What is Localization and Why Should It Matter to My Company?

Localization, often abbreviated as L10N, is the process of adapting a product to a specific locale or culture. Having your product localized can make a huge difference in ensuring that it is perceived well in the market you are trying to reach. It is easy to think translating your product is enough. Although translation is a part of localization, it is only one step in the process. Knowing what to consider when deciding whether or not to localize your product could take your company to the next level and increase your bottom line.

 As mentioned, translation is part of the localization process. Translating your source text into the language your intended audience speaks is critical as to whether or not they will understand it. Therefore, having a text translated into a target audience’s native language is key. However, it is not the only step to consider. If you expect your product to reach other audiences, especially overseas, ask your translation vendor about the localization process and how it may benefit your particular product.

Burger King's Steakhouse Burger was introduced to Argentina with this colorful advertisement, which included the pronunciation of "Steakhouse" and pricing in pesos. As Argentina is known for its beef, the content of the burger did not need to be adapted. (Photo: Madalena Sánchez Zampaulo, Buenos Aires, 2011)

So, if localization is not just translation, what more does it include? Let’s take the idea of a company’s website. If your company launches a website in the United States, but wants to begin shipping the items to other countries, there are several items to consider. First, decide which country or countries are in your target market. In this case, your company decides to begin shipping to the United Kingdom and Mexico. You know you need to translate the website into Spanish for the Mexican audience, but what else? This is where localization comes in. Here are a few things to consider when localizing your website to these particular markets:

  • Language
  1. Even though English is also the official language of the UK, it is a different variant of English than that spoken in the United States. Many terms and phrases that work well in North American English do not mean the same thing in the UK. Localization can help avoid potentially confusing terms or phrases, as well as let the readers know that the text was written with them in mind.
  2. Simply using a Spanish-language translator for the Mexican audience may not be enough. Just as English in the UK is different than English in the United States, Mexican Spanish will be different than the Spanish spoken in other Latin American countries or in Spain. Proper localization will ensure the translator is fluent in Mexican Spanish to ensure the language meets the needs of your intended audience.
  • Currency

    A product that costs $50 USD will cost 650.14 Mexican Pesos or 29.38 British Pounds (as of June 27, 2014). Your company must ensure your website converts these prices properly and charges enough to cover the added cost of international shipping, if you so desire. This will help drive more sales in your international market. Consumers will be more likely to purchase the product if the prices are listed in their own currency.

  • Formatting/Design
  1. Text that fits properly on your current website may not fit the layout of the translated version. When translating from English to Spanish, the space needed tends to be more. The localization team will help ensure text boxes are expanded to allow for the text to fit on the page without displaying a messy layout on the website itself.
  2. Localizing the graphics for your intended audience is also important. If part of your site contains a graphic showing children playing baseball in front of an American flag, it may not hold the same appeal overseas. The localization team suggest using a graphic with children playing soccer in front of the Mexican flag, for example. Changes like these will help continue to drive traffic to your site if consumers feel like the page is geared toward them.

There are many more factors to take into account when localizing content. A few other points to consider are changing the format of dates, addresses, and telephone numbers, changing color schemes if there are local color sensitivities, etc. A properly localized product will look as though it was developed within the local culture and not simply translated for a basic understanding of the text. Your product will have much more appeal to audiences within these locales if localized properly. Talk to your translation vendor to determine whether or not localization services are provided and what specific benefits it could have for your particular project, as well as for your brand.