This article is updated regularly. It was last updated in April 2023.
At Tomedes, I’ve written many articles about the importance of localization for connecting with customers across multiple countries. I’ve focused on everything from the essentials of website translation to considerations for product packaging. Now, let’s take a step back and put localization strategy itself under the spotlight.
What is a localization strategy? And how do you implement it? Read on to find out.
Localization is the process of adapting a product or service to meet the needs of a target audience within a particular language group or regional culture. In software and digital marketing, localization refers to tailoring the look and feel of a computer program, website, or email to the tastes of a niche target market.
I always like to start with the basics. What is a localization strategy? My localization strategy definition is a blueprint that depicts how your business will connect with local audiences around the globe. This includes everything from the languages you use to the design of your app. The goal requires balancing practical details with a marketing strategy that aligns with cultural expectations and nuances.
What is the goal of this kind of localization marketing? To develop a customer experience that feels like you created it precisely for the country in question – even if you market across dozens of countries.
You must localize to globalize. If you want your business to span multiple countries profitably, you cannot afford to ignore your localization strategy.
In the article below, I discuss in detail the differences between localization, globalization, and internationalization. In short, globalization is the process by which your company can start to operate internationally. Localization, meanwhile, allows you to foster local connections and encourage engagement by creating a product or customer experience that feels native to each target market. I’ll explore how to do that below.
Localization covers many fields, from data analysis to copywriting to graphic design. Below, I’ve included the details of a five-step guide to developing a localization strategy that performs well in any industry. If you follow the five steps, you can devise a strategy that maximizes your chances of global success, regardless of your market niche.
Localization presents new challenges for any company, even when you break it down and approach it step by step. It requires a considerable amount of time and resources. Start by assessing your company in its entirety. How much time, energy, and cash can you commit to the localization process before your international efforts must generate returns?
Understanding the impact of developing and implementing a localization strategy will guide your decisions on how many countries you plan to target and in which order.
Which locales have the most promise? Performing local market research will inform you of the feasibility of launching your product or service in each location. It will also help you assess your profit potential in each market.
For your market research, you’ll need to tap into local expertise, working with a localization business that helps companies analyze new marketplaces. I’ll explain the merits of using a professional localization company below, but it bears mentioning that outsourcing your market research to an experienced localization business can save lots of time and prevent mistakes.
After assessing your resources and identifying which markets harbor the most demand for your products, you can set your priorities. Almost all of the elements of your business require localization, from your platform to the product itself. As such, you’ll need to schedule your localization project in detail.
For example, it often makes no sense to localize your website before you localize your product. Write down each element that you plan to localize and consider your priorities. This process should allow you to sort actionable items so you have a structured approach.
Developing your localization strategy means writing down:
• What you intend to localize
• Required internal and external resources
• Costs and timescales
• Intended outcomes
• Key performance indicators
This list will form the backbone of your localization strategy, so I recommend giving it the time and attention it deserves.
The business world moves fast, so you need a dynamic localization strategy. By executing the strategy and fine-tuning it as your localization project progresses, you can ensure your approach expands and adapts to the challenges you face during your international expansion.
Remember: your localization strategy does not represent the end of this process but the beginning.
Developing a localization strategy may seem daunting if you’ve never done it before. However, breaking it down into manageable, bite-sized pieces can move the process along quickly. That’s what I hope to do with this article. Let’s examine how to devise a localization strategy, starting with the key considerations.
Firstly, consider what you need to localize. Is it your website, marketing materials, or another platform through which you connect with customers? What about the products you sell or the services you provide?
In truth, a high-quality, localized marketing strategy will account for all of these considerations and more.
The most common ways that global businesses connect with their customers include:
• Social media platforms
Many localization guides focus primarily on how to localize your website because it serves as your window to the world. See it as a tool to build your brand’s international reputation, connect with customers, and sell your wares. If you need to localize your website, check out our guide to website localization below.
Read more: Website Localization – The Complete Guide
Localizing your website means looking at everything from the design to the content. Do your target audiences use languages that read horizontally or vertically? If horizontally, are the languages read from left to right or right to left? And, what degree of text expansion or contraction will occur during the translation process, given that various languages use different word counts to convey the same meaning? You’ll need to factor all of this into your website localization strategy.
You’ll also need to consider the suitability of your content for each target audience. Does the original language in the content relate to domestic experiences that foreign audiences will misunderstand? Is it packed with popular culture references or cultural assumptions that won’t land very well overseas? You’ll need to look at every angle from every perspective as you build your localized marketing strategy.
Then, you must address the practical details. Which payment system should you use for each country? Which currencies will you need to accept through which payment methods? There’s no one-size-fits-all solution here, so iron out these practical considerations for each country you plan to target.
Many of the same considerations for website localization also apply to your app and must factor into your app localization strategy. You also need to think about mobile versus desktop browsing on a country-by-country basis to ensure the experience you deliver best suits each audience.
What about social media? Which platforms enjoy the most popularity in each of your target countries? How do people use them? The answers to these questions must inform your localization strategy to make it as effective as possible.
Since I’ve mentioned social media, let’s take a minute to think about marketing channels. Social media represents a key marketing channel for many businesses, but several others also perform well, including:
• Email marketing
• Content marketing
Regardless of which channels you use, you’ll need to ensure that your marketing approach adapts to each audience. For your website and content marketing, that type of approach requires localized SEO that accounts for cultural preferences across all your marketing materials and channels.
Your localization strategy must include the kind of marketing that works best in each of your target countries. Consider the language you use, how subtle or overt your messaging is, the type of imagery you use, and more.
Draft a localization brand guide defining the aspects of your current marketing strategy that should remain the same. Coca-Cola provides a great localization strategy example in this respect. While its product differs from country to country to suit local tastes, certain messaging – happiness, sharing, enjoyment – remains the same around the globe. Given the company’s success, it offers several great localization examples to study and emulate.
Localization strategy examples highlight the importance of localizing your product or service as part of how you market it. In the case of Coca-Cola, that means adjusting the product to suit local tastes.
McDonald’s does the same, adjusting its menu to suit each county. This approach means a customer in India can enjoy a McSpicy Paneer, while customers in South Korea savor the Bulgogi Burger. Restaurant guests in the Philippines can order the Cheesy Eggdesal, while those in Malaysia can end their meal with a Mango McFlurry. By offering certain core items and adapting its menu to regional preferences, McDonald’s has become a global success story that many other businesses try to copy.
How can you adapt your own product or service in this way? Market research using localization experts in each of your target countries proves invaluable in answering this question and shaping your localization marketing approach.
When developing your localized marketing strategy, you can bootstrap your way forward or turn to a company providing localization services to business clients. Each approach has its pros and cons.
Bootstrapping, for example, means you remain at the heart of the entire localization strategy and can be as hands-on as you wish. For many entrepreneurs, this level of control holds plenty of appeal. On the other hand, it can also distract you from core duties.
Bootstrapping often seems like the more cost-effective option. However, when you consider the amount of staff time required for the creation and implementation of a localization strategy, it may prove more affordable to engage a professional localization company from the outset.
If you choose the bootstrapping path, you can find localization tools online to help you manage your localization projects.
For each of the above considerations – platform, marketing channels, and product/service – keeping your target locale front of mind is essential. Successful global localization means catering to the needs of each locale to deliver an experience that feels like it was created with that specific audience in mind.
The team here at Tomedes has performed localization services for nearly 15 years, so we have plenty of experience to bring to the table. I’ve included some of my top localization tips to enhance your strategy.
Your market research should provide enough data to map out your global localization approach. Be sure to analyze that data objectively and use it to shape your localization strategy.
Nobody will understand your target locales better than those who live there. When hiring someone to perform your market research, look at the candidates’ local knowledge and depth of experience in the marketplace.
The more you can help your localization company understand your company values, ethos, products, services, and goals, the better your marketing campaign will perform. Armed with this knowledge, your localization experts can leverage it to help you achieve those goals.
Many factors come into play when doing business internationally. You need to stay flexible in your approach. Even the best localization strategy can get derailed by a combination of global events, political decisions, and economic shifts. Adapt freely and stay hyper-vigilant about any developing factors that could impact your approach.
I hope you now feel more confident in your approach to developing a localization strategy for your business. To sum up, we’ve covered a range of topics in this article, including:
• What is a localization strategy?
• The difference between globalization and localization
• Things to consider when developing a localized marketing strategy
• How to develop your strategy in five simple steps
• Tips and best practices from localization experts
• Options for developing your localization strategy
The right approach to localization can give your company key advantages when breaking into international markets. Whether you wish to crack a single locale or take on the entire world, I wish you the best of luck.