Let’s be honest: traditional localization and marketing operations have never consulted each other much. In most companies, they operate in departmental silos, stubbornly refusing to acknowledge that they need one another.
This is a fundamental disconnect, and I believe that the underlying reason is that two very different mindsets govern the respective departments.
Marketing is essentially driven by the idea of standing out. In a dynamically changing world of new products, markets, competitors, channels, devices, and fashions, being cutting edge is the only thing that will keep you afloat. That’s why marketers get so excited about new creative, fresh ideas, and innovative campaigns to drive their goals. (As a result, they may sometimes—somewhat arrogantly—assume that their brilliant new central campaign will work just about anywhere—ignoring the need to localize.)
Localization specialists, on the other hand, are all about process, execution, and repeatability. They take pride in turning around cost-effective, high-quality, and fast translations. (In fact, localization can be so obsessed with the perfect process and project metrics that they can sometimes forget that the piece of content they’re working on has a job to do—to grow the business.)
This rift is dangerous, and it’s visible in the way we measure our successes, too. When marketing focuses on metrics like clicks, leads, awareness, retweets, and sales—while localization looks at low error rates, throughputs, and process efficiencies—we’re clearly not speaking the same language.
Why we urgently need to align
Localization and marketing need each other more than they realize for two reasons:
- Content drives business. Both marketing and localization are in the content business. While it is generally accepted that content created by marketing drives business goals, localization is still struggling to be perceived as strategic by decision-makers. Aligning with marketing is a unique opportunity to change that.
- Digital marketing needs global expertise. For most companies, global marketing is an imperative. But to do it well, it takes more than just translating a campaign. It takes scalability, technical know-how, local market insights, and local digital expertise. Localization departments have access to resources, processes, and technology that many marketers don’t even know exist.
If localization and marketing don’t align, they’re failing to multiply their strategic impact, which means that their business is leaving money on the table.
Learning from the start-up model
I’ve recently been working with a number of start-ups who’ve experienced rapid growth due to international expansion. Localized digital marketing is central to their growth story. And none of them suffer from the misalignment I’ve described above. There’s a simple reason: start-ups tend to be too small for silos.
Large companies have a lot to learn from the start-up model. Here’s why:
1. They think strategy first
When your team is small, everybody understands the company goals. You may not have figured out the perfect way to get there yet, and mistakes can be made (for instance, you may choose to translate your ebook when a series of blog posts written in-market would have been more successful), but everyone agrees that it makes sense to translate or create campaign collateral to support the new market.
In big companies, this understanding of the common goal often falls through the cracks between departments as people just try to get work done.
2. Alignment gives you agility
When everyone agrees on the job to be done, it’s easier to define what success looks like. Whether it’s sales, downloads, sign-ups, or brand awareness, if the action you’ve taken (say, translating that ebook) doesn’t do the job, the team can pivot and try another tactic, channel, or medium. When strictly defined mandates govern your initiatives—as happens in larger companies where the divisions are distinct—this type of agility gets lost.
3. The feedback loop works
More often than not, a start-up team uses an open-plan office. That makes it easy to get issues fixed. If the Polish version of your app keeps crashing, you can walk over to your developer and ask her to take a look. If your open rates in Chile are much lower than in your other markets, your marketer will find a way to check the local messaging. And if WeChat introduces new functionality, you can hold a quick brainstorming session with product managers, developers, and marketers to make the most of the opportunity. Local market expertise, global messaging, and even product insights automatically feed into each other. I’ve yet to see that happen in an enterprise-sized business.
4. They acknowledge localization expertise
When a start-up grows and adds additional markets (beyond the first one or two), managing the resources, tactics, tasks, and sign-offs quickly becomes too much to do manually. That’s where start-ups often gratefully look to localization for help—and appreciate the dedicated workflows, technology, in-market insight (which social network, which keywords, which images, which creative content, etc.), and access to resources that localization can offer. Start-up marketers are open to loc advice—again, something I’ve rarely seen in the enterprise space.
So what’s the takeaway?
It’s this: in a global, digital world, you can’t afford not to take advantage of all the expertise that exists in your company. Marketing can learn from localization that:
- The details of campaign execution are often digital localization issues that in-market expertise can help you sort out early. This insight will make your global campaigns a lot more successful, quicker.
- Localization’s resources and process expertise can preserve your sanity. Think of that next time you’re having to juggle seven sign-offs in 12 languages while assessing the suitability of your photo library for your Middle Eastern markets.
And localization needs to step up its game, too. Localization pros need to learn to:
- Put content strategy first. Excellence of process is not the same as the success of a piece of content. To be taken seriously as a strategic partner means taking responsibility for the success or failure of a piece of content.
- Add local digital marketing expertise to your competencies. Localizers are getting better at social, apps, context, and visual content, but there’s still a lot of missing digital marketing knowledge.
Both localization and marketing are looking to demonstrate their global impact. But your growth will be stunted if both teams keep holding on to their designated areas of expertise. If you can manage to align around a common goal, you’re destined for global success.
Look to the start-ups: they can teach the rest of us about doing just that.