Five Localization Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

Lee Densmer 16 Oct 2019
Five Localization Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

When you’re in a high-growth business that operates globally—or one that’s getting ready to go global—sometimes you have to act before you’ve had time to put together a foolproof localization strategy. Localization happens when the need arises: when a new market or product launch demands it, for example. You have to move fast. Refinement and strategy can wait.

Or so you think.

Unfortunately, this reactive approach to localization does make you more susceptible to the pitfalls that often await brands that aren’t prepared to go global.

Let’s look at five of these pitfalls and some tactics to make sure you don’t tumble into them.

1. Templatizing too much

When you’re building content at any significant scale, templates can be extremely helpful. They can help speed up the process of building web pages, emails, documents, product descriptions, even blog posts without you having to reinvent the wheel.

But when you rely on these too heavily, that’s when you run into issues—especially on a global scale.

It might be that your template doesn’t work across regions. For example, a web page for China would have to look vastly different from what we’re used to in the West in terms of UX preferences.

Does that mean templates are reserved for small businesses? Not necessarily. You have two options.

In cases where content preferences change drastically, as in the example above, you might have to develop different web page templates for different regions. This takes time, of course. Perhaps start lean and create templates for just your biggest revenue-generating markets.

In other cases, it will be sufficient to do some tweaks to your global website template once you’ve used it. At least make sure your master template is localization-ready by making it as simple and organized as possible. For example:

  • Simplify formatting: Beyond basic formatting like colors, bolding, italics and lists, things like images and tables can be difficult to duplicate in translated files.
  • Leave whitespace: This helps preserve the content’s formatting when translated. Most languages take up more space than English and need room to “grow.”
  • Choose a basic Unicode font: Like Arial or Times New Roman. Not all fonts can support accents, umlauts and other special characters.

2. Neglecting nurture campaigns

When brands need to take their content global, the first thing they localize is usually, well, the content itself. But that’s only part of the story.

If you think holistically about customer journeys and the nurture programs you build around your home-turf content, then you need to think holistically about localization, too. That means you mustn’t neglect other global digital marketing elements like email campaigns, landing pages, social posts and so on—these need to be localized just as thoughtfully as your content. By optimizing nurture campaigns for different regions, you can get more mileage out of your hero content.

Once you’ve built all the components—for example, an email sequence driving customers to download an ebook or follow-up content for after they attend a webinar—you would simply replicate and localize the campaign for each market. The marketing funnel itself doesn’t need to differ—just the language and culturally aware delivery of each piece.

As part of that, you would also need to think about suitable ways to localize each piece with quality and budget considerations in mind. A simple post-download thank-you page might not need more than machine translation, but the landing page leading to it would need human-generated content (perhaps transcreation) to drive users emotionally to act.

With all these pieces and localization methods mapped out in detail, it’s easier to see what needs localizing and how, leaving no stone unturned.

This Multilingual Digital Marketing Checklist will help you decide how to choose the right approach for the right content, which content to prioritize and everything else to think about before launch.

3. Ignoring the variation within a ‘single’ language

It sounds like a simple enough thing to get right, but you’d be surprised by the number of brands that stumble on the pitfall of thinking that a target language is a single entity. Most languages are in fact much more nuanced than English.

Take Spanish as an example. There are many variations and dialects of Spanish, even within Spanish-speaking regions. Latin America alone is a melting pot of cultures that each takes its own linguistic influence from different Indigenous and European languages. Some Spanish-speaking countries also speak other languages entirely: Catalan in Spain, for example.

If you assume that Spanish is the lingua franca in all parts of Spain or the same across regions, you could end up alienating potential customers.

So, do your research. The first step is to find out which dialects or variants you might need to cater to; the next is to figure out whether to cater to them. As a general rule of thumb, the less creative or country-specific your content, the more you can “get away” with using the universal version of your target language. For marketing or highly branded content, a one-size-fits-all approach is too risky—you’ll want to recognize your customers’ dialectal nuances to connect with them on a deeper level.

Check out our ebook on navigating Spanish dialects to get a sense of how to choose the best approach for Latin America, Mexico, Spain and beyond.

4. Being too rigid with technology

Yes, technology is powerful and increasingly important for supporting high-volume, high-quality localization. But it should never be considered a ‘set-it-and-forget-it’ situation.

The risk there is that you put too much faith (and money) in tech only to find later on that it’s starting to crack under pressure. What if the translation management system you’ve relied on for years doesn’t integrate with the company’s new CMS?

Instead, you should be thinking about your technology needs today and how they might develop with your localization service and wider business objectives. In other words, if you have to rely on tools, at least make sure they can scale.

If you’re thinking of applying technology to your localization strategy to make sure your solution fits you now and in the future, you could ask questions like:

  • What kinds of technology could enhance my localization capabilities today?
  • What blend of human and computer intelligence will we need in the future?
  • What new skills will we need to manage that balance?
  • What structures will support us in delivering the best products and content as our strategies evolve?

Tip: Your language service provider can help you project future needs and prioritize your current ones. In the meantime, here’s a guide that can help get you into forward-thinking mode.

5. Treating localization as a one-off task

If you’re a small business with very little content to localize, you could maybe, possibly get away with an ad-hoc approach to localization. That is, outsourcing one job to a vendor rather than having someone build you a program-level approach with tools, quality processes and KPIs.

But if you’re a brand operating at scale, that’s a recipe for disaster.

Earlier, we called this one-off work a reactive approach to localization strategy. It comes with all sorts of risks. As an afterthought, localization is not only perceived internally as a bothersome cost of doing business, but externally, if your customers have to demand content in their own language before you provide it, it doesn’t do much for your brand’s reputation or bottom line.

You need a smarter, more strategic approach if you don’t want to fall into the pitfalls we’ve covered here. It might seem far-fetched to be able to release global content proactively, but it’s absolutely possible when you take a holistic approach to localization.

The RWS Moravia Go Global Model explains what that looks like. Take a look at our fun new interactive page for it.

Of course, when going global, trial and error come with the territory. We’ve barely scratched the surface with these pitfalls—you may come across others you may not be prepared for. But a comprehensive approach will minimize that risk. Until then, get in touch and let’s talk localization strategy together.

Lee Densmer

Lee Densmer

Lee Densmer has been in the localization industry since 2001, starting as a project manager and moving up into solutions architecture and marketing management. Like many localization professionals, she entered the field through an interest and education in languages. She holds a master’s in linguistics from University of Colorado. Lee lives in Idaho, and enjoys foreign travel and exploring the mountains of the region.
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