Localization strategy: 4+ tips from localization pros

Whether you’re looking to design your app or website with localization in mind or you’re just starting to expand into other markets or to obtain a global audience, you’ll need a concrete localization strategy before you begin.

Keep in mind that localization is not the same as translation — though it’s an important part of it! Software localization (or l10n) moves beyond basic translation to adjust a user interface on a cultural level. It’s not just what you’re saying; it’s how you’re saying it. 

A localization strategy keeps everyone involved in the localization process — from your designers, developers, and marketing team to your business strategists and localization partners — on track.

What is a localization strategy?

Your localization strategy refers to the overall plan for how you’re adapting your offerings, messaging, and content to new countries and markets in a way that aligns with your brand. A localization strategy considers each market’s language, culture, and social norms to determine the best expression of your messages. These messages, distributed through your website, application, social media, or any marketing campaigns, can better resonate with customers and prospects — wherever they may be.

Your customers or prospects in other markets should feel as if you’re directly connecting with them in a personal, relatable, and natural way as if your business were a local business.

Any localization strategy should take into account:

  • Which markets and countries to target.
  • The culture of those markets.
  • Purchasing behaviors.
  • Payment options and credit cards.

Four localization strategy tips to keep in mind

Localization strategy is more than just knowing a market’s cultural preferences. To better understand how to create and optimize a localization strategy, we spoke with Bill Lafferty, Solutions Architect from Acclaro — one of our LSP partners. Here’s what we learned.

1. Humanize your localization and translation

With localization, even when you’re using machine translation or apps like Lokalise, you need to consider the human element. You need to develop trust as you enter a new market — and, most importantly, commit to the localization efforts.

A few grammatical errors are one thing, but ignoring localization means you run the risk of not only offending your potential customers (never a good idea!) but also losing their trust. They’ll be able to tell if you care about them or not by the way you design and translate your software or website.

This means taking into account more than the words — the cultural norms, nuances, and expectations, too. “Consider something as small as honorifics, which are titles or words expressing politeness or respect. How you greet your customers matters, especially if they’re “meeting” you for the first time through your website,” shared Lafferty.

In Japan, for example, it’s expected to always add the gender-neutral suffix “sama” when interacting with customers. But it can come up in more subtle ways, such as on a form customers fill out to get in touch with you — do you have space for multiple middle names in Latin American countries?

Similarly, you need to make it easy for your customers to pay you. This seems obvious, yet so many companies don’t realize that credit cards, debit cards, and bank transfers work differently in other markets. Credit cards aren’t widely used in Germany, and PayPal won’t work in Bangladesh. Multiple currency options and showing prices in other currencies is only the beginning.

2. Anticipate localization needs during design and development

Ideally, you should be thinking about localization from the design phase, if not earlier. Anticipate which markets you’re looking at from the beginning of your software development journey, even if you don’t need to localize just yet. (And if you’re not there, don’t worry! Consider this your playbook moving forward.)

This is because localization often starts with design. Yes, you’ll need to accommodate the metric system, different data formats, foreign currencies, and so on, but the heart of localization is making your users feel like your business is coming from their local market and that they can easily understand everything you’re trying to do. Much of that comes from empathetic design.

That’s exactly why, at Lokalise, we integrate with apps like Figma and Sketch so you can design with other languages in mind. For example, translating from the English language into German can result in a 20-35% text expansion, while English to Swedish can result in a 20-35% text contraction. Asian languages like Korean and Japanese create vertical expansion from English, and some languages, like Arabic and Hebrew, are written right-to-left. All of these dramatically impact your design!

When you design with localization in mind, designers create their prototypes and mockups in Figma or Sketch, populate them with different languages, and are able to check how the design will look with different translations early in the process. That means your designer can see if the design has to be altered to suit different locales before a single line of code is written. You’ll catch any potential bugs or breaks before they happen, and most importantly, you can increase your speed to market.

3. Document your brand

The easiest way to future-proof your localization strategy is to document everything about your brand and marketing strategy. If you don’t already have a style guide, create one. It should include information about:

  • Your tone of voice and whether it’s friendly, formal, or something in between.
  • Common industry or company terms, acronyms, and phrases and what they mean.
  • Examples of competitors you like or dislike and why.
  • Specific conventions and grammar to avoid, such as contractions.
  • The personality of your company and what it’d be like if it were a person.

Translators use this to make sure their work reflects your brand, and since multiple translators will likely work on a single project, you need to make sure everyone is on the same page.

Consider, however, what your brand will translate to in a foreign market. You want translators to easily see not just the words, but also how cultural differences can be accommodated without losing what makes your brand special. The documentation is a good first start in determining how your brand will flex and change to meet another market’s cultural preferences.

You should also document your website structure and any best practices with mobile versus. desktop coding and browsing. Different markets engage with the internet differently, so be aware of how you want your brand identity to look and feel everywhere, and make sure that the foundation of your website can handle multiple sites in different languages.

4. Who owns localization strategy? Everyone

Your entire team should be a part of your localization strategy — from software developers to business owners. Any plan you build should include training on aspects of your new markets, as well as how to use any localization tools you choose. Include:

  • Designers, so they can design defensively and choose culturally relevant images.
  • Developers, so they understand the code implications for multiple languages.
  • Marketers, so they can craft campaigns that work across markets.
  • Product managers, so they can stay on top of deadlines and markets.
  • Business leaders, so they can see how localization fits into their tactical perspective.

“It will take your entire team to build a localization process that works for everyone,” said Lafferty.

How to build a localization strategy that works

Your localization strategy should also include the how. How will the localization process work in your organization? You’ll want to make sure you’re flexible, adaptable, and actively communicating among your team members, creating the expectation that localization is always a work in progress.

Your first decision should be about how you want to incorporate localization into your existing development process. At Lokalise, we recommend agile localization — a set of software development methodologies that are based on iterative and cross-functional team collaboration approaches.

Translations aren’t just done once and delivered at the end of the development cycle. Instead, they are translated as the product is being developed. This means that once new iterations are released, translators or localization teams can simultaneously work on the localization of the changes happening in the product.

As you’re working on newer markets, this process allows you to see the impact of what you’re doing right away, rather than delaying the release of a specific part of your product or website for localization.

There are various approaches to a localization workflow, but the four most common steps are:

  1. Uploading or importing the source to the translation management system (TMS).
  2. Translation.
  3. Review, which may be omitted in small scale projects.
  4. Delivery of the translated content to end-users.

Developers supply the source code, which they pass on to product managers or marketers who then submit the source for translation. Translators localize the material and pass it back to business stakeholders for review. Developers then incorporate the newly translated files into their source code, and the translations go live.

The process involves a lot of steps, but much of the communication and handoffs can be automated with the right TMS. Lokalise, for example, provides you with advanced localization automation tools like Webhooks, API, and integrations with Gitlab and Bitbucket that allow you to seamlessly integrate localization into your continuous delivery workflow.

How to measure your localization strategy

Localization requires commitment. You need to be invested in the translation process, including re-working your design and development to align with what’s described above. Once your process gets going, you need to measure your return on investment.

Here are several key performance indicators (KPIs) regarding localization that you can measure:

  • Incremental sales, especially in the locations covered by the new languages.
  • SEO keyword ranking.
  • Market share — is it increasing as a result of the localization?
  • Cost of translations.
  • Pageviews — compare page views of the website before and after localization. (As a result of good localization, you’ll start seeing an increase in the number of visitors from the target market. Depending on the form of the content you localized, it can also be video views, the article reads, etc.).
  • Conversion rates — see how many people who visited your site purchased the product or service prior to localization and then after it.
  • Social media engagement — measure engagement and keep track of content shares, as well as mentions of your brand on social media in the targeted market.
  • Customer support cases — when you localize your product for a specific location and publish knowledge base articles in that language, you’re very likely to notice a decrease in the number of support cases from those languages.

Measuring and tracking these KPIs is the best way to understand your localization ROI.

Case study: Coca-Cola’s localization strategy

Few brands obtain global status like Coca-Cola. The brand has operated in more than 200 counties for over 100 years — you can order a “Coke,” a “Coca,” or a “Cola” depending on where you are. Their localization strategy is two-fold. On a product level, each version of Coca-Cola is slightly different, due to bottling in-country and adjusting to local taste preferences.

Every country has a slightly different take on the formula, packaging, and messaging that works best in their country, using local experts and native speakers and workers to expand their business. On a packaging level, their slogans remain simple and personalized, with a focus on universal words like “Enjoy,” “Happiness,” and “Sharing.” These are universal concepts easily translated into other cultural norms, driving more market share than any other soft drink around the world.

Case study: Starbucks’ localization strategy

Another global brand with a successful localization strategy is Starbucks. Starbucks formulates every menu with local items to fit the taste preferences of each country. By partnering with local coffee companies, they change the formulas and packaging to make the most sense for the market, emphasizing local ingredients, and innovative designs. By doing so, they can better capture customer loyalty in brand new markets.

Consider the flagship Starbucks store in Milan — a place famed for its coffee. Starbucks updated a well-known building rather than place a new Starbucks-branded store in the middle of a historic district. By working with local culture, Starbucks was able to successfully enter the Italian market and build an experience for locals and tourists alike.

Similarly, for Starbucks’ Japanese store, they hired local designers to incorporate local elements into the store, including traditional craftsmanship and a facade that fits right in with the local tea houses and shops. Tea may be the preferred drink in Japan, but by adapting their operations to the local culture, Starbucks was able to easily enter the market.

Execute your localization strategy with Lokalise

Now that you understand more about what goes into a localization strategy, it’s time to put it into action. That’s where Lokalise comes in. Translation management systems like Lokalise make it easy to automate the localization process and design for market expansion so that you can effortlessly execute your localization strategy — all in one place.

Embrace automation, workflow transparency, and fast project delivery with Lokalise. Try it free today.

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