I finally saw the famous Rosetta Stone in the British Museum when I made a visit to London this weekend. The stone inscribed a decree in three languages: ancient Egyptian hieroglyph, Demotic (another ancient Egyptian script used in the Nile Delta) and ancient Greek. I was thinking this is an awesome example of content localization. LOL!
The key part of globalizing content is localization and translation. It’s something which is often overlooked by the headquarters marketing team. In addition, localization and translation require budget and resources, if you want to do it right. The reality is that local teams tend to be strapped, with limited resources and budget, and can’t afford to give content the attention required to get it right. It frustrates everyone when content is not properly localized and is therefore wasted.
I talked to Sarah Mitchell, content strategist at Lush Media and a localization expert.
She was gracious to share her presentation as a resource for writing this localization blog. In her presentation, she calls attention to key elements to consider for localization:
- Colors: the color of a wedding dress is not necessarily white in some countries
- Holidays: Chinese New Year, Jewish New Year, Islamic New Year
- Sports: Football in the US vs Football in the rest of the world. Say no more!
- Religion: I don’t think that I need to provide examples for this category.
- Fiscal Years: In China, one of the biggest shopping days is 11/11 (Single’s Day) which is equivalent to the US Black Friday after Thanksgiving.
- Superstitions: 4 sounds like “death” in Chinese. In some buildings, you don’t see the 4th
- Language usages: Ute = Bakkie = Pickup truck. Quid = Buck = Loonie = Dosh = Money. Not to mention analyse vs. analyze, theatre vs. theater… Here is the one I kept hearing in the UK: Loo = WC = toilet
- Technical and medical terminology usage: Radiation cancer therapy vs. Cobalt 60 treatment
- Measurement: Seeing 20/20 vs. seeing 6/6, Liters vs. Gallons, KPH vs. MPH
Check out her presentation on some translations that went terribly wrong. Ok, slides 20 and 29 are hilarious, the best description of a duck dish…!
Sarah’s presentation reminds us of the areas that we need to take into account for localization. I think the best solution is to work with experts like Sarah! If Rosetta Stone were written today with creative and visual, they would need to take account of other localization aspects that local teams need to proactively address with the headquarters before content is created:
The headquarters team may decide the overall creative direction for the worldwide campaign. However, not every creative work for each region. Here is Apple’s global creative for iPhone in various countries:
However, because the popular US Old Spice Campaign is so US-specific, that creative approach won’t work for other countries.
Tip: the local team needs to review the headquarters’ creative and provide feedback. Headquarters needs to understand that some creative may not work for the local team.
The product messaging and value proposition depends on each region’s target audiences. The headquarters can create the messaging framework, but they can’t force it on the local team. A couple of years ago, my team decided to elevate the “Data Security” feature for our upcoming product launch. However, my team in China made it very clear to me that they can’t use “Data Security” since the Chinese government is very sensitive to the word “Security.” At the end, we agreed to go with “Reliability” as a key message for the Chinese product launch.
Tip: If the products are tailored for local customers, messaging and value proposition will need to do by the local team.
Campaign Theme/Tagline localization
Campaign theme and tagline, in most cases, need to be localized. Based on my experience of working with the local team, I don’t ask the local team to directly translate the theme or tagline. I make sure they understand the background and essence, then trust that they will customize it using the proper text to bring the core messages to live.
Tip: It’s the headquarters’ job to help the local team understand the campaign theme and tagline selection. The local team needs to make their best effort to stay with the spirit of the theme and tagline selection.
The local team should have ownership of what to translate and customize. With limited budget and resources, the local team won’t be able to translate everything. The headquarters team needs to plan its content roadmap in advance to allow the local team to understand what’s coming so they can prioritize.
Tip: Less is more. Prioritize what to localize. Couple that with content you will generate locally.
Content format localization
Content comes in different formats: PDFs, Tweets, Images, Videos etc. When the content roadmap is presented and shared with the local teams, the local teams need to give some thought to what the campaign will look like and where the content will be syndicated. Understanding the campaign and syndication channels will help you determine the needed formats.
Tip: It’s hard for the local team to do in advance, but it’s important to map out your campaign before content is created. Working with the local teams, I know this is very challenging since they are in execution mode all the time. However, a general idea on how a campaign will run helps the headquarters team determine the format requirement during the planning stage.
Globalization is complicated. How to strike that balance between global and local is really both an art and a science. It requires planning, collaboration, budget, and resources. Follow the 80/20 rule and focus on the top 20% of your content. Localization is a key element of a global content strategy. Think global, publish local!
A final note…
Some trivial pursuits for the British Museum: It only stores 8 million objects. The oldest piece is whopping 2 million years old: a stone chopping tool. Approximately 1% is displayed at any given time. Oh, they did a good job on content marketing by posting relevant content online for 2 million pieces of artifacts. Most importantly, the museum is FREE!