Sushi – a food that has reached its tentacles around the world and is now served in over 20,000 restaurants outside Japan, can be considered a truly successful global product. In fact, Sushi is so international, that its adapted American version is now re-entering the Japanese market as a new, exotic food trend.
Sushi is just one example of globalisation, the worldwide movement towards economic, financial, trade and communication integration. The advent of the Internet means that geographical and social boundaries no longer inhibit business and we are now living in an era of interconnection.
The opportunities for business growth and the financial benefits of globalisation are entwined with the challenge of considering differences of culture, language, religion, environment and law that exist across borders – the challenge of localisation.
Localisation, or l10n, is the process of adapting a global product or content to a specific local market. Translation is just one of several elements of the localisation process, which also include providing content that suits the culture, consumption habits and formats of the local market, conversion to local requirements (for example currency or units of measurement) and adhering to local legal requirements.
But why is localisation so important in a world which is clearly becoming more global?
Localisation shows you care
Localisation gives the consumer the impression that a product or service has been created specifically for them, demonstrating that the company cares. Showing respect for culture and language can add value to a brand and product – being ignorant can be disastrous.
The globalist McDonalds managed to beef up its falling profits in 2015 by adopting a localisation strategy. From kiwi burgers in New Zealand to McSausage and beer in Germany, McDonalds adapted its menus to cater to local tastes and culture. In India, where eating cows is against the religion of 80% of the population, beef is not on the menu.
Translating correctly into the local market language is as important as sensitivity to cultural issues. In a Common Sense Advisory survey, 56.2% of consumers said that ability to obtain information in their own language is more important than price and 72.4% of consumers said they would be more likely to buy a product with information in their own language. This indicates that a failure to translate and to adopt a localised content strategy can negatively affect business.
Localisation also means being accurate to the country not just the language, the subtle differences between US and UK English being a good example. An American might feel quite comfortable walking down the street in just his “pants” but as British person, I certainly wouldn’t!
Localisation reduces risks and costs
Penetrating a new market is costly and a company usually only has one chance to get it right. Customers will be unforgiving and brand image negatively affected if manuals, websites, campaigns and software are not sensitively reproduced in the local language and culture. As J. Ellis and D. Williams write in their book International Business Strategy:
“The need to make the right decision in respect of international market entry is emphasised by the likelihood of there being significant penalties if a wrong decision is made. Not only will there be the investment of management time and financial resources, but market entry failure may lead to shareholder loss of confidence…there is also opportunity cost as potentially better opportunities are forgone”.
In 2009, HSBC bank was forced to launch an expensive rebranding campaign to repair the damage when its slogan “Assume Nothing” was incorrectly translated as “Do Nothing” in many countries and Apple learnt to its cost the perils of not addressing localisation issues when attempting entry into the Japanese market. Failing to adapt computers to Japanese requirements or to translate the user manual to Japanese quickly led to disgruntled customers and Apple lost its advantage and potential market share to IBM.
Localisation prevents embarrassment and improves revenues
Localisation is essential to the success of marketing campaigns which cannot succeed if they do not reach the target audience. Indeed, 65% of multinational enterprises believe localisation is either important or very important for achieving higher revenues (California State University survey).
An incorrect translation of a brand name or slogan could have wide reaching ramifications – an embarrassing or offensive translation could seriously endanger brand image.
KFC learnt this lesson when its “Finger-lickin’ good” tagline was translated to “We`ll eat your fingers off” in China, as did Parker Pens with its claim “It won`t leak in your pocket and embarrass you” translated to the Spanish “It won`t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant”. The brand name Jolly Green Giant was translated to “Intimidating Green Ogre” in Arabic and the product “Schweppes Tonic Water” to the appealing “Schweppes Toilet Water” in Italian.
The importance of localisation for financial, cultural, political and legal reasons is clear but there are also further reasons for adaptation. Chan und Huang (1997) make the point that brands can be enhanced if names of certain animals, flowers and lucky numbers are used in Asian cultures and that unlucky colours or symbols can have the opposite effect.
Such is the importance of adapting global products to local markets today, that the inventors of Sushi, the Japanese, have coined a word to describe it. “Dochakuka” or “glocalisation” is essential for success in our interconnected world. A brand`s business can only expand globally if the product or service resonates with the customer locally.
A contribution from kontextor teoranta, a translation, localisation and content management agency from Berlin-Kreuzberg. Visit our blog for more articles all around copywriting and the localisation business. We love language.