Localizing for leading global markets is like running a marathon: an arduous journey, no doubt, but at least the path is well-paved by the “lessons learned” of many global giants. Long-tail market localization, however, is more like being a contestant on “The Amazing Race”: an adventure spanning foreign territories with unexpected challenges and a partner who will either support you or slow you down.
Each industry’s first-mover advantage is the prize for the global companies that assemble functional long-tail localization programs, and we’re seeing plenty of competition for those honors. Common Sense Advisory’s 2013 research on “The Rise of Long-Tail Languages” revealed that “the so-called long-tail languages are not only growing in economic value, they are also growing in popularity among big companies, global brands, and important websites.” In the 15 months since that report was published, we’re seeing aggressive moves by hot name-brands pursuing long-tail market localization.
With all this interest in long-tail markets, we’ve assembled a few insights and suggestions for evaluating a partner’s ability to handle your offroad adventure smoothly.
Where Are All the Translators?
Established markets have no shortage of experienced translators with industry certifications, references, working knowledge of localization tools, and a healthy respect for best practices. Long-tail markets, on the other hand, do not have such a thriving translator community.
As a result, experienced translators in these markets command higher-than-expected rates due to the laws of supply and demand. That said, the availability of good, steady jobs is highly motivating for bilingual resources to become professional translators: but it takes extra time and creative recruiting to identify good candidates, let alone train them, onboard them, and even provide a safety net during the transition to a new career.
Check out this graphic from the 2015 Web Globalization Report Card. The uniquely crowdsourced and community-serving nature of Wikipedia has paved its path to nearly double the supported languages of the second-place leader in target locales in this research. This means bilingual resources are out there: it’s just a matter of cultivating them as professional translators — and that’s a perfect segue to our second topic.
Unexpected Logistical Challenges
Long-tail markets are often developing economies that lack many of the common conveniences we take for granted in leading markets. For example, Internet access may be spotty. New translators may have a hard time acquiring a computer — let alone keeping it secure. Elements of first-world payment processing like banks and direct deposit may not exist in some target locales. Any efforts to convert bilinguals into professional translators will fall short if you can’t ensure proper provisions and compensation.
Meanwhile, every country has its own set of highly nuanced labor laws concerning contractors and full-time-employees. Factors may include the number of hours worked, length of contract, work location, how payments are invoiced and issued, management structure, and even whether family members assist with the work. Getting it wrong can stir up trouble ranging from steep fines and back taxes to unexpected employment contracts with people who were supposed to be vendors.
It’s worth noting that none of these are challenges for Wikipedia, with its community-driven, crowdsourced model. That certainly helps explain why some web giants may be lagging so far behind in the number of supported languages. Commitment, creativity, and attention to detail will help first-movers enter long-tail markets and enjoy all the barriers to entry for their competitors.
Long-Tail Partner Evaluation Questions
The differences between leading and long-tail global markets are profound enough that you simply can’t assume your existing localization partner is the right one to manage your long-tail adventure — especially if time is of the essence. At the very least, you should plan to have a deep conversation around the following questions.
- What support will you provide in assessing target long-tail markets?
Every target market needs to be assessed not only in terms of market opportunity but level of effort and anticipated challenges. Look for a partner who is prepared to bring business insights to the table to help you prioritize.
- What is your in-country recruiting structure for prospective translators?
Identifying bilingual resources in far-flung locales is challenging for global recruiters sitting in cubicles halfway around the world — especially when they don’t speak the target language. Ask your prospective partner to walk you through the logistics of their long-tail recruiting operation, and try to poke holes in it. You don’t want to bank program success on naive optimism.
- What is your global infrastructure surrounding local employment law, contracting and payment processing?
It’s unrealistic to expect your partner to have boots-on-the-ground resources or offices in every long-tail market you’re considering, but you need to see evidence that your partner knows how to assess the lay of the land and construct employment models that work. The last thing you need is to get a program up and running only to shut it down when a resource’s contract is required to end.
- How will you ensure translators are equipped with sufficient training and resources to work?
Every target market will need a detailed plan for recruiting, training, provisioning hardware, software, Internet access, and other mission-crtiical tools to do the job. Ask prospective partners for case studies of long-tail market programs, including the insights they brought to their clients — and the “lessons learned” when things didn’t go as expected.
- How much time will it take to onboard new translators once target markets are identified, and how high does that operation scale?
Particularly when you have aggressive goals to target many new markets in a short time, you need to care about your partner’s entire resource management structure. How many people will be devoted to recruiting, qualifying, and evaluating candidates? Who will organize training, and how will training be deployed? How many people are working on logistical issues like employment law, payments, etc.? And how many markets can those individuals juggle in the course of a month or a quarter?
Long-tail markets are indeed an exciting opportunity for the industry movers who reach out and stake a claim — but they’re also new territory for your localization partner. Research and careful planning are crucial. Make sure you’re working with a team you can trust to do it right.
What experience do you have targeting long-tail markets? Can you share any interesting “lessons learned” from unexpected outcomes?