Reality Check: Translation Only Takes You Part of the Way
Delivering multilingual products, services, and programs is just one component required to win over local audiences – and a small one at that. One of the biggest challenges – even for globally-savvy organizations – is learning how to balance some of the other more significant factors to ensure long-term success in local markets. Based on our current research into globalization maturity consisting of interviews and surveys of more than two hundred companies, here are three areas that companies run the risk of short-changing.
- An initial triumphant market entry or international product launch does not guarantee medium- to long-term success. They certainly won’t hurt your chances, but they are not reliable indicators that your future in a particular market will continue to repeat your current illustrious record. You can’t always rest on the allure of your global brand or initial promises. As Netflix is learning the hard way in India, you have to quickly back up early initiatives with locally nuanced products, pricing strategies, and customer care. Potential customers mature and a new roster of challengers more often than not moves in to capitalize on the rising expectations that you’re not adequately meeting.
- Offering translated versions of products and services means little to local customers if the underlying assumptions and designs stray too far from their expectations. Why? Because smart local and regional competitors will benefit from your lack of diligence and either block you from the start or rush in to fill the void. As Amazon’s partial retreat from China after 15 years demonstrates, firms should avoid adhering too closely to global, rather than local, standards. Doing so makes them less agile in responding to evolving customer expectations if they require in-country decisions to be approved by corporate teams long removed from what’s happening in real-time on the ground.
- You’re only as good as your last performance. And if that last performance is tone deaf due to a lack of tracking market sentiment in local languages, you may find your company in the same unfortunate position that United Airlines did not too long ago – at a loss to understand why local customers can suddenly turn on you. The lesson here is that translation is a two-way street – actually, multichannel these days. Delivering a local experience depends on listening to and conversing with your audiences on their terms – providing localized content and code is just the beginning.
As a translation manager, digital marketer, or product manager, how can you help your organization expand beyond translation and remain a preferred brand in local markets? Here are three recommendations based on our ongoing globalization maturity research.
- Always have an executive sponsor responsible for globalization. Supporting international customers eventually touches every team in the enterprise, but chief globalization officers (CGOs) are almost non-existent. Just as HR, IT, and financial accounting systems are visible and funded to support all parts of the business worldwide, the same should be true of globalization as a firm gains customers in diverse markets. Work with your organization to have an executive sponsor assigned for this area to ensure that roadblocks are removed as employees strive to globalize their business processes.
- Benchmark teams throughout your company – not just the localization group. Support each business function in developing a roadmap to address how it will engage with and support local markets. For example, collaborate with the product marketing team to implement a plan for how its products, services, and programs will integrate internationalization and any adaptation required to outdo international competition.
- Highlight, track, and fill possible gaps in the global customer journey. Focusing executive attention on international revenue and market share may not be enough to keep your momentum going in particular local markets. Use the concept of at-risk audiences to make an even stronger argument. For example, when we asked how often respondents purchased from English language websites, how apt they were to buy a product with localized information, and the likelihood of their only purchasing from sites in their own language – close to 50% of participants stated a preference for a user experience in their first language. Why does this data matter? While potential customers may consider your non-localized products and offers, their purchasing intent is much less certain when your language doesn’t match the one in which they’re most comfortable.
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