In very basic terms, localization is the process of adapting something to a specific locale. But, you’ll need more than that to understand its role in the global economy, the language industry, and business today.

There are two basic approaches to defining localization. The first relates to localization as a type of translation — one that focuses on the local culture — and the second concerns the types of content it is applied to or the industry domains that rely on it to make products and services work in every market.

Localization as a form of translation

Some people question the need to differentiate localization from normal translation. Isn’t localization just a good translation? Well, it can be, but the term translation doesn’t necessarily imply a full adaptation to a specific locale. Localization pays extra attention to the target culture and is less concerned with staying true to the original text. That’s why localization exists in its own right — language is important, but culture, history, taste, customs, and tone are just as critical to making a text work in another market.

So what sorts of things change when localizing? There are so many local singularities to take into account, but common examples in written text include adapting currencies, units of measure, dates and time formats, and even fonts and capitalization. A simple translation won’t do in these cases because the whole concept needs to be changed to fit with whatever real people in the target markets are accustomed to.

Localization as an industry

As well as a variant of translation, localization has become an industry in itself. The omnipresence of tech and IT in business today has led to the recognition of localization as a key component in the development of software, apps, websites, and video games.

Software localization is particularly prominent as it addresses the specific challenges of adapting software to different languages and markets. It requires a preliminary step called internationalization and bridges the gap between tech limitations and linguistic requirements by tackling common issues like placeholders, pluralization, gender, and character limitations.

Why is localization so important in 2020?

Here are five reasons why you’ll want to make room for localization in your global business strategy:

1. You’ll reach a wider audience

Localizing your products to foreign markets will do wonders for your brand awareness — it will make it easier to enter new markets and strengthen your global presence. You’ll increase your customer base at the top of the funnel and you’ll also help move potential customers along the buyer’s journey.

At the end of the day, you need to build trust to turn leads into customers. And you simply can’t build trust with new audiences without carefully localizing your products, services, and marketing to fit the needs of each market.

2. People want customized content

Specialized content is more important than ever and that’s exactly what localization does — it makes content directly relevant to the person consuming it. Demand for good, reliable content has drastically increased in the last few years, and the COVID-19 pandemic is only going to accentuate this trend. Generic, this-was-clearly-written-for-someone-else content no longer works. It’s the harsh reality we now face in the new content economy, but if you listen and actually give the people what they want, you’ll quickly see a growth in audience numbers and engagement.

3. You’ll avoid risking your reputation

How many reputable personalities and brands have fallen victim to cancel culture or online shaming in the last few months? Too many to count. Okay, we know you’re not going around insulting people willy-nilly for the fun of it, but how easy is it to inadvertently offend certain groups and cultures if you don’t know what rules and social norms apply there? Avoiding local insensitivities should be your number one priority, and localization will ensure that your messaging always hits the mark.

If you’re rolling your eyes at the thought of always having to be politically correct, it isn’t about that at all. It’s about getting the tone right in your target markets and avoiding turning off whole communities or becoming the butt of the joke to a whole culture. You simply can’t afford that if you’re going global.

4. You’ll increase customer satisfaction

Once you’ve got those customers, you’ve got to keep them happy! User experience is crucial today, especially if millennials make up a significant chunk of your customer base. By localizing your documentation, blog posts, FAQs, eBooks, guides, reports, and customer support, you’ll be well on your way to guaranteeing you’re addressing each client’s specific needs.

And remember that these satisfied customers will talk about you and your offering. They’ll leave reviews and spread the word about you. They’ll be the ones creating and sustaining your community and there’s no better marketing than having real users raving about you online and in all your markets.

5. You’ll streamline your workflow

An efficient localization process is heavily reliant on collaborative teamwork. There are usually several players in a localization team including a localization engineer, project managers, translators, and other localization specialists. The size of your business will determine how many people you need but whatever the scale, you’ll still need great collaboration within the team and with other parts of your business.

This is why a streamlined workflow and management system is essential in localization. In today’s fast-paced world you need an efficient and automated localization infrastructure that can handle all stages of the project life cycle. This agile, optimized process is called continuous localization and there are many platforms that cater to this specifically, including Smartcat’s all-in-one platform. You’ll want to choose a system that’s as self-sufficient as possible, but that also allows for integrations with software repositories and content management systems, like WordPress.

Check out how the cybersecurity solution Kaspersky and the women’s health app Flo increased their efficiency by introducing Smartcat into their localization processes.

Localization is necessary to go global

Anyone who has expanded into foreign markets will tell you that localization is key to international success. We’ll admit that localization isn’t a foolproof enterprise — it takes time, money, and research to get your business set up for global expansion. But if you plan ahead and execute right, results will surely follow.