Can we localize without translating? This question may sound provocative, or even silly, if you have been involved in global and product management for some time.
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You can see plenty of examples showing that translation is the foundation of local experiences as it propels language effectiveness in terms of sensitivity, accuracy, and relevance in local markets.
So the default answer to that question is “No,” logically enough. But, in order to reply to that question, I recently had to rephrase it for the sake of clarity and rationality. It had to be understood as "Can we leverage content, products, and services locally without having to linguistically adapt anything?" Here again the immediate answer should be an unequivocal no, as we are in the digital age that sets personalization as a performance standard and differentiation as a competitive advantage. So I stuck to my definition of translation as the baseline of local experiences.
The localization of products sold in some countries might be best based on a mix of globally successful concepts and locally tuned products. As stated in a recent article from the New York Times about the opening of the first Ikea store in India it may be all about “Tweaking Products but Not the Vibe.” In other words, localizing products has been thought and executed while maintaining elements that have made the Ikea journey successful in other markets. This kind of best-of-breed approach has been a major bet to make this event in the Indian retail landscape successful. If you were to walk in this newly opened store you would find products that have been selected and priced for local customers, while retaining some experience drivers that have differentiated Ikea from its competitors internationally. The scope of translation efforts has been fairly limited in this case considering the common use of English, whereas the depth of cultural and financial localization has been prevailing during assessment and implementation efforts.
At any rate embracing the experience of local customers remains paramount. It helps you determine what needs to be kept, replaced, or removed to delight your local customers. Translation and localization combined with world-ready content and real-time data are your safeguards at all times.
As director of globalization and localization, Bruno Herrmann is currently responsible for digital content and product operations across six regions at The Nielsen Company. He manages global design, development and localization programs while focusing on international customer experience within a globalization framework. He joined The Nielsen Company in 2003 to manage international content and digital marketing programs in EMEA prior to leading digital content deployment and delivery globally. Previously, he managed digital globalization programs at HP and content management initiatives in addition to Web localization at Compaq. Prior to joining Compaq, he worked in the marketing communications and localization industries, taking part in major international projects for high-profile technology clients.