Arabic: To Localize or Not to Localize, That Is the Question
With over 222 million Arabic-speaking web users, and an online economic opportunity of 2.5 trillion US dollars in 2020, Arabic is an attractive option for global brands. Nevertheless, it appears on far fewer sites than its potential would indicate. Part of the reason is that localizing into Arabic is not a simple task as it is not a single digital language for content marketing and customer experience. The languages used in the Arabic-speaking world for conversation, social networks, messaging, and content marketing are not Classical Arabic. Instead, varieties – such as Egyptian Arabic, Levantine Arabic, and Maghrebi Arabic – reflect the great variety of cultures and empires through which they spread, naturalized, and absorbed words and concepts from both colonial and indigenous languages. They may share common ground with Classical Arabic, but they are, in many ways, very different.
Five Approaches to Support Arabic Localization
If you do decide to localize into Arabic, you may evaluate different strategies for Arabic depending on your target audiences, industry norms, sales channels, budgets, and in-language marketing capabilities. Customers are far more likely to purchase from brands that provide them content in their own language, and Arabic buyers are no exception. In “Arabic for Global Brands,” CSA Research recommends five approaches to supporting the language, which range from delivering a single dialect to country-specific Arabic:
- Newbies and B2B brands can rely on a single variant. Primarily used in broadcast media and education, Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) – along with its spoken variant, Educated Standard Arabic (ESA) – has a stuffy reputation. The problem is that nobody speaks these natively and, even though they are useful, they invite little loyalty.
- Brands aspiring to an entertainment flair can use Egyptian Arabic. Due to the influence of movies and television made in that country in the last half-century, much of the Arabic-speaking world is familiar with this vernacular. However, it doesn’t speak to conservative folks or to younger people who grew up as digital natives.
- Major brands cover Arabic markets with two variants. Marketers with a bigger commitment to Arabic can develop separate content for the Persian Gulf-dominated and Mediterranean-focused regions. This two-pronged approach dovetails with basic persona-based marketing, allowing a more conservative use of language for the more traditional cultures in the Gulf versus an expanded approach for the more Western-influenced societies clustered around the Mediterranean coast.
- More sophisticated marketers can adopt four regional variants. Digital content is recognizable as locally oriented and reads or sounds tailored to its audience with this approach. While this taxes localization resources and requires extra process controls, using four major varieties of Arabic brings the language closer to intended markets in areas across the region. Brands crossing the chasm from the two-variant model to national-level dialects can implement it as a transitional step. For example, Ooredoo, a major telecommunications provider, offers different Arabic versions for different countries based on local versions of Arabic, country-specific imagery, and even a French-language site with occasional Arabic elements.
- Firms with a strong commitment can take Arabic to the national level: The 25 countries where Arabic plays a majority role all have unique vocabulary and usage due to admixtures of local languages and differing influences from former colonial languages, including English, French, Italian, Persian, and Spanish. Carmakers and luxury brands often use national-level lingo in slogans and campaigns. Digital marketers producing localized content experiences should follow suit.
Which approach you take depends on your product type, your investment, and the audiences you wish to target. Although Arabic has a reputation as a tough language, those enterprises that make the right choices can find that it unlocks lucrative opportunities in a market with light competition. Strategic planners can use the information in “Multilingual Digital Opportunity: 2019” to build their own cases for localizing into various languages and developing strategies for other languages where dialects play an important role, such as Chinese, English, and Spanish. For those that want to take the next step into understanding which languages and markets offer the best potential return on investment, CSA Research’s Global Revenue Forecaster™ provides insights into revenue and ROI.
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