Politics and opinions aside, the fact is that globalization — the “interdependence of the world’s economies, cultures, and populations” — has a major impact on the world in which we live and work.
In fact, a quarter of everything that is produced today is exported to other parts of the world to sell or be used elsewhere in the supply chain.
Today, businesses rely on a globalized economy to supply many of the things they create, buy, and sell. Individuals reap the benefits in the form of products and services that are affordable and accessible thanks to the coordination of production around the world.
If your business isn’t yet competing in the global marketplace, it’s high time to start.
Here’s what you need to know to get your business ready to go international — as well as insight into the benefits you can look forward to and the pitfalls of which to be wary of.
What Are Localization and Internationalization?
Localization is the practice of adapting products, content, or software to align with the language, culture, practices, and other defining features of a specific locale.
Localization is more complex than just directly translating one word to the same word in another language. It also takes into account a tremendous amount of contextual differences between locations, including:
- Formats for currency, measurements, dates, etc.
- Syntax, slang phrases, expressions, and preferences that are unique to different dialects
- Color, font, and iconography preferences
- Length of words (think German) and direction of writing (think Arabic)
- Images and other visual elements
- Local laws and regulations
- Common marketing practices
To fully achieve localization, businesses may even need to go so far as to rethink something’s look, presentation, and workflow so that it fits in with local practices that govern how people learn, work, and live.
Instead of making those changes retroactively, businesses can invest in proactive internationalization.
Internationalization is the practice of designing and developing products, software, content, and beyond so that they’re ready for localization.
Today, the ability to internationalize many core business assets — the marketing you share, the content you create, and the software you produce — starts with how your digital systems are structured.
According to the experts at The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), here are some of the most important things your technical team can do to ensure your business is ready to compete on a global stage:
- Design and develop your core digital assets — think about your content and marketing machine and of course any public-facing technology products you sell — to remove barriers to localization. This task may mean enabling Unicode, ensuring the proper handling of legacy character encodings, avoiding dependence in code of user-interface string values, and more.
- Plan to support features that you may not even use until you implement localization. This might look like adding markup to your DTD to support bidirectional text, including CSS support for non-Latin typographic features, and so on.
- Create code that enables people to control their language and cultural preferences. Examples include date formats, numeral systems, handling of addresses, etc. Developers typically achieve this by incorporating predefined localization data and features from existing libraries.
- Programmatically separate elements that will be localized from your content and source code. This will allow localized alternatives to be enacted when a new preference is indicated. APIs may be used to help achieve this.
While these practices in themselves do not achieve localization, they do enable localization tactics to be easily applied so that key business assets can be used over and over again as an organization grows into new markets.
The Benefits of Going International When It Comes to Your Business
Localization and internationalization is a big, ongoing commitment that no business should take lightly. But considering consumer demand, rising competition, and benefits like the ones you’re about to read about — it’s pretty clear you’ll at least want to try.
Access New Savings Opportunities
When businesses expand into new markets, they often benefit from exposure to savings in the form of government incentives, more affordable talent, tax relief, simpler logistics, cheaper commodities, and plenty more.
Manage Risk More Effectively
International expansion means market diversification — and that means less risky dependency on a single market to generate all of your revenue. New markets also mean new holidays, new seasons, and other new economic cycles that will keep your productivity, sales, and revenue closer to full-capacity all year round.
Win New Customers and Revenue
What else do new markets mean, aside from more savings and less risk? They mean new customers.
With each new international market you’re able to break into, you’ll win more exposure to consumers and increase your potential for business and revenue growth.
And if you’ve been localizing along the way, more exposure is definitely a good thing.
Research shows that consumers prefer to shop with brands that speak their language. Plus, marketing and advertising campaigns that have been carefully crafted for the local audience are more likely to effectively hit their mark.
Hone New Skills That Increase Your Global Competitive Advantage
When entering a foreign market, companies are often confronted with new technologies, new ecosystems, and new workforces that force them to innovate and improve upon not just what they offer but also how they offer it.
While these improvements are meant to help a business keep up with local competitors, the secondary benefit is that they often also put the organization in a league of its own when the new innovations are introduced in their home market.
There are plenty of benefits of international business — many of which we discussed here — but this is the one that we appreciate the most because of how it helps businesses transform into new and better versions of themselves for the long-term.
The Challenges That Businesses Striving for Localization and Internationalization Face
While the benefits of internationalization and localization are clear and compelling, it’s important that every organization also understands the kind of pitfalls it should be wary of on the road to transformation.
If your products, technologies, content, etc. weren’t originally built using the internationalization tactics outlined above, you’re going to have a hard time keeping everything in working order when it comes time to localize.
Think of how an already-baked cookie would crumble if you tried to replace the chocolate chips with raisins (why you would want to do that is a discussion for another time). Your software is that cookie. It’s likely to fall apart the moment you try to change every button and field to a language with different characters, different word lengths, and so on.
Getting the Knowledge You Need for Each Locale
In addition to incorporating local knowledge, another major hurdle is where you go to get that local knowledge in the first place. It’s likely your organization will have to source a local, professional translator whom you can also trust to handle unique cultural preferences.
As for aligning with the important laws and regulations that will govern your business in each location, your best bet will probably be turning to a compliance specialist — ideally one in the area.
Growth always means a shift in logistics. However, growth that extends to a new country with a new culture and a new language comes with very large logistical shifts that will take time to manage and maintain.
Just think about it: Will you spin up new social media channels to represent your company in each new market it enters? How many versions of each blog do you need to create and how are you going to make sure the right consumers see the right version? How big of a support team will you need to hire to make sure your customers halfway around the world are happy with your services and are spreading positive word-of-mouth advertising?
None of these questions even take into account the more technical logistics concerning inventory, shipping, and supporting various currencies.
Thankfully there are businesses out there that see this logistical nightmare and are helping solve it with flexible ecommerce platforms, easy-to-localize content management systems, and even localization management solutions.
Want to Learn More About Leveraging Localization to Compete on an International Stage?
Whether it’s the savings, the access to exciting new technologies and talent pools, the market diversification and risk management, or the good ol’ boosted revenue; localization and internationalization are enticing business strategies.