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The ABCs of LocalizationConfused man thinking of the ABCs of Localization

Is it too on the nose to talk about the ABCs of localization? Maybe, but it’s good shorthand for building up the basics – and ties it in to language, which is the matter at hand. Often, when talking to people from outside of the industry, I am met with blissful ignorance. It can be hard to know what you don’t know – which is why you should get to know where your company lands on the spectrum of localization maturity, an example of which is our Global Communication Maturity Model. Understanding where your company is in its handling of localization is the first step to identifying if language services deserve to be made a priority for you. In this blog we’ll touch on the three main areas that usually require additional attention: needs assessment, process planning, and budgeting and evaluation. We – and many others in the industry – have written extensively on the many steps in this process, so I’ll be linking to many helpful articles and blog posts along the way for your reference.

Before we dig into the step-by-step process, let’s tackle a basic question: why should you take a deeper look at localization in the first place? For many of us, translation and interpreting are service add-ons for a client that exist mostly as a black box within the overall process. Inputs go in and outputs magically appear – though often not with magical results.  A recent poll of marketing agencies found that 63% were dissatisfied with their localization efforts. Localization is often a key part of growth strategies – whether within domestic or international markets – but it is almost never assigned the same level of high-level strategy and resources as other functional areas. That is why building the business case is always an important first step – make it clear to people at every level why this is an important function. Part of that is identifying your whys for translation, which should spring from your goals and needs.

Global Communication Maturity Model showing the stages to consider in the ABCs of Localization

A) Needs Assessment

So what are your company’s needs? Accurately answering that question will be the biggest part to correctly place yourself on the localization maturity model. Do you have sporadic, unpredictable needs for translation or interpreting? Sounds like you’re in the Ad Hoc stage. What if you have experienced a sudden expansion and are drowning under a seemingly chaotic number of localization needs? Maybe you’re at the Brute-Force stage – definitely in need for some process design! The next step is to conduct a global communication audit to see how well your process fulfills your localization needs. So how does one go about doing a localization needs assessment? Start by answering these questions: (1) What and how much content are you localizing? (2) Why are you localizing it? (3) What types of localization services are you considering: translation, document creation, software or website internationalization, or interpreting? (4) How will localization tie into your company’s and department’s goals? There are many more follow-up questions, but those should put you on the right track when figuring out the ABCs of localization.

B) Process Planning

The next step is coming up with a plan. You’ve identified the needs and problems, so what does your localization strategy look like moving forward? Building an action plan and incorporating top-level strategy will enable you to make smart choices in your content design, workflow planning, and budgets to enable success. Too often, localization is treated as an add-on or afterthought to the core of the content or product design process. When you are able to integrate localization into the core of your enterprise decision-making, you will avoid many of the common missteps. In fact, one of the most common ways in which localization efforts fail after initial investment is when a key champion leaves the department or company. When working with diverse populations, it’s important to cultivate an integrated perspective on the importance and centrality to localization efforts in the organization. This insulates against counter-productive short-cuts.

Process mapping and hand drawing out the flow chart It may surprise many people that content design should actually be taken into account when localizing for a new market. Not only does a typesetter have to contend with expanded or contracted text, but there are also cultural norms that influence how information is visually displayed that can affect how messaging is received. With that in mind, there is actually a great deal that can be done in the copywriting phase that creates a more easily localizable product – this includes techniques like internationalization and regionalization. Sometimes you don’t need translation; you need the language recreated into the vernacular. This should paint a more nuanced and complex picture of the options available to you when planning how to incorporate localization into your workflow.

It might be helpful now to pause and ponder: what is the typical translation process? Following industry standards, this should include a review of the source documents, clear delineation of the scope of work (hearkening back to that needs assessment and goals), file preparation, translation (usually entailing translation, editing, and proofreading), formatting, QA, terminology management, and publishing (print or digital). If outsourcing your localization service, then the main points of contact with your internal workflow process will be at the preparation of source documents and during the publishing process – which may involve an internal QA step on your end, as well. The source preparation and authoring is tied into what we just discussed about content design – but it also includes factors like file types and compatibility. If you’re using proprietary authoring software what are its export and import capabilities? This will be important when designing your workflow with the translation team. You don’t want to be sending an MS Word draft document for translation if you want an XML end-product. If you have an internal QA of the localized product, then you will need to work out how to reconcile issues with the localization partner. This may seem like a lot of work, but once a good process is designed and implemented, it should run like a well-oiled machine.

C) Budget and Evaluation

When allocating budget to a multilingual communication campaign, it makes sense to talk about the ROI of localization. Return on investment or ROI is one of the key performance indicators (KPIs) that companies use to measure the effectiveness and efficiency of an initiative. Surprisingly, many companies in the early stages of localization maturity (here’s our self-assessment tool to place yourself) do not even evaluate their localization efforts. Resources are allocated, content is translated and then the process is repeated the next time the company needs a multilingual roll-out. However, as with any business communications, global or multilingual communications can and should also be planned and evaluated based on KPIs that include ROI. One of the reasons this is important, is that the true cost of producing the English is often disguised among many other costs. Think about how many different departments help to create the English content, format, and design and you will start to realize the full extent of that value. No other language will start from zero, but it will usually require more investment than people tend to imagine to create content of equal quality as the source in other languages.

Evaluation, however, cannot stop at financial data points. In fact, there is a widespread problem that too many of us focus on lagging indicators when trying to judge the efficiency and efficacy of an initiative. Instead, you should look at your different goals initially outlined during your needs assessment phase. Some other important questions might be: Has your market penetration increased? Do you have better engagement on social media? What is the trajectory of your organization’s reputation in that population? These may seem like less tangible ways of measuring success, but localization is a holistic process, so you should employ a range of criteria when monitoring it as a business process. Each KPI should be tied to a goal and should give information on the efficacy – how well was the goal met, and efficiency – how smooth was the process.

Partnering for Success with the ABCs of localization

Obviously you can do all of this in-house, and there are resources out there to enable you to do that – not least of all on our own website. But more often than not, this takes more time and capacity than you or your team has at the moment. Or you may find that you’re doing the Localization Maturity Shuffle. That may be why you’re reading this blog. So the next best option is to have a third-party help you out – more and more localization agencies are specializing in helping end-clients grow the localization function within their company. We at Language Solutions would be happy to meet with you to assess your organization, create an action plan, and build capacity so that you have confidence – and results – in your language needs moving forward. Why us? Client mentorship has been part of our culture and philosophy for over 15 years.  We’ve followed Baldrige for Performance Excellence and have been involved in assessing other organizations for Baldrige.  Continuous process improvement is ingrained in us so we know the value of searching for OFIs (Opportunities for Improvement) even if you feel you’re doing everything right! There is always an OFI to find….that’s why it’s continuous.  Get in touch now!

Various tools represented for mentorship with localization maturity