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What is localisation?

Read on to find out all about localisation the concept, process and reasons for doing it in addition to translation.

Brightly coloured metal shutters or locker doors, weathered and placed together like an artwork, to illustration What is localisation

Let’s start with the basics: localisation is the adaptation of content to ensure it is culturally resonant and appropriate for the local target audience. While translation transforms text from one language to another, it stays true to the original text. This means key messages can get lost. The need for translation when expanding into new markets is self-explanatory, and localisation goes one step further. It gets the key messages across by changing unfamiliar concepts into cultural touchstones that resonate. Localisation makes a product or service meaningful and relevant to end consumers – it demonstrates that a business cares and knows its customers.

Why do you need localisation?

A website is a company’s store front and first impressions matter. If copy is littered with errors, is inconsistent with incomprehensible wording, the result is obvious: loss of sales and damaged reputation.

It’s essential to develop a localisation strategy for adapting your product or service to the language and culture of your target regions. To optimise your offering in English-speaking markets, you must consider:

  • Budget and processes: investment in localisation can save money by avoiding lost sales and increasing growth. Outline what you’re able to invest then decide which processes you require, such as translation, localisation and editing.

  • Timeline: establish deadlines that allow for all desired stages, and ensure stakeholders are clear on turnaround times.

  • Markets: decide which are most important and therefore which English variant(s) to use.

  • Target audience: which consumers are your focus and what problem can you solve for them?

  • Localisation company: research localisation providers, ensuring the company has native linguists in the target market(s) and excellent editorial skills to ensure polished copy. An expert provider will have translation, localisation and editorial experience and one point of contact.

  • Brand guidelines: define your brand to ensure the localisation company understands it.

  • Goals: know your business goals and how your localisation strategy fits with them.

  • Review: update your strategy periodically as your products and services change and your business expands internationally.

Is translation not enough?

By opting only for translation and missing out on the localisation step, many businesses operating in multiple markets lose sales without even realising that their website and marketing content isn't landing well or is misunderstood. The last thing you want is for your offering to mean nothing to or, worse, offend users. Localisation ensures that your website and marketing materials feel like they were written by locals, for locals, taking into account cultural sensitivities and making that all-important authentic connection.

Localisation in Business

For commercial success in international markets, cultural resonance is of high importance. This is where a skilled localisation company adds real value to a business looking to internationalise. Global English content must contain solely global knowledge and concepts in the images and text. It shouldn’t include references to kilograms for North Americans, for example, as they deal in pounds and ounces. Such issues will not only make a product appear “foreign”, they can affect meaning or accuracy. For this reason, localisation should always be done by a native of the target language with strong familiarity of the target market.

So how does language work in these areas and how is it localised?

Only once a target market is ascertained can the localisation process begin. Native English customers come from many parts of the world. English variants include British, American, Canadian, Australian, Indian, South African… the list goes on. If budget is tight, international English is a good option to appeal to the widest English-speaking audience, but businesses must still select a default English for purposes of spelling and grammar rules and the instances where it’s impossible to localise for international audiences. International English would, for example, avoid use of language like airplane (US) or aeroplane (UK), instead using plane, which works in all English-speaking regions. Localising language extends beyond words into meaning and message, and the appropriateness for the target market is vital. Localisation ensures cultural resonance and suitability through:

  • Word choice: such as sidewalk (US) vs pavement (path) (UK), which means “road” in the US!

  • Cultural concepts: such as mushroom picking (a Finnish favourite!), which is not done in most English-speaking markets, so another culturally suitable pastime would be substituted in

  • Facts: including ensuring measurements and currencies are converted to the appropriate values

  • Images: so that they make sense and resonate with English-speaking customers

  • Potential legal issues: considering different regulations and laws across markets

  • SEO key words and metadata: to ensure a website is found in local search engines and that the user journey feels authentic

There are many more aspects to consider when trying to reach a target market than meets the eye. Investing in a professional localisation service means not just having excellent end results, but also weight off your shoulders knowing it’s all being taken care of.

What are localisation services and what can they do for you?

A skilled localisation company will identify cross-market differences and rewrite them to be internationally appropriate, while staying true to the brand’s identity and meeting the needs of the target market. Localisation and editing by native speakers results in no errors, the text flows and reads well and is consistent across the brand. That’s why businesses expanding into international markets are increasingly looking to experienced localisation providers with editorial expertise to provide insight and consistency. They recognise that content tailored to the local target audience and carefully edited copy is necessary for a positive customer experience. And with increased customer satisfaction, businesses who localise their offering see wider reach and higher sales.

In contrast, hiring an inexperienced provider will mean your copy won’t be much better than before, and you’ll pay again further down the line to correct issues. While low-cost providers might be tempting, these companies operate by speeding through work and sacrificing thorough review and quality. In the same way, low-calibre, machine-translated English is not acceptable for publication as it sends out the wrong message to customers. A product or service can be superb, but its sales are often only as good as the language used to promote it. Investing in skilled localisation at the outset is an essential step for businesses who wish to succeed in English-speaking markets. Many companies already suffer from awkward English on their websites and communications. It’s never too late to review these and bring in a localisation expert.

Key takeaway

Localisation is an opportunity to grow your business in new markets. Your products and services will sell in new regions if your key messages are culturally relevant and written in high-quality text – in the language that the locals speak.

Find out more about Websters' localisation services.

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