Localizing in Times of Economic Downturn

By Emmanuel Margetic
May 21, 2010

Localizing in times of economic downturn
The global recession has companies stuck between a rock and a hard place: While the belt is being tightened all around, localization budgets are re-evaluated to achieve short-term savings. However, those cutting down on localization efforts might miss out on life-saving business once the economy picks up.

Imagine the following scenario: You have just bought a piece of build-it-yourself furniture and opened the assembly manual. The instructions in front of you look like a first grader has written them. How do you react? Do you try to decipher the manual or do you just toss it aside?

Surely many of us have experienced such an annoyance. Businesses selling products across the globe have started to see a new trend arise, in which globalization is no longer enough. Now, customers are looking for the next step; they’re looking for Globalization 2.0. This goes beyond standard globalization and focuses on tailoring information to each country based on cultural differences and linguistic nuances. In many cases this means not only localizing to each country but also localizing to specific regions and dialects.

As more companies conduct business internationally, they are becoming more familiar with this trend. Customers are paying much more attention to companies and products that provide materials for them on their own terms. While some companies have been localizing for a long time, it has only recently become a broad trend. Companies have to decide whether or not it’s worth their time to cater to each specific market with which they interact. This decision may not be easy.

Economic factors
The global recession is forcing businesses everywhere to tighten their belts and reconsider the allocation of their resources. In the process of reconsidering, they will likely run into an interesting dichotomy. Do they cut funding for localization and hope it won’t have too big of an effect? Or do they buy into the Globalization 2.0 trend and sustain localization to get an edge on their competitors?

This question is difficult, and the multiple variables involved make the decision different for each company. Consideration has to be given to competition and their localization strategies, characteristics of the market and the position of the company in that market. Once those factors have all been examined and determined, business leaders have to decide on the value of localization to their organizations. This can be difficult because, so far, no one has conducted research that concretely demonstrates the return on investment of localization. The concept makes sense, and businesses are noticing the warmer acceptance of localized materials, but specific revenue statistics remain ambiguous.

Despite the lack of concrete numbers, the best way to decide whether to cut or sustain localization is to look at it in terms of longevity of benefit. Those who cut localization are saving money in the short term but will lag behind when the recession subsides and business picks up. At that point, consumers will increase spending, and if a company lacks the brand presence in their target market, they will miss out on the increased market share. Because of the recession, some companies may not have the resources needed for localization. If that’s the case, the decision is made for them. On the other hand, companies that have the resources and choose to invest in keeping localization alive may be spread more thinly during the recession, but when it subsides, they will be in position to reap the benefits of a strong presence in their international markets – especially if competition is pulling out.

Localizing efficiently: Crowdsourcing?
For companies that decide localization is worth the effort, additional questions must be answered: What’s the best way to localize? How can it be done while spending as little money as possible? This is where the quality versus quantity debate comes in.

In an effort to cut costs and still continue business in international markets, some companies are starting to consider crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing is the practice of opening a project to the crowd and allowing a group to collectively complete what typically would be handled by a single employee. This enables a company to translate its materials via people who have a passion for translation and will do it for little cost.

However, those interested in this avenue should be aware of other fees not readily apparent. Even if a company is not charged for translation per word, the resources required to work with the crowd can be an unanticipated yet significant cost. Companies have to establish the crowd, interface with them and keep them happy. This means companies need to have internal personnel to manage translation campaigns, project management software, the development and maintenance of a contact database for the translators used in previous projects, the cost of gifts given to translators who volunteered their time on projects, etc. These costs should be included in any decision regarding the use of crowdsourcing.

It is also important to consider that crowdsourcing offers the possibility of a good translation, but does not guarantee one. For those in an industry with a passionate cult following, there is a much greater chance of high-quality results because the crowd involved in the translating has an emotional investment. However, those without this strong foundation may find it difficult to achieve the quality they need. The ability to localize also depends on the crowd involved.

As a result, crowdsourcing presents an interesting alternative, but whether or not it will be of any use depends on specific circumstances. It has the potential to be cheap and accurate, but it also may result in wasted money, time and effort building up the needed infrastructure, while achieving mediocre results.

If a company is considering crowdsourcing, it should first consider what’s at stake with the material in question and the amount of damage that could result if it isn’t translated and localized accurately. For straightforward translations, crowdsourcing may be a viable option. For example, a social media website with a few basic lines of text may be able to accomplish the level of translation they need. However, companies translating complicated instructions for medical devices, warning labels for dangerous manufacturing equipment or complex patent documents will find it difficult to achieve the accuracy needed from crowdsourcing. Knowing the options and the risks involved will help companies make a more accurate decision and achieve the positive outcome they desire.

Finding the right service provider
All communications to current and potential customers are important, but mission-critical information, such as responses to regulatory requirements or descriptions of potentially dangerous materials, requires even greater attention to quality. The best way to ensure a quality translation and effective localization is to enlist a high-quality translation vendor. However, not all vendors are created equal. Some vendors use automated translation to pump out large quantities of information, while others forgo all technological assistance and complete everything by hand. This means they rely solely on human knowledge without the benefit of referencing past translation projects or the ability to see client-specific translation preferences. To minimize risk and maximize quality and efficiency, businesses looking to localize need to find translation vendors that use a combination of technology and human knowledge to maximize quality and quantity.

Aside from methodological differences, vendors have different levels of expertise, which can influence the degree and quality of localization. To get a high quality, localized translation, the language service provider needs to know the culture, as well as the language of the target market. A translation won’t be localized by chance. It will only be localized if the person doing the translating knows when to leave out or add appropriate changes to maximize its appeal to the chosen audience.

Achieving Globalization 2.0
Adding to the array of considerations in choosing who should translate and how to translate materials, is the fact that language service providers and buyers are all working to find original ways to make translation and localization as painless as possible, both in terms of price and management. That can be a benefit to someone looking for a unique fit, but it can also make it hard for companies to find the best strategy and method for their purposes. When sifting through the many possibilities, companies need to keep in mind what is required for successful international operations.

Consumer tolerance for shoddy translations is decreasing, and it has an effect on companies’ international presence. Globalization 2.0 is in full swing, and companies won’t be able to capitalize on the trend, and will probably end up overspending, unless they are aware of the right translation techniques. Companies who don’t do it right run the risk of customers tossing aside their documentation and trying to figure it out on their own, and anyone who has had to assemble furniture can attest to how frustrating that can be.