The world’s most successful companies localize their products and services into the languages of consumers worldwide.
There. Tell that to your boss. Emphasize the prospect of increasing revenue streams by several orders of magnitude via loyal relationships with international buyers. But if that’s somehow not enough to convince your executives that the return is indeed worth the investment, here’s some more evidence showing translation and localization may be your company’s best bet for success on the global stage.
Growth Happens Away from the Nest
A 2014 report by AP Business showed that for many top American-born companies, a key growth strategy was first to build a solid foundation on home turf before aggressively moving into markets far from U.S. shores. In fact, globally successful organizations consistently generate more than 50% of their revenues internationally.
Says BGC Financial analyst Colin Gillis “That’s what the big guys are doing.”
However, things have changed considerably over the years. The established model was to build a strong position on your home market first and only then expand, step-by-step, country-by-country, language-by-language, overseas. But this model is getting harder to sustain today. As products and ideas spread quickly and easily globally, companies need to make a case to internationalization and localization early on, certainly earlier than in the past.
Globalization is Crucial to Web-Based and SaaS Products
HubSpot, the fast-growing provider of inbound marketing and sales platform, is a good case in point. Robert Bauch, HubSpot’s manager of international product development, described their approach nicely in the recent blog Software Internationalization 101: How to Go Global Without Slowing Down:
"If you’re an early-stage, fast-paced SaaS startup, going global is probably the last thing you’re thinking about, at least from a product standpoint. There are a million and one things to do so you’re usually focused on building for today or tomorrow, not ten years down the line. HubSpot was no different and we built some technical debt early on that we had to dig our way out of when we started i18n...Luckily, we started thinking about l10n before the business side of HubSpot really needed it so we were able to head off a lot of pressure from outside the product team. More importantly, getting a head start gave us ample opportunity to find the best plan of attack without implementing a breakneck timeline on the team."
At that time, HubSpot had already customers in more than 70 countries using their English language product, and the case for internationalization and localization was more than compelling.
Web Users Prefer Their Native Tongue
Facebook is a great example of how much more engaging the native-language experience is for platform users and consumers. Take this case: Although Facebook had entered Central and East African markets in English to positive feedback, the company nevertheless decided in 2009 to roll out a Swahili language version to target the region’s more than 110 million speakers. “They can easily navigate through when it’s maybe a language they understand, which makes it easier to use the Swahili than to use the English,” said Symon Wonda, one of the project’s initiators to the BBC.
With a nod to early research conducted by the European Commission, it is clear that this effort will not go unrewarded. Its comprehensive 2011 study, titled User Language Preferences Online, showed that a whopping 90 percent of respondents stated that they prefer to browse the web in their native language, and 42 percent said they only buy online in their native language.
Language industry research by Common Sense Advisory also backs up the purchasing effect of native language sites. Its 2014 poll of over 3,000 consumers from 10 countries concluded that this native-language preference meant that consumers are either avoiding foreign-language sites altogether or scared off from purchasing for lack of native-language documentation and support.
Regardless of their foreign-language proficiency or the attractiveness of products, “more local-language content throughout the customer experience leads to a greater likelihood of purchase.”
Look at Your Numbers
While the above can make the case for localization generally, you will be nevertheless compelled to take a hard look at your company’s international investment specifically to make a case for localization relevant and personal.
What data can you collect about the market sales in your industry that shows the impact of localized materials in individual geographies?
- Focus on the major markets
Hand-pick promising, ripe, high-growth markets where you can build competitive advantage
Keep full long-tail languages for later
- How much do you know about your target market consumers to then prioritize which products and services should be localized for them, effectively reducing unnecessary localization expenditures? The general recommendations for creating a market-specific buyer profile are as follows:
Research market demographics and your industry
Identify your local competition and its strategies
Learn local purchasing behavior
Identify the tools and channels that your buyers are using to get product information & support
- How much do you understand their buying process and actual product and content use, so you can prioritize content for localization? Early on, content-tiering is an essential step to prioritize content that must be localized, leaving the non-essential content for later. Remember, content-tiering may and will differ by language. Consider the following content types:
What information are you tracking, collecting, and analyzing on visits to your website from foreign consumers? Web analytics will help identify the needs and behavior of typical uses from individual locales. Look at some of these key metrics:
- Number of unique visits from target locale
- Number of conversions and conversion rate by target locale
- Percentage of visitors from target locale accessing content in local language
- Click-through rates in local content pages or email campaigns
- Bounce rate on localized pages
- Average time on site by target locale
- Percentage of new versus returning visitors per target locale
- Search engine ranking for target keywords in target locales using preferred search engines
How much are you tracking the performance of your current language localization efforts to justify similar strategies in new language locales? Do you see an increase in visits or conversions after localization? Are your online and local social media metrics up? If using Machine Translation, are you able to use processes such as post-publish post-editing to edit the content that really matters?
With the data on your own localization program story and the big picture perspective on the effectiveness of language localization, you should have everything you need to build a compelling business case that sells your localization strategy internally. Just make sure you tell your story strategically for executives, and make sure you don't lose your audience in the weeds of localization 101.
Do you have any tips for raising awareness of localization among your senior executives? How did you get key localization initiatives funded? Please share in comments.