Stop Making These Top Ten Localization Mistakes

By Ira Kay
Jul 2, 2020 · 5 min

To ensure your brand's global reputation, you’ll want to steer clear of these common localization mistakes.

top localization mistakes

Scaling internationally isn’t easy, by any measure. You have to do your research, find new markets, secure financing (if necessary), collaborate with local partners, make an impression, and sell, sell, sell. And since roughly 80% of the world’s population is not made up of native English speakers, translating and localizing your website and marketing content is absolutely at the top of any savvy global business’ to-do list. 

That being said, no brand, regardless of its size, is immune to bad localization. Even highly successful brands, like Pepsi, Starbucks, and Apple have made major localization mistakes - and paid the price. Pepsi generated the wrong meaning when translating its ‘Come alive with the Pepsi generation’ campaign, rubbing Chinese audiences the wrong way by promising that ‘Pepsi brings your relatives back from the dead.’ 

Starbucks failed to localize the title of its beloved latte in Italy, leaving locals scratching their heads at the warm beverage with the naughty name. And Apple neglected to include umlauts, cedillas, accents, or other special characters on their keyboards, when expanding their market from the US to Europe, leaving millions of customers without the ability to use the company’s computer products in their native tongue.

How can your business succeed when going global?

Learn to avoid these top 10 localization mistakes

1. Using machine translation

Machine translation is extremely tempting. It’s faster and places less of a strain on your team. However, machines simply cannot be trusted to get the job done right. They simply lack the personal touch needed when taking context and culture into account, especially when it comes to casual speech, idioms, puns, non-standard language, etc. Avoid this mistake by sticking to collaborations with expert, industry-specific, human translators.

mistakes in localization

2. Generating the wrong meaning

One of the most common localization mistakes is translating words verbatim, or word-by-word. While sometimes, this results in the right meaning being expressed in the target language, often, the intended meaning of the translated text gets lost in the shuffle. To avoid this mistake, it’s of the essence that translations be created with a dictionary in hand. This way, meanings can be fully understood, leading to the right words being selected, for each and every message.

3. Poorly translating names and places

Canada is Canada in any language, but Italy is Italie in French, Italia in Hebrew (and Italian), and Yìdàli in Chinese. It is so important that you never make the mistake of simply transliterating names and places from one language to another. Always research how the name is referred to in other languages, to retain your professional reputation, and avoid insulting the locals. 

4. Losing your product titles in translation

Your customers want to feel like your products were created especially for them. To do so, you need to be highly detail-oriented and understand that the product titles that work well in one locality, might not sell, or even be understood in another. Modifying your product titles so that they let your international customers know that you’re in the business of resolving their unique industry challenges without veering too far from your source title in terms of style is key.”

5. Keeping payment methods the same in every region

Different payment methods are considered convenient - or even available - in different parts of the world. While credit cards and PayPal are considered “standard payment methods” in North America, Polish customers enjoy making payments through PayU, Israelis love using payment apps, such as Bit or Paybox, and Sofort is the preferred gateway among German shoppers. As such, your market research should include the study of which payment methods are available and popular in each target market. 

6. Creating content that does not support diversity or inclusion

When it comes to ensuring your broad, international audience forms relationships with and is moved to buy from your brand, diversity, and inclusion are critical. This is true of the language you use, the accessibility you enable, as well as the visuals you choose. Your customers want to “see themselves” in your content. They need to be able to visualize themselves using your products or services. As such, it’s imperative that you select your images and videos with care, ensuring proper representation by all demographics within your target audience. And be sure to take local norms and nuances into consideration, so as not to offend audience members with visuals reflecting cultural taboos. Globally recognized symbols and icons, inanimate objects, and other standard images are always a safe bet; religious and political images are not.

Diversity is an important part of the localization process

7. Confusing weekdays and weekends

In the western world, the weekday begins on Monday morning and runs through Friday evening, when the weekend begins. However, the Friday-Saturday weekend is common practice in many other countries, especially in the Middle East. For these countries, creating content around a weekend that they do not share would be a grave mistake. How would you like to be invited to a marketing cocktail event advertised as the best way to kick off a raging weekend, when you have work the following morning? Get your days of the week straight for every target market, and adjust your content calendar accordingly.

8. Getting political with your messaging

Politics is a highly personal, emotionally-charged construct. It has the power to move people to act - and to send them running for the hills. And every country and its people have their own relationship with the political world. The political messages your brand may espouse in your source content may offend - or even be against the law, in other countries. Avoid this mistake by keeping politics out of your campaigns, altogether. 

9. Linking strings together

The act of linking strings end-to-end may make coding your content more efficient. It may also make sense in your source language, but likely will be utter gibberish in most target languages. And that will do nothing for your marketing campaign. Each string needs to be uniquely coded to enable fluid translations to be pieced together, in any language. Do not cut corners on this critical step!

10. Not designing with global expansion in mind

Your UI should reflect your brand’s global aspirations, with respect to selected colors, fonts, images, formatting, and left-to-right versus right-to-left text positioning. And it’s easier to consider these elements and go for a more ambiguous design from the start than to retrofit your site to each new global audience at a later date. Ensure your site and content are as clear and easy to navigate as possible, for any target audience member, by examining each potential design choice as if you were a member of your international customer base.

Ensure local relevancy and build trust in local markets.

Ira Kay is BLEND's Director of Business Development EMEA. He enjoys advising growing companies on how to shape their global content strategy and helping enterprise companies refine their multi-market translation process. He also loves playing a good game of football, listening to history podcasts, and watching the odd documentary or two. Reach out to connect with Ira on LinkedIn.

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