How Can Your Startup Benefit From Localization?

September 12, 2016

10:20 am

In a world of global markets and customization, localization needs to be a part of your business plans. The idea that taking a company’s product, service, or message and adapting it to meet different cultural markets is far from new. But the fact that it is gaining traction in the business world means that you need to get on board or else.

Whether you’re in the startup stages or already a full on company, you’ll need to have an eye on customers in different geographic regions. Let’s take a look at how your business can benefit from localization:

Internet and Mobile Subscribers

As the world becomes increasingly globalized, the number of internet subscribers is continually on the rise, reaching over 3 billion. Added to that, it’s predicted that by 2017, the number of mobile phone subscribers will reach 4.77 billion. Well over half the world’s population has access to the internet and potentially, access to your business.

While English is still by far the most popular language on the web, just 26.3% of all internet transactions are carried out in English. If you don’t have a plan in place for the other three quarters of internet users, you’re missing out on a potentially limitless market share.

Take Nintendo’s Pokémon Go. Making its debut in early July, the latest game to make the world go app crazy was originally only available in a handful of countries. The US, Australia and New Zealand were the first places to get access, causing frustration and irritation worldwide.

Was it a carefully measured way of building global hype? Certainly. But that didn’t taper imitation versions for creeping in during the wait. “Go catch ‘em all” for example, topped the iTunes download charts in China and Canada in the absence of the real game. In the Philippines, Pokémon Go was accessed by opportunist gamers before release by bypassing regional locks.

Lesson learned? You need to plan for your international rollout with the utmost caution and care. But mainly, you need to plan for an international rollout – period. If Nintendo had kept their game in English or Japanese, they would have dramatically limited their profits.

Limitless Market Share

73.4% of 4.77 billion is a pretty large number that translates into potentially millions (or even billions) of dollars of sales. The caveat? Well. It’s not as easy as simply offering your services up to people of Kazakhstan or Colombia and expecting them to be impressed.

You need to do your due diligence first. Even if your potential customers speak some English, they’ll be far more compelled to buy from a site offering their services in their native language. And if you’re not doing it, you can bet your competition is. And their doing it with better marketing, carefully thought-out local research, and a website that is translated and localized into their own language.

What’s the difference between translation and localization? It goes back to knowing your customer and what makes them tick. While they might speak Spanish in Colombia, it’s not the same version of Spanish spoken in Europe. They don’t share the same climate, culture, or even hemisphere.

Even if you don’t plan to on doing business in other languages and are willing pass up on your portion of the intercontinental pie, you still need to make sure that the cultural side of the company is being sensitive to these areas.

Avoid Cultural Taboos

Cases of mistranslations and product launch failures are widely documented. And if you want to avoid becoming a local joke, you’ll need to know what your message is actually saying.

For example, knowing that the color white represents mourning in India and that the “thumbs up” sign is vulgar and insulting in parts of the Middle East could save you millions in a public relations problem.

Many mistakes have been made before you, so you have plenty of examples to learn from. In China, the hugely successful British comedy movie, “The Full Monty” was translated as “Six Naked Pigs.”

Banking giant HSBC, had to rebrand its entire global operations after trying to take its U.S. campaign overseas. The successful slogan “Assume Nothing” at home was translated into many countries as “Do Nothing.” Not exactly the inspiring message it had intended.

Correct localization of your marketing message, website, app, or product can save you money in the long run, especially if you’re going to spend millions of dollars in collateral damage. You’ll also ensure compliance with international guidelines and rules that may vary from country to country.

It doesn’t matter if your product doesn’t need to comply with industry standards; your advertising campaign might have to.

While comparative advertising is commonplace in the US, in some European countries, especially Belgium and Germany, this practice is seen as vulgar. In fact, comparing your brand to another can also be illegal. So make sure you read up on fair competition practices in the country you want to do business.

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Naman is a digital marketer and a freelance blogger for hire who shares his knowledge about keyword research and SEO at

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