takes to localize effectively, and we can help you fill in the gaps to make it happen. Give us a call today.

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