In its July issue earlier this year, Medium published a piece called “How GM makes a car sound like what a car is supposed to sound like,” in which writer Tim Maly interviews Kara Gordon, one of the car manufacturer’s sound engineers, on the process and techniques of meeting customer expectations.
Does sound engineering for the automotive industry have anything to teach us localization folks? Of course, because, no surprise, the article is a fair representation of what any successful global producer must do to recruit and retain loyal customers. These article highlights stick out for me:
Go for personalization
“Just right” [sound] changes from model to model. A sports car might have less insulation between the engine and the driver so they can hear and feel the rumble. A family sedan might be more concerned with making sure the passengers can hear each other and the entertainment system.
Don DePalma, from Common Sense Advisory, and I have talked a lot about personalization over the last several years. He even uses the acronym P13N. This concept of mass customization, by which we localize for the individual buyer instead of localizing for the masses, creates a challenge that localization providers must meet. Issues like mass customization, hyper localization (a media term of art), and location-based searches take our work to another level. We are not localizing into the language or even the culture — we’re personalizing the experience for individual, global consumers.
By helping our clients deliver that — helping them attract and retain customers in competitive markets — we’re also tailoring our work to fit their real needs.
Sometimes, wrong is right
To improve fuel economy in a car, you want to reduce the engine’s RPM. Over the past few decades, the auto industry has been doing that. In the 90s, a 4c engine might be cruising at 3,400 RPM. Today, it’s below 2,000. But as you reduce the speed that the drive shaft is rotating, you lower the frequency of the sound it’s making. The car sounds broken. So cars had to keep the engine’s RPM above a certain level, hurting their fuel efficiency, or risk alienating customers.
We industry folks are all excited about what translation technology can deliver to clients in speed and efficiency. It’s hard, however, to make good on the technology’s promise when new technology comes with a learning curve and higher costs, which in our price- and time-sensitive industry can mean the death knell for a localization service provider. So what does that mean?
It means we get excited about the developments and even inform our customers so that they can make investments that, while costly upfront, yield impressive performance results … but that we also make do with the tools they currently use, that yield good (but not great) results and already integrate with the systems and processes they know.
We can still be evangelists for great localization tech. We just have to also remember that it’s about them and meeting their “right now” needs first.
Some sounds in the car are completely artificial. The telltale clicking of a turn signal was once an artifact of the mechanical process that turned the light on and off. But that mechanism has long since been replaced by an electronic circuit that operates silently. Still, audible feedback is valuable so the car plays an MP3 file of a turn signal over the speakers.
“It could sound like anything,” says Gordon. “We asked, ‘What if we wanted it to sound like birds?’ They said no.”
In designing the customer experience, we have to also anticipate what our customers and their buyers desire. Part of that is in providing such a predictable experience that they can, effectively, set their localization projects on cruise control.
The typical large-scale localization project has an enormous number of moving parts. Department- and division-specific content that has unique styles, translation terminology, and engineering requirements. Huge volumes of files, some of which includes already signed-off content. Project-specific processing scripts and tools.
Even when process efficiencies have changed the project’s back office, keeping the project’s front office experience consistent can quiet the stress, anxiety, and uncertainty that change may otherwise surface.
Stick close to your clients. Understand them. Ease the day’s work hassles.
That is, just because it can sound like a bird doesn’t mean it should.