XTM Insights

What are the key characteristics of a successful localization program?

What are the key characteristics of a successful localization program?
What are the key characteristics of a successful localization program?

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To localize or not to localize?

If you want to expand into new markets as part of your global strategy or reach new audiences by evolving your global content, a localization program is essential. But with so much advice available and so many technical solutions on offer, how do you make the right choices to ensure success? What does good look like and what does ‘successful’ actually mean?

What is the objective of having a localization program?

Having a localization program has become one of the most important requirements for companies wanting to go global or expand their markets. Localization allows companies to grow by communicating accurately and effectively in new markets and regions helping its product reach customers around the world. A successful localization strategy provides the following benefits:

  • Introduction into new markets
  • Increase in brand awareness and reputation
  • Increase in customer loyalty
  • Creation of competitive advantage
  • Access to new talent

Done successfully, these factors facilitate new revenue streams and brand growth. Dialpad CEO Craig Walker recently wrote in Forbes about the importance of some of these benefits: “For my company, going global allows us to (…) [be] faster and more inventive. We’re hunting for the next big talent market while our competitors are just getting into the old one. When the playing field isn’t equal, it’s those sorts of advantages that help you beat out competitors with deeper pockets.” Reasons like this is why some companies don’t see localization as a supporting mechanism but rather as a main source of revenue. In fact, many US-based MNCs like Intel, Coca Cola or Apple reported in 2020 that over 60% of their total sales came from outside the United States.

The evolution of localization has gone hand in hand with the continuous development of its technological solutions, and this progress has allowed companies to be more flexible when mapping out their objectives. In other words, your objectives won’t be limited by your localization program but rather you can choose which technological solution is the best fit for them. According to Alex Zekakis, XTM International’s Director of Support Services “Objectives are subject to the company’s size, its industry or simply its priorities and aspirations. There is no all-purpose objective or approach that comes with having a localization program. Each  company should define how a localization program will help it reach its goals and expansion plans by scaling it to its needs.”

In some industries, having a localization program is much more than just a supporting mechanism or a main source of revenue – having a presence in global markets has become an essential condition for the commercialization of its products and a basic need for the whole organization. In countries such as Canada, legislations and regulations ban products from being commercialized if they do not come with service manuals or other relevant documentation in both English and Canadian French; Brazil requires all of its medical documentation to be localized into Brazilian Portuguese; and the EU requires all of manufacturers of machinery, mechanical equipment and associated components to have their documentation in the language of the country of use.

This requirement has led to vast amounts of content having to be translated within short spaces of time, for which automated translation mechanisms such as Neural Machine Translation have been considered as the primary option. Without a proper localization program, this translated content runs the risk of being highly inaccurate due to not having undergone any human input, and this can result in considerable damage to your brand’s image and reputation and, in some cases, depending on the product, recalls that come with their inevitable high cost.

Alex Zekakis, Director of Support Services, XTM International

The objectives of having a localization program are not predefined, but are in fact set out by the company itself and its priorities.”

Alex Zekakis, Director of Support Services, XTM International

Key Insight

The objectives of a localization program depend solely on each company’s strategy. Having a localization program doesn’t just allow you to expand to new markets but can also give you a competitive advantage through sound market research and planning. Since these objectives align with those of the vast majority of enterprises, having a localization program has become a necessity rather than a commodity.

What challenges will we face in setting up a localization program?

We’ve covered which are the main challenges to consistently deliver a successful localization program, and one of the most common ones is establishing the right tools and technology stack. When you explore the market for technological solutions, it’s important to understand what benefits each of them can provide you with and whether they are well suited to your company’s size and needs factor in the volume of content you need to localize initially and the number of new markets you will be exploring, and choose a solution that fits. Furthermore, it’s important that the technology you choose offers scalability and can adjust to any future growth your program’s requirements may experience. For example, if your output volume increases by 20% compared to the previous year and your global strategy takes you to five new markets, you want your technology to be able to seamlessly adjust to that increase of words and users on the fly and not cause any impediments that hold you back from achieving your goals.

Another challenge is being able to give the localization program the autonomy that it requires to succeed. Localization programs can depend on bigger departments such as marketing or product, for example or sometimes on two different ones simultaneously. The issues with assigning the localization team to a specific department is that it won’t be able to have any influence on certain aspects which are key to its success. For example, if your localization program has its organizational home in the marketing team, it won’t have much influence in the technological aspect it requires to work efficiently; or if it’s integrated within your product team, it won’t have much of a say in the financial decision-making that determines its budget, which may negatively impact the program due to not having the investment it requires to succeed. For this reason, it’s important that your localization team can act as autonomously as possible so that it can influence all the strategic objectives that are relevant to it without being bound by the limits of each department.

Your market research will also play a key role in your localization strategy. Make sure that your product name is suitable for the market you are targeting and understand its cultural norms and nuances. If, for example, there is an issue with your product name such as it being wrongly or unnecessarily localized (customers in some markets prefer the original name in English), this can lead to customer dissatisfaction and losing ground to your competitors. Another example is to make sure what significance certain colors have in those countries, and this way you can avoid the mistake Pepsi made in Southeast Asia when they changed the color of their product from blue to light blue, without realizing that light blue in those countries was associated with death.

Key Insight

The right choice of technology stack will be a huge difference-maker in your localization program. Good visibility within your company and appropriate market research go a long way in allowing your localization team to maximize its potential to help you reach your global strategy goals.

What content strategies need to be applied?

We all know about the importance that producing original, quality content has on our brand and its competitive digital presence, but having a good global content strategy is equally important to the content we produce. 

One of the common denominators in companies who have successfully implemented localization programs is that they localized all their collateral early on in their expansion process, sometimes even before going to market. Having all your content readily available and localized prior to market entry is a good way to increase your brand’s reputation and give it a competitive advantage upon entrance.

A good example of this is the direct competition between Sony and Microsoft in the video consoles industry. Sony has excelled at its localization for its PlayStation around the world, whereas Microsoft has failed to impress in that regard and struggled in non-English speaking countries. The result? Sony sold 112 million units of their PlayStation 4 console globally between November 2013 and July 2020, whereas sales for Microsoft’s Xbox One stood at 48 million.

However, companies with less financial muscle are not able to implement this approach due to the large investment it requires. Instead, they choose to settle for a more targeted model, in which rather than localizing all their collateral they prioritize it, focusing solely on the most basic and essential content (landing pages, company info, digital marketing, etc.) and top-performing products, which can be determined, for example, via a benefits vs cost model or a customer delight vs implementation investment model.

You can also choose to localize your content at different service levels with different priorities, finding the right balance between the speed it is delivered and priority for brand voice and style. For example, if you have some time-critical content that you need to publish, you can use machine translation with minimal human input; whereas content that requires a higher level of localization consistency in terms of voice, tone, terminology, etc. can undergo a more thorough process via localization or transcreation. Identifying which of your content is appropriate for each of these processes will allow you to publish it at a regular cadence and at a more cost-effective level.


What skills and experience should my localization team have?

Ideally, your team as a whole needs to have an understanding of localization principles, technology and engineering. Processes such as interchangeability, interoperability, segmentation and parsing rules are all terms that are not unique to the localization industry but which do define it, and although a successful localization team does not necessarily need to be an expert in them all, it does need to be aware of what they are in order to have a holistic view of the industry and the competitive offers available to them. 

An obvious question during the recruitment process would be whether they all need to have prior experience in the localization industry. According to Zekakis “It’s not an essential requirement, but it really does help. The reason for this is that people with a background in localization or in the linguistic industry have an easier understanding of localization principles than those without; on the other hand, people who come from outside of it may have a broader understanding of other relevant fields of the program, such as technology or design”. 

In any case, your team should include specialists in marketing and design who will be producing the content; as well as developers and engineers who take care of the back-end aspects of the digital product, all of them lead by a Senior Localization Manager, who will ideally have a broad understanding of the localization industry since they will have to oversee the process end to end. The size of your team will depend entirely on your content strategy and the volume of collateral you wish to localize but it’s also dynamic. For example, a top manufacturing enterprise had approximately 50 employees in its localization team in the mid-2000s, but as technology started to evolve and the team began to optimize its localization processes, the team evolved to less than 10 members in 2021. This is why choosing the right technology can help you optimize your localization program’s human cost.

Director of Localization at a global online fashion retailer

By using more efficient tools and automation, our team and our roles started to get more involved earlier on in the product cycle […] and this has been very successful for us as we continue to transform and expand.”

Director of Localization at a global online fashion retailer

Key Insight

Don’t limit the construction of your team based on their experience in localization. Expertise in other fields such as engineering and design is also important. The level of automation your tech stack can offer can also determine your team’s size, which can have a positive impact on your budget.

How do we measure the success of our localization program?

Localization is a key contributor to the expansion or adoption of a company in a region. However, how can we measure whether our localization program has been a success? There are some key factors that are indicative of that, and although not all of them can be attributed to localization alone, there is no doubt that it’s a key factor in achieving them. Some of these include:

  • Tangible revenue growth
  • Increase of user adoption
  • Company success in given region (obtained by market-research figures)

How these success parameters are measured also depend on the company’s expansion strategy. In other words, an expansion into a specific market can be just that or it can be part of a bigger, long-term strategic plan for global brand impact, in which establishing its footprint in a series of markets is the immediate priority ahead of a financial one. 

Some of the metrics you need to keep an eye on to see whether your localization program is progressing include website KPIs (traffic, sales, average session time), online KPIs (social media engagement, SEO rankings), and growth KPIs (new customers, market share, net revenue…). Monitoring these metrics will allow you to have a holistic view of how your localization program is performing and identify the areas in which you are excelling and those in which you can improve.

Key Insight

Localization will not be the sole reason for your global strategy’s success but it will undoubtedly be a key contributor. What works today for your localization program might not work tomorrow, so regularly monitor your performance KPIs and make adjustments accordingly.

In conclusion, it’s important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to localization. Your company’s current reality, available resources and future aspirations are what you need to take into account when building your localization program, together with harnessing the appropriate technology needed for your objectives and assembling the right group of human talent whose skills cover all of your needs. It’s only by underpinning your localization program on all of these factors that you will be on the path to localization success.

Aleix Gwilliam

AuthorAleix Gwilliam