In order for content to succeed, it needs to resonate with its audience. If you operate in multiple markets, this makes localization essential. If more people can read your content, more will understand your mission and buy your products/services.
Today’s guest is Adrian Cohn, Brand Strategy and Communications Director at Smartling. If you want your content to be translated accurately and resonate with customers, focus on localization.
Hi. How’s it going, Adrian?
Adrian: Good to be here, Ben. Thanks for having me.
Ben: Absolutely. Thank you for coming on the show. For our listeners at home—they probably are at home if they’re listening right now—would you mind taking a moment just to introduce yourself and just explain what you do at Smartling?
Adrian: I’m Adrian Cone and I am the Brand and Strategy Marketer at the company. The company is a language translation technology and services platform so we help to connect people in places moving the world with words. Think of the everyday applications that you use, the B2B SaaS tools that you use, the consumer goods that you buy, all of those products are supported by words and we help to translate them into any language. It’s my privilege to tell that story through content writing, video, in all ways imaginable for marketers.
Ben: Why is localizing content for global audiences so important?
Adrian: It’s a great question, Ben, because there’s a big difference between translation and localization, so quickly I’ll explain the difference. Translation is the process of taking words in one language and then converting them into another, so “Hello” to “Bonjour.” Localization is the act of making that content resonate in the market that you are targeting. Here’s an example: In New York, the underground subway is called the subway but if you go to London it’s called the underground, if you go to Washington, DC it’s called the metro. That is an act of localization. It’s creating content that makes sense for the region that you are operating in.
Ben: Yeah, I think that makes a ton of sense. That distinction might seem really subtle but makes a really big difference.
Adrian: It makes a big difference and also the interesting part is that oftentimes when you’re translating content, you’re also localizing content. It ends up being an even harder task to manage from a technology perspective but also from a language perspective. But that’s also what’s really exciting to people who create content worldwide. It’s an opportunity to create more personal content.
An example that I love is if you go to Lyft’s website and you want to look at their service in Austin, they’ve got a really, really strong localized marketing page in English that talks about all of the hot spots in Austin and how to get around to Austin using Lyft. If you were to search how Lyft operates in Chicago, they’ve done the same thing, they’ve created a localized experience in Chicago so that if you were to travel there and use Lyft, you would know where to go for a great hotdog for an example.
Ben: Yes, which if I’m in Chicago I want to be directed to the nearest hotdog and the best hotdog as quickly as possible.
Adrian: Some sort of food item. If I’m in Chicago it’s usually a food trip.
Ben: Yeah. What are your thoughts on Chicago-style pizza real quick?
Adrian: My thoughts are that the New York slice has a much more compelling case than the Chicago deep dish. I’ve had some good deep dish before but New York is through and through and I love the New York City slice.
Ben: Got you. Just back in the hometown, the hometown pizza there, I can respect that. Getting back on track here, just speaking very generally, what types of companies typically can benefit the most from localizing their content if they’re not already doing so?
Adrian: Localization comes in to play when you’re operating in multiple markets. You don’t have to be operating internationally to localize your content, I just offered a great example of how Lyft is localizing their content for users in America. My advice would be to localize content if you have an operation in multiple regions. You definitely want to be speaking your customers’ language, so to speak, often to feel like they’re embracing the local culture no matter what product is being marketed or offered. It really is at any business, any business-to-business company or a B2C that is trying to reach consumers regionally, there’s an opportunity to localize your content.
Of course, localization is not easy to manage, it can become quite cumbersome. It’s a technological challenge and it also becomes a language translation challenge when you are talking about new markets overseas especially. If you’re trying to sell a product or service in a different region, you need to understand how that consumer in that region is searching for your content, is researching your content, your product, and what their preferences will be to use that product or service.
Ben: Totally get it. When companies are getting started with content localization, what would maybe be the top three most common mistakes that you often see companies make?
Adrian: That’s a great question. I think the first is that typically when organizations go to localize and translate content, they simply don’t understand the sheer scale of challenge that’s introduced. Let’s start with a company’s website. Any brand that’s doing business regionally or internationally is going to have a website that is more than 50 pages but likely in the hundreds if not thousands of pages. All of those pages are full of content, words, images, videos. It’s a big challenge to not only think about what the content should be for a different market, but how are you actually going to deliver that content from a technology perspective. It’s not as easy as some people think and if you’re new to this process, you need to recognize the scale of a problem that this is introducing for your business. That’s number one.
Number two is once you’ve identified the need to localize your content—let’s say you’re going to an international market—you also need to translate that content. The myth is that you can find somebody down the hall who may speak French to translate your website. That is a myth and it’s a myth because that person already has a full-time job creating field events or developing products. Who knows what that person’s full-time job is? It’s not language translation.
There are really qualified people all over the world who focus their entire livelihood around language translation. If you connect with the right language translator, you can create content that has meaning. It’s really important that you go outside of your organization to find people to do the language translation. It’s important that you know who that person is so that you can develop rapport, you can work with them to ensure they’re occurring to all of your branding and your style.
The third challenge, Ben, that people often face is how do you make the content more searchable? How do you even think about that type of challenge when you’re localizing your content? I advise that companies start researching keyword terms for the markets that they’re targeting so that they know what sort of guidelines translators should be following when they go to localize the content but also to inform your own team about what to look out for when the translations come back.
Earlier, we went through the example of subway versus underground for New York transportation and London transit. People aren’t googling for New York undergrounds and if they are, I’m sure that the New York City tours and bureau and the MTA (which is our local transit authority) have thought of that. They’ve thought of localizing keywords so that when English people from the United Kingdom are searching for how to get around New York when they search underground, the subway comes up.
Ben: There’s a two-way kind of conversation happening there because it’s not only localizing content to be relevant for the destination of the market but also taking into consideration who is looking for this, where are those people, and what terminology might they use.
Adrian: I think that is also what makes it extremely exciting. It’s what unlocks your mind to other consumers worldwide and what they may be thinking when they’re showing buyer intent for your product or service but it is super challenging.
Ben: Just to reiterate a basic point here, it’s important to understand the context around how customers are searching for products and information in their area, in their specific area, their specific region or country, city, whatever the case may be. Sure, you can make sure that text is accurately translated, but that’s not quite the same thing as showing a real understanding of the needs of the people in the area that content is serving. That’s really where localization can take your translation and your content to the next level. Now, back to Adrian.
Let’s say I work at a company, localizing my content. I’ve identified this as an opportunity, something that I want to invest in. What would be your top three tips for a marketer in that situation for one that is just getting started?
Adrian: The first thing is understand what your business goals are. Without an understanding or really a robust understanding of what your business goals are, it’s impossible to develop a strategy for translation, for localization, or for really any aspect of business. I think it’s really important for translation and localization because you’re going to be making an investment and you want to understand what type of influence that investment will have on your business.
Let’s just say for a moment that the business is a high-growth startup B2B technology company. They may very well want to consider language translation because if they localize their web application, it could be unlocked to users worldwide. Understanding whether or not the business strategy is international or if it’s local is a really important beginning.
The second recommendation that I would offer is to identify people in your organization in multiple disciplines who can help enable the process. You’re going to need people who are on technology teams—whether they manage the website or a product—and you’re going to need folks who are managing content to come together and identify a solution that will help both parties to create the content and to deliver it to the end-user without a lot of repetitive and manual tasks that we wouldn’t want to do.
For example, we wouldn’t want to enter into an email-based workflow or we wouldn’t want to be dragging and dropping files. Imagine a world where you create content in English and it will automatically be translated into French, Spanish, and German, and when those translations are done they appear on your website without any human involvement from your team.
Lastly, you’ll need to figure out how to message the impact of what you’re working on to your business after you’ve done the translation. This is different from the first point which is understanding your business case.
The third point is understanding the actual results of your work and finding ways to communicate those results to your team. That may be looking at website analytics to see if you’ve had an increase in web traffic or website sessions from a particular region. It may be a number of people who have bought your product from a particular region. There are a lot of different ways you can measure success but you’re definitely going to want to come up with a handful of key metrics that you can anchor back to at all times.
Ben: Cool, that all sounds like great advice. The last question I’ve got for you—you mentioned Lyft being a really strong example of a company that does this well—what are maybe some other companies out there that you feel are doing a really great job with content localization that our listeners could maybe go check out and just kind of try to see how other companies out in the real world are doing this right now?
Adrian: There are a number of companies that I think are doing really fantastic work with localization. My challenge to your audience would be to think more critically about the content experiences that we’ve come to love on a daily basis and reframe the way you look at those experiences to realize how much localization takes place to enable that process.
One example is Slack. It’s one of the leading productivity tools on the App Store and if you’re using Slack regularly, they have all of these little Easter eggs throughout their product. When you finish reading all of the messages, it says, “Here’s a tractor.” That’s not exactly localization but that’s a content experience. They have translated that experience for other markets into seven different languages. That’s one example of a company that I think considers localization and translation in very high regard.
Another is (I’d say) Shopify. They are a fantastic eCommerce platform that has more money piping through their platform than any other service provider for eCommerce at this point. They spend a huge amount of time investing and localizing their user experience so that owners of stores worldwide can create their own website properties and sell merchandise. They do some interesting work too.
Ben: Very cool. I would definitely encourage our listeners to go check out both of those examples and maybe use them a little bit just as a guide for their own work because that’s always helpful when you’re starting out and you’re not quite sure what success may look like in your specific circumstances. This is great; that’s it for all the questions I had. Thanks once again for coming on the show. I’m really glad that we were able to do this, given all the craziness that’s going on right now.
Adrian: It’s been my pleasure, Ben. Thank you for having me.
Ben was the Inbound Marketing Director at CoSchedule. His specialties include content strategy, SEO, copywriting, and more. When he's not hard at work helping people do better marketing, he can be found cross-country skiing with his wife and their dog.