Startups and global growers often jump into localization quickly—their markets demand it. A+ for enthusiasm! They are achieving success in their new markets by offering in-language content. But they may not have a quality plan, vendor management approach, technology vision, or workflow strategy.
As both volumes and complexity increase, a strategy is critical in order to make decisions that support growth and drive cost effectiveness. It’s easy enough to meet a deadline when you only have 1,000 words to translate in 5 languages, but what about 100,000 words, across various content types, in 21 languages? The approach is necessarily different.
Time to strategize. A strategy will help your localization team focus their energies, set priorities, strengthen operations, and move past reaction and guesswork. It’s the antidote to indifference, confusion, complacency and short-term thinking. Convinced?
Here are some tips for starting to build a framework for a localization strategy.
1. Determine what markets to enter
Market strategy is central to any localization strategy. Entering all markets at once (or for some, at all) is a budgetary mistake. Projected sales in each market play a huge role, but it’s not the only factor. Consider first any languages with a strong national or regional presence—such as Chinese, Japanese, and Korean for Asia.
Yes, there are several other languages whose economic potential is on the rise, like Vietnamese, Malay, and Thai, but they can be accommodated in the later stages of a developing loc strategy. Another factor is online activity—check Wikipedia for the number of articles it supports per language. Also, snoop on competitors. There are lots of ways to help choose your markets.
2. Know the laws, standards, and local requirements
Make sure you’ve done your research with your legal team on things like property laws, tariffs, and quotas (Brazil and Argentina), language requirements (China, Canada), network parameters, and any forced data localization (e.g., the Snowden fallout).
3. Bring the right people to the table
You need input from an executive sponsor, engineering manager or tech specialists, quality manager, language manager, project manager, program director, legal counsel, market research specialists, business analysts, sales director, and marketing manager. It’s no small team, but you can’t move forward until everyone has contributed in their area of expertise.
4. Content strategy part 1: research your buyer
You can’t assume all your buyers consume information and make decisions in the same way; buyer personas and behavior are different country to country. How do millennials buy in each market? Where do retirees research information online? What are the sources of authority for teenagers? Develop and localize content specifically aligned with your buyer behaviors and needs.
5. Content strategy part 2: decide what content to translate
You don’t have to translate all your content. Make a plan for what’s important, what’s nice-to-have, and what doesn’t need to be translated at all. Is English (or whatever your source language is) a second lingua franca in your target market? Do very few people access certain sections of your online help (or has it fallen by the wayside anyway, in favor of product videos)?
6. Quality strategy part 1: define quality to achieve quality
Quality impacts customer experience and product acceptance in market. Poor linguistic quality can literally sink your ship. Determine the criteria for good and bad quality. Is it by the number of errors per deliverable? The number of complaints you get from service reps? Create and manage TMs, style guides, and glossaries (collectively called assets) to help drive consistency. Define workflows and establish key performance indicators for each content type. Your translators and reviewers should use scorecards. Then, figure out how to use your quality data to track trends and improve.
7. Quality strategy part 2: map content types to quality requirements
Designate what content needs to be top quality (marketing content) versus adequate quality (knowledge base articles). Top-notch quality takes longer and is more expensive; you can publish content of a basic quality more quickly and at less cost, but still meet the needs of your market. Choose quality processes based on the target market expectations.
8. Consider technology
A Translation Management System (TMS) is the first tool that most growing enterprises start with, and it is indeed a key piece. (See our advice on how to select one here.) But a tech strategy is not just about a TMS. This is where your technologist is crucial (or consider working with an LSP to provide technology expertise). Key considerations include your:
- update strategy
- product lifetime
- expectation for leverage between products and product lines
- scale and volumes
- security requirements
- vendor strategy and number of users
- cost and support considerations—ROI of licensing, support, entrenchment
9. Determine your outsourcing strategy
Single-vendor, multi-vendor, or in-house team? There are pros and cons to each and the choice is very specific to your business. For example:
- In-house teams offer the best security, but may be the most expensive, and cannot scale as quickly as other models.
- A single-vendor situation can offer competitive cost (based on volumes), you can outsource the technology management to them, and they are highly scalable.
- Using multiple vendors drives competitive cost (due to competition), the scalability is the highest, and you may get different areas of expertise or language specialization, but you’ll need to manage technology in-house.
10. Build a workflow strategy
The biggest question here is whether you need an agile (continuous) localization program. Continuous localization refers to translating small batches in bursts so you can release your product and updates simultaneously in multiple languages. But it does require a specialized workflow to ensure quick and organized responsiveness.
Critical elements in a continuous localization program include automations, leverage (TM usage), defined drops, continuous resourcing, and standardization of process across all teams.
If you choose traditional localization, you will be localizing product and support content all at once, to be released after the original market release—but this process is more predictable and can be managed with a linear workflow.
11. Create a measurement strategy
It’s all about data and how you use it. Investigate what data you have, how it can be used as metrics, and what the most important indicators are. “Indicators” are the evidence that a certain condition exists—i.e., quality. But they are not the same as Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)—which tell you what to do to increase performance dramatically. A few possible KPIs include: fully loaded cost per word, turnaround time per volume, or quality scores.
Strategy takes time and resources. It’s a long term activity and it might be difficult for enterprises growing like gangbusters to slow down and plan it all out. Strategy is the forest; tactics or production elements are the trees. You need both. Tacticians know the right answer, but strategists know the right question to ask (and how to get them answered). Use these elements to start building a localization strategy and you will better align your program to handle current needs and future growth.