22 Mar 2022
by AJT

5 misconceptions around localisation

ITI Corporate member AJT speaks to International Trade Advisor Nigel Barker, about some of the misconceptions around localisation, and the challenges exporters face when translating and localising brands for foreign markets.

Exporting is a great way for businesses to grow and increase their sales. But not surprisingly, commercial success beyond one’s own country borders requires effort, investment and a clear strategy. Lack of forethought, lack of budget, and lack of understanding of what localisation means in the context of exporting into new markets can lead to spending money on the wrong services, missing untapped opportunities and could potentially even lead to brand damage.

The Department of International Trade (DIT) provides essential services to ambitious UK exporters, from providing funding to attend international trade events to gathering market intelligence for specific sectors and countries. Nigel Barker is an International Trade Advisor specialising in Digital Marketing at Business West, one of the DIT’s delivery partners. Here he discusses five common misconceptions and pain points around localisation with AJT Managing Director Anja Jones.

Misconception 1: Translation is expensive

Nigel: ‘Some businesses don’t see the value in localising either their marketing, content or product offering to a new market. Companies that are serious about growing their business globally need to invest in localised marketing and have a strategic plan for this.’

Anja: ‘Yes, of course. But expensive is a relative term. A £3 coffee can be seen as expensive whilst a £2,000 road bike can be considered cheap. But, of course, the two can’t easily be compared. And it’s the same in the translation industry. There are many different types of Language Service Provider (LSPs), who in turn offer a variety of translation services, at a range of different prices. So, how do you know what the right price is?

The answer is to do some research and delve a little deeper into the quotes you’ve been given. What are the different companies actually offering for the price or word rate? Are they for translation only, or translation and review/editing? Will your content be translated by machines or humans? Are the translators experienced and skilled in your particular field? These are all important questions to ask yourself before you buy translation services. Once you know what the quote is based on, you can then ‘compare apples with apples’, so to speak.

You have to be clear on what kind of translation you require, and this should be driven by where the translation will be used, not by how much it costs. The old adage ‘it has to be effective to be cost effective’ is just as relevant in the translation industry as in any of the creative industries. If you want to localise high-end creative marketing campaigns, but use machine translation or translators with no experience in this field, then the chances are your translations will be poor, and the return on your investment will be too. However, if you are happy with more literal translations for low-impact content, such as user-generated content or FAQs, then cheaper translation options might be more viable.

The best advice we can give is to find the right translators or translation company, and not just focus on getting a ‘good’ price. Who have they worked with before? Do they have experience in your sector and target region(s)? Can they demonstrate their expertise with relevant case studies or testimonials? When working with companies, do they employ linguists in-house or is your work going to be subbed out into the freelance market at the lowest possible price? Finding translators or a translation company that fits in with your company values and the way you do things is really important for long-term success.

Localising your brand for new markets is just as important as building your brand in your home market was, and your overseas marketing needs to be just as professional and strategic as it is at home. If you find yourself cutting corners or looking to cut costs, then maybe that overseas market isn’t really that important to you after all? You’re better off not entering overseas markets at all than entering them ill-equipped.

So, is translation expensive? Let’s put it this way: professional translation and localisation is rarely cheap. It’s neither a one-off cost, nor is it a commodity that can be haggled down with volume discounts.  However, done right, it could be one of the best investments you make. Poor translation, however, no matter how much you think you are ‘saving’, can be very costly and can even damage your brand.

I went to a translation summit recently, hosted by Smartling, and they put it really well: Translation is a revenue centre, not a cost centre.’

Misconception 2: You don’t need to localise for the US, Australia or Canada

Nigel: ‘Some businesses believe that English-speaking countries will respond to the UK message perfectly well. But as we all know, making subtle changes can make all the difference. One classic area where people fall down is measurements. In the US, for example, they measure in inches and gallons, and their clothing sizes are quite different from ours too. Getting this right from a ‘search perspective’, as well as a ‘customer relevance’ perspective, can make a massive difference.’

Anja: ‘Yes, we see this quite a lot. English is English, right? And even if we’re not using the right variant of English they’ll still understand, won’t they? Well the answer is a kind of ‘yes’. English is more or less English and they will most likely understand. But is that enough?

The research suggests not. According to a variety of sources, it seems that using the wrong variant of English can affect sales in two ways. Some users will assume that the copy is littered with typos and the brand’s credibility and trustworthiness will suffer significantly. According to Global Lingo, over 75% of internet users notice the quality of online content and almost 60% said they wouldn’t purchase something from a website they perceive to have poor grammar or mistakes. Others will acknowledge the different variant of English and whilst it won’t affect credibility and trustworthiness as much, they will simply assume it’s foreign and therefore the content doesn’t apply to them.

Targeting other English-speaking markets might be seen as ‘low hanging fruit’, but even so you must make sure you are speaking to customers in their own language variant, otherwise you may find your efforts and investment are wasted.

The good news is that adapting your content to other English-speaking markets is generally cheaper than a translation ‘from scratch’. A translator or editor can tweak your UK-centric copy to make it feel more natural in the target market. For example, if you adapt your copy to US English, there are differences in terms of spelling (colour vs. colour, specialise vs specialize etc), but there are also lexical differences to consider. Beyond the obvious ‘trainers vs sneakers’ and ‘bumbag vs fanny pack’ examples, there are a lot of very subtle variations between British and US English – a translator can make sure your adapted copy reads perfectly smoothly so your US customers don’t stumble over or get side-tracked by words or turns of phrases that they’re unfamiliar with.’

Misconception 4: I don’t need to visit a market, to know a market

Nigel: ‘I still think many businesses don’t take the time to understand the audiences that they are targeting. This part is really essential when you are looking to engage with them fully. Businesses looking to grow internationally should really visit their target markets before they embark on an export strategy. India is predicted by many analysts to become the second largest economy by 2050 and, as such, is an opportunity for the right businesses. However, perceptions in the West are often very different to the reality. Not only is it culturally and economically diverse, it is also one of the most ‘tech-savvy’ countries on earth right now.’

Anja: ‘I totally agree. Visiting target markets may seem like an expensive indulgence, especially if your market research or experience of market trends have already convinced you that this new market is right and ‘ripe’ for you. But it’s not an indulgence, it’s pretty much imperative that you visit, experience and validate the market first-hand.

You’ll discover nuances and cultural insights that may become important elements of your marketing strategy or your positioning of a product or service. You’ll meet people, speak to potential customers, connect with partners. You’ll be taken more seriously and will start to build valuable relationships with people who may share your vision or see the potential of your business. These people will know other people, from companies who could help you enter the market. You’ll meet people who will want to help you, especially if they believe they can make money. You will achieve these things far more quickly and more sustainably by visiting the market and seeing it for yourself. You’ll also see who your potential competitors are and learn how they engage with their customers. This can be invaluable, again, when formulating your marketing strategy or your positioning for that market.’

Misconception 5: English will be enough

Nigel: ‘This is what I call the ‘doing nothing’ approach. A few years ago, 85% of all web pages were in English. Now only 25% of all web pages are in English and that figure is only set to shrink further. If you want to deal with overseas audiences, then you need to engage with them in a language that they understand. Besides which, it’s just polite isn’t it. As we head towards a future UK outside the EU then languages will become even more important to our future trading prosperity.’

Anja: ‘I think it all depends. UK English is enough, if you are only targeting the UK English market. Let’s be honest, not everyone wants to conquer the world. Conquering your home market can be tough enough and may be lucrative enough too. But if you are entering a foreign market, you have to consider localisation as part of your overarching marketing strategy.

English is the world’s most spoken language, with around 380 million native speakers, and around 750 million second language speakers, totalling 1.13 billion English speakers in total (followed by Mandarin in second place with 1.11 billion and Hindi in third place with 615 million). It will come as no surprise that, in Europe, English ranks number one too. 38% of Europe can speak English, beating French with 12%, German with 11% and Spanish with 7%. So, it’s easy to understand why companies may feel translation is unnecessary or a costly waste of time. However, in isolation, these stats mean nothing. When you consider that 45% of internet users never use another language when online and only 18% would buy products in a foreign language, a very different reality starts to emerge. When it comes to parting with cash, people prefer to do it in their own language and in their own currency. If that overseas market is worth tapping into, it’s worth localising your brand and your marketing collateral.’

What is clear from Anja and Nigel’s conversation is that translation and/or localisation is, in many cases, still seen as a cost rather than an investment. And exporting to foreign markets is also underestimated as a growth strategy. The companies who do it well make it look easy, and it’s therefore understandable why new exporters think it will be easy. But what they’re not seeing is the research and development that went into the export strategy and the business and creative partners that helped make it happen.

What successful exporters all have in common is the understanding that if you want to enter a foreign market you have to do it properly, you have to do it well, otherwise it’s not worth doing it at all. Regardless of the size of the budget, whether it’s tens of millions or just a few thousand, what’s important is that the strategy is clear and your messages are delivered in a way that will ultimately influence your customers.

The translation and interpreting industry is not regulated. Therefore, it is important that you work with freelancers or language services companies who are members of a reputable professional body like the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI).

Have confidence in who you hire. Use the ITI Directory to find an ITI Qualified translator or interpreter, or a Language Service Provider that is an ITI Corporate member.