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How to avoid localization mistakes

What is localization?

Localization instead of just translation is what makes a big difference. Localization, which is a sub-branch of translation, goes beyond translating content. Localization means considering the way the target audience thinks, talks and acts. It means conforming to local laws, customs, belief, and traditions.

Mentioned above is the general overview of what localization embodies. However, the success of localization also depends on the cultural knowledge of the client and the experience and expertise of the localization service provider. There are still several examples of localization gone wrong across the World Wide Web.

There is no hard and fast rule regarding localization because it has to be tailor-fit to the needs of the client and the brand, and the local culture that the brand targets. However, some general guidelines and strategies would help to ensure that you do can avoid cultural faux pas when you are doing localization, whether you are a client or the localization team.

It is the responsibility to the localization team to ensure that product information and business communications are appropriate to the global audience. They must be relevant to the local target consumers while avoiding mishaps with the messages that are made available to the target market. Localization needs a nuanced approach.

How to avoid localization mistakes

  1. Recognize differences

Globalization has been touted for several years but there are still businesses and people who do not fully grasp what it means. It is vital to acknowledge that each country has its own way of doing business and has a unique culture.

It is also important to understand that even foreign countries that have adopted English when conducting business would still conform to their local customs and business practices. Different countries have their own standards of behaviour, mannerisms, and tendencies. They have specific practices that cannot be overshadowed by globalization.

  1. Trust extensive research

Once the company decides to go global, they should integrate localization into their business planning. It is critical to do extensive research before embarking on conquering foreign markets. Localization plays a major part in the success of the globalization initiative.

Intuition is not something that should dictate the direction that a company should take. The company should have reliable reports and data on local rules, regulations and applicable laws, local consumer behaviour, preferences and spending habits, competition, preferred language and local traditions and beliefs.

  1. Honour local flags

Flags elicit emotional responses. It is a cultural and national symbol that is tied closely to what the country and its people are all about. The localization team should be aware of what the flag symbolizes and how to properly incorporate it into your brand, marketing efforts, and your products. In the United States, using the colours of the flag is allowed on items they wear and the products they sell, because they are proud to wear their nation's colours. Italy also allows the use of the colours of their flag for clothing and other products, including shoes.

This is not the case in other countries, though. It is not allowed in Azerbaijan. The flag of Saudi Arabia has text from the Qur'an and it is considered illegal to hang it in a different direction. It cannot be used on soccer balls, for example, because it is offensive and sacrilegious to kick something with text from the Qur'an.

  1. Mind the hand gestures

It is not only the hand gestures that the localization team should be aware of. Some cultures have issues with using images of different parts of the body and the position of the feet. Here are some examples:

  • Inward facing V-sign. In the U.S. it means ''two beers'' or ''Peace, man." It is not understood in Australia and offensive in the UK and South Africa as it means you are giving them the finger.
  • Thumbs up. It is generally accepted as a sign of approval in many countries, but in some parts of Greece and Italy and in Iran and Afghanistan, it means ''up yours.'' In Hungary and Germany, it means #1, but in Japan, it means 5 million.
  • Closed fist. It could mean solidarity but in Pakistan, it is taken to mean you are giving them the ''middle finger.''
  • OK, sign. It is understood in many parts of the world as a sign for ''okay.'' But in Russia, Germany, and Brazil, it means a private part of the body. In Japan, it is a sign of ''money.'' In France, it is used to indicate a ''zero.''
  1. Be careful about clothing

Clothes can speak volumes, so it is important for ad models and even the images you have on your website to wear the clothes according to local customs. In some cultures, showing too much skin is not acceptable. The same goes for the style of clothes. See to it that the localization team understands product positioning and the preferences of the local target market.

  1. Use wordplay with great caution

Playing with words is an effective tool in advertising as the copywriter can come up with clever and catchy phrases that can immediately attract attention. But wordplay could also have negative effects, even for English speakers. In the United States, there is a long-term issue on the use of white and black, as this could mean white people and black people. Thus Volkswagen had to pull out their ad campaign launched in the U.S. to promote the power of their new line of cars. The slogan read, "White Power." While it is harmless in some cultures, in the U.S. it was taken to mean the promotion of the supremacy of the ''white people.''

  1. Work with qualified translators

Localization is an expensive process, which is why it should be done right from the start. Translators who are localization experts can provide insights into the culture of the target market, not only on the appropriate language to use. You would not be investing wisely in localization if you rely on machine translation.

The ideal scenario is to have at least two translators who are subject matter experts, so they understand the industry and your products and also has a deep understanding of the local market and how to effectively communicate with the target consumers.

Professional translators can have your information and messages translated correctly and accurately, with all the nuances of the target language to bring out the right emotions and context of the original content.

Translating your messages correctly from the source into the target language matters greatly. You do not want to suffer the fate of some of the international brands the reputation of which had been tarnished by bad translations, like Parker Pen, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pepsi Cola, Perdue, Coors, Coca-Cola, American Airlines, Ford, General Motors and more.

  1. Select visuals with care

Just like hand, feet and body gestures, localization also requires that you carefully select the images that you are going to use. Certain cultures have reservations about images used on websites and products. Understanding local culture is very vital to localization. You do not want to encourage people to increase their meat consumption while using an image of a vegetarian Hindu god.

As mentioned, extensive research is important. While inclusion and diversity are crucial, it is highly important to conform to the sensibilities of the target audience. Some cultures do not want to see animals together with products, especially when they want to elicit an emotional response. It is better to avoid using religious symbols that are not recognized globally. You should likewise be careful of using graphical images with text overlaid over the image.

Be on the safe side and use globally recognized symbols and icons, inanimate objects and other standard images.

The choice of colours is also important, as the usual meanings of colours may not be accepted in other cultures. Red is the Chinese colour for luck. For the Hindus, it symbolizes love, lust, and passion. Generally, green is a colour for health and the environment but in Tibet, it is a representation of exorcism and the underworld.

Using the standard graphical colours, shapes, signs, and symbol from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) help. They have been tested by hundreds of participants from different cultures, thus you can be sure that they are globally accepted and recognized.

In conclusion

For companies going global, it is critical to possess all the information needed before planning the business expansion. Research is critical to understand the target market. Localizing your website, your content, business, and product information involve huge investment so you need the proper resources, from data to people. Ensure that translators are involved with the localization project from the beginning as it is difficult and costly to make changes when you are already in the middle of the project.

The localization expert can guide the web developers and designers, as well as copywriters on the cultural boundaries of the local audience. There are so many elements to consider. It is critical to your corporate and brand growth to have the translations, images, gestures, and colours are all optimized to your target location and are culturally appropriate.