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Five Localization Problems New Market Players Can Expect

Michael Gallagher
Michael Gallagher
Posted in Zoom Sep 7 · 7 Sep, 2022
Five Localization Problems New Market Players Can Expect

Global companies generate $25 for every dollar they invest in successful localization. Hence, if your company earmarks $10 million in localization strategies, you’re guaranteed an ROI of at least $250 million. Not bad, right? 

These estimates reflect the ongoing observation that more than seven out of ten (72.1%) of non-English-speaking consumers prefer brands with websites that speak their language. More than half (56.2%) put information accessibility and accuracy over price considerations. 

Hence, a company that doesn’t plan its localization strategies well will fail. You can kiss goodbye the prospect of a 25:1 return on investment.

Localization isn’t a walk in the park. Problems and challenges abound, derailing even the most carefully planned strategies. Don’t believe us? You can consider the Pepsi localization debacle in China as a case in point. 

Pepsi wanted to enter the Chinese market, starting by translating its slogan – “Come Alive with the Pepsi Generation.” Unfortunately, its localization “experts” translated the sentence, promising that drinking Pepsi would resurrect the drinker’s ancestors. It’s only one of many localization blunders. Hongkong-Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC), Parker Pen, Coca-Cola, and Honda also faced localization problems. 

Well-established brands can be victims of poor localization strategies. Unfortunately, it doesn’t bid too well for small and medium-sized companies.

There’s hope. Your business can still escape these localization blunders by recognizing the five localization problems and making a conscious and collective effort to address them before entering a local market. We’ll explain these localization challenges and offer some tips for solving them.

Localization Problems

 It’s Not All About Language

One of the most pervasive localization problems facing global brands is the belief that effective communication is all about mastering the language. Some companies think that knowing grammar rules and attributes of a particular language is enough to ensure successful localization strategies.

Unfortunately, translating a language into a local dialect involves more than finding the closest word translation for a term. Companies must also consider the phrase’s visual and contextual nuances to derive its true meaning. Sadly, employing a translator without in-depth knowledge and appreciation of local culture and societal norms will only spell more localization problems for the company.

Let’s look at examples other than Pepsi. 

Honda introduced its Jazz subcompact hatchback in the Scandinavian market (Denmark, Norway, and Sweden) in 2001 as the Honda Fitta. The car should do well in the European market because the region prefers smaller automobiles, unlike in the US marketplace, where car owners like their vehicles big and bold. 

Unfortunately, whoever proposed the “Fitta” name on the Honda badge didn’t understand the cultural nuances underpinning the term. “Fitta” is the Nordic term for female genitalia. Sadly, the debacle didn’t end there. 

The Honda Fitta had a “Small on the Outside But Big on the Inside” tagline. You can imagine the public outroar when Honda released its marketing materials. Too bad, the Japanese automaker had to throttle its damage control.

Here’s another one, also from the Chinese market.

How do you convert “Coca-Cola” into Mandarin? If you think “Ke-Kou-Ke-La” is the correct answer, you’d be like the beverage giant making a huge mistake. This Chinese term translates to a “wax-stuffed female horse” or “to bite the wax tadpole.” Although the Chinese have a peculiar cuisine, we’re confident they don’t like putting wax into their mouths. So, Coca-Cola re-translated their brand to “Ko-Kou-Ko-Le,” saying that this beverage brings happiness in one’s mouth. Although distant from its true meaning, the translation was more pleasing than a “tadpole” or a “female horse.” 

It’s easy to avoid these localization problems if global brands pay more attention to their language translations’  cultural nuances and hidden meanings. After all, localization requires businesses to appeal to local markets by embodying their beliefs, customs, traditions, and other attributes that make them unique people.

So, how do you fix this problem?

Some companies think a professional translator is enough. However, real-world experience tells us it’s a faulty assumption. Cultural nuances and other language-related peculiarities can impact the effectiveness of localization strategies. Hence, the best solution to this localization challenge is to hire a linguist with extensive knowledge and understanding of local culture and norms.

Addressing these issues requires assessing the target language from different perspectives. 

First, localization experts must look at language issues from the culture’s perception. Studies show that cultures differ in perceiving things. For example, Westerners are more analytical, while East Asians are more holistic.

Unsurprisingly, some cultures might find an otherwise harmless word offensive. Global brands cannot blame them because it’s their way of perceiving things. Hence, culturally-grounded linguists must translate phrases and sentences to reflect the local culture’s perceptions. Otherwise, these localization problems will persist.

Second, language has unique symbols, myths, colors, and other elements that shape semiotic meanings and cultural norms. For example, most East Asian cultures view the color red as a symbol of auspiciousness, warmth, happiness, and life. Unsurprisingly, you’ll see the Chinese New Year splashed in vibrant red. On the other hand, Westerners interpret this color as symbolizing beauty, vigor, love, and power. 

Localization Problems

How about the scorpion? Westerners consider this animal the embodiment of evil, unpleasantness, poison, and death. However, the Japanese revere it, saying that the scorpion symbolizes wisdom and justice. Ancient Egyptians considered the scorpion a symbol of guardianship, while some African cultures deemed it necessary for sex and fertility. 

Global brands must study, analyze, and understand a culture’s symbolic meanings to avoid localization and translation blunders.

Third, businesses must also look at the localization strategy’s value to the local market. For example, Western cultures emphasize individuality, while Eastern societies are more collectivist. Some people respect the person, while others value the family. Some are active, while others are passive.

Failure to incorporate these cultural nuances into a company’s localization strategy can spell its globalization demise before it has the chance to take off.

Hence, global businesses must examine their language translation and localization strategies from these three perspectives. It will help them identify the most relevant element to use in creating the most appropriate meaning that resonates with the local market.

Cultural Norms Can Clash with Brand Voice

Global brands face many localization problems when they enter a new local market. And one of the most glaring obstacles is cultural norms. These people-specific attributes can clash with the company’s philosophy, leading the organization’s leaders in a precarious predicament.

Let’s look at two global companies that had to make the most challenging decisions to make their brands fit into certain markets.

IKEA is a Swedish global brand known for its gender equality, espousing the rights of women as co-equals of men. Unfortunately, its entry into the Saudi Arabian market tested the company’s resolve. 

Although the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has more relaxed attitudes toward women today, they are still restrictive compared to other countries. Hence, IKEA had to do the unthinkable – remove images of women in its product catalogs. 

Sadly, this move didn’t sit well with its loyal followers outside KSA and among equality advocates. It’s crucial to understand that equality is one of IKEA’s values.

IKEA wasn’t the only global brand that had to tweak its image to fit the Saudi Arabian market. Starbucks also had to modify its “mermaid” logo to depict only the crown (sans the female silhouette). The coffee shop brand also met stiff opposition from Malaysia, Indonesia, and other predominantly Islamic countries, where women have a more subordinate role to men.

Americans prefer casual relationships over more formal ones. On the other hand, Japanese and other East Asian cultures emphasize formality in almost every aspect of daily life. Hence, an American brand pushing the message of informal relationships might face opposition from locals who are more in-tune with highly-structured and organized social relationships.

Some American brands can also face localization problems with collectivist cultures, such as Japan, China, Argentina, India, Brazil, Korea, Venezuela, Indonesia, Guatemala, and Ecuador. These countries shun individualism, egocentrism, and self-expression for the greater good, considering themselves integral members of a connected whole – society. 

Addressing these localization problems is more complicated than solving language-related localization challenges. Linguists cannot help a global company avoid clashing with cultural norms because the decision to enter a local market comes from the Board. 

Hence, the only solution here is to study and analyze the local market your company wants to localize to. For example, if a business organization wants to establish a branch in Japan, it would be in its best interest to hire a cultural consultant who can guide them in the inner workings of the Nippon culture. Historians, cultural anthropologists, and other experts can form a core group to advise the company on what it should and should not do when localizing to a specific market.

Localization Requires a Substantial Investment in Time and Money

Thinking that localizing into a domestic market is a cinch can produce many localization problems. It can sap the company’s financial resources and cause burnout among its workers. Why? Successful localization does not occur overnight like a magic wand you can flip around to transform everything in your favor. It involves many activities that require time and money.

Entering a new market requires extensive research into the region’s culture, traditions, communication, preferences, and other unique attributes. Some global brands spend several months trying to understand their markets before they can start planning their localization strategies. Sure, the internet can provide you with invaluable information. However, there are instances when real-life, person-to-person interactions are necessary to appreciate culture.

Launching your brand in a local market without adequate preparation can spell more localization problems and a high likelihood of the company’s demise in that region. The Marketing Insider Group says that releasing ineffective or poorly-localized content can reduce a global brand’s sales-generating capabilities by 40%.

Planning effective localization strategies is one thing. Implementing those activities requires a different approach, notwithstanding time and money. Hence, it’s not unusual for global brands to spend one to four percent of their organizational marketing budget on localization services alone. 

Localization Problems

Global brands that reach at least a hundred countries spend millions of dollars translating materials alone. We’re not talking about other localization activities with inherent costs. Hence, it’s not surprising that a company can spend tens to hundreds of millions of dollars on its localization efforts.

And how about the legwork for these activities? There are negotiations with third-party suppliers, logistics providers, and other supply chain members. Companies must also communicate and engage government authorities and regulatory organizations, all of which require effort, time, and money.

Companies must plan their localization strategies very well without rushing things. However, they also cannot afford to spend too much time because geopolitical and economic changes might derail the effort.

It would be best to go for simple localization strategies. For example, localization materials with concise language and simple sentences are more straightforward to translate while guaranteeing accuracy. It also delivers the right message to the locals, avoiding subjective elements that can undermine the content’s meaning. 

Businesses can also choose to look at their localization content as comprising components. Each element must be brief yet all-encompassing, allowing the organization to create, localize, and re-use it in multiple domestic markets. It’s always easier to tweak internationalized content to suit a specific locale.

 Translation and Design are Intertwined

Some companies fail to recognize the interconnectedness of design and translation in localization effectiveness. They develop localization content without collaborating with web designers and people responsible for creating customer interfaces. It’s one of the many localization problems besetting businesses with a limited understanding of globalization, localization, internationalization, and translation principles.

It’s not an issue if you’re entering a market with the same language and cultural characteristics as your company. It can become a headache if the target domestic market has a different style requirement.

For example, “Buy Now” only includes seven characters, including the space. Creating a clickable icon with these words within the button should be a cinch for web designers. Unfortunately, if you translate it into French, “Acheter Maintenant,” the same size badge might be insufficient to contain the 18-character phrase.

Some cultures also write vertically. Most of us are familiar with texts written horizontally, from left to right. It requires web forms with a landscape orientation. On the other hand, countries with a vertically oriented text system need web elements in a portrait mode. The company can have issues later if translators and web designers don’t collaborate on the project.

The same issue can occur with cultures that have right-to-left text rules. These countries read materials from the right when we’re more accustomed to reading from the left.

The best way to address this localization problem is by centralizing your company’s localization strategy. It will be best to hire a professional company offering a comprehensive language service to ensure the relevance and consistency of your brand messaging. They can also provide culturally-sensitive and culturally-appropriate content management, workflow design, and language services.

These third-party service providers can also collaborate with multilingual SEO experts, graphic designers, local data collectors, and other decentralized contributors to ensure your localization strategies proceed smoothly. 

Localization Cannot Begin Without Infrastructure in Place

Centralizing your localization strategies will not solve all localization problems if the necessary infrastructure is unavailable. Localization requires a complex network of foundational elements empowering organizations to set a physical presence in any domestic market.

Here is where internationalization comes to the fore. Internationalization allows you to prepare your organization for entry into any local market, requiring only a few tweaks to suit the region’s unique requirements. 

For example, an internationalized content management system must support the target language’s characters and accent marks. It must also allow formatting measurements, currencies, dates, and other numerical information to comply with cultural requirements. The program must also allow for customization, enabling local users to tweak the content to make it more relevant and appropriate to the locals.

Effective localization requires companies to examine and evaluate their software programs, ensuring their e-commerce functionality is suitable for the target market. An online chat must also be present, specifically in the target language. The technologies must also allow cross-platform compatibility, especially with customer relationship management systems, email services, marketing automation, and other digitally integrated services.

The company must also create more efficient workflows that support and facilitate effective global operations. Preparing internationalized templates can also help guarantee localization success.

Final Thoughts

Addressing the five localization problems can ensure a company’s globalization success. It includes treating language as more than the interplay of words to make meaningful messages. Language localization requires a solid understanding of linguistic-cultural nuances, including perceptions, values, and symbolism. 

Global brands must also pay attention to cultural norms and understand the value of resource planning in ensuring localization and globalization success. Design and translation teams must work collaboratively to guarantee seamless localization across markets. Most importantly, brands eyeing a spot in a local domestic market should lay the foundations for an effective localization program.

Although a professional translation service provider cannot help organizations address all localization problems, it can offer invaluable assistance in some of them. Ensuring culturally-sensitive translation materials can fast-track a global brand’s localization endeavors, avoid costly translation blunders, and set up the business for worldwide success. We can be your trustworthy partner in this endeavor.