How to streamline marketing localization in 7 steps    

Localization is a crucial piece of a larger personalization effort. Here's a strategy for localizing marketing content in seven concrete steps.

Date published
January 10, 2019 Categories

When it comes to marketing personalization, the little things can mean a lot.

An Uber email that thanks you for “Your Sunday afternoon ride with Uber” will backfire if the ride actually happened on Saturday morning. And an email addressed to a Canadian market that fails to use preferred spellings for words like colour or cheque can signal a lack of care and attention.

No wonder more and more marketers are beginning to prioritize localization.

But let’s face it — localization is hard.

Many marketers fail to localize effectively. A CMO Council study found that 63% of marketers are unsatisfied with their localization efforts, yet 75% are allocating less than 10% of their budgets toward improving those efforts. Such marketers recognize the importance of communicating appropriately across global markets but they continue to merely talk the talk.

But if businesses expect to compete in new and diverse markets, localization must take on added importance and urgency. And that means paying attention to more than just differences in language and currency; cultural sensitivities and time zones must also be taken into account.

It can get complicated, for sure, but the returns are more than worthwhile.

Here are seven steps to help you and your organization streamline localization:

1. Establish ownership

No one will prioritize localization if there’s no single person or team taking ownership. While some companies use international program managers, others have gone as far as creating a new C-suite title, the “Chief Localization Officer” or CLO.

Whether using that particular title or merely taking responsibility for localization, the executive or manager needs to communicate the importance of localization to both their team and the entire company, setting budget objectives to meet the needs of existing and target markets.

They should also direct localization strategy, vet the best tech and partner solutions for localization and translation, and establish analytics to track ROI.

2. Make a plan for all your content 

Localization should be implemented across all touchpoints, so no matter where a customer is located in the world, or at which point in the customer journey, messaging will be on point. That includes website copy, UI/UX copy, landing pages, marketing emails, transactional emails, and more.

But if localization is a new initiative, don’t overwhelm yourself (or your budget) by trying to localize everything all at once.

Make a plan to roll localization out in manageable steps — markets where you already have a presence and content that already performs well, such as transactional email, are usually good places to start. And then follow through.

3. Work with local experts

You can’t automate localization — at least not completely. Not yet, anyway. There are too many cultural and linguistic nuances for an automated system to catalog and navigate.

But marketers can ensure their communications are on target by working with local experts. HubSpot, Optimizely, and Unbounce all hired local marketers to manage communications in German-speaking regions, for example. No one understands a particular market like a local.

4. Use unicode

Accents, umlauts, and distinctive letters like æ, ç, and ß can be rendered as nonsense symbols if you’re not careful.

Unicode, a computing industry standard for consistent encoding and text representation, will help ensure your content is rendered correctly in any language.

5. Use portable object template/portable object (POT/PO) files

POT/PO files are the preferred format for most third-party translation vendors and platforms. Making sure content can be exported as (or converted to) a POT file, and that completed translations can be imported as a PO file, will make the process faster and easier, for both you and your translators.

Two added benefits of using open file standards like POT/PO are: 1. They make it easier for you to localize all your content, and; 2. They give you flexibility in the tools you use, i.e. you’re never locked into a specific vendor or workflow.

6. Collect time zone data

An accurate framework for personalizing emails based on time zone is essential to avoid the (hypothetical) Uber scenario above. But managing time zones is trickier than you might think. For instance, in North America, Saskatchewan and Arizona ignore daylight savings time.

And internationally, time zones are all over the place. Russia, for example, spans 11 time zones, but only observes nine of them. Yet content customized based on time zone can add a uniquely personal touch that customers appreciate.

7. Pay attention to feedback

Customers will tell you when your message is off key but you have to be listening. Set up live chat, watch your social media channels, or offer incentives for consumers to provide feedback. And when your messaging hits a sour note, be humble, apologize, and do better next time.

There are many moving parts to localization, so it’s important to develop a strategy that covers all the bases, in order to ensure a tailored experience for your customers, wherever they happen to be. They will appreciate the attention to detail and the result will be improved customer relationships that positively impact your bottom line.

If you’re still skeptical, just take a look at Apple. Even though their autocorrect is the butt of many jokes due to its apparent propensity for inappropriate word choices, Apple is adept at localizing for Australia, as just one example, even though the country is home to only 0.33% of the world’s population.

If that 0.33% of the world is worth the effort of localization, aren’t your customers worth it, too?

Matt Harris is co-founder and CEO of Sendwithus, makers of Dyspatch.

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