What is localization?
If you have ever used a translation service or browsed the list of services provided by language service firms, you have almost certainly heard or seen the word “localization.” This word first makes us think of a location, which gives it a geographical connotation, but what is localization in a linguistic context?
Translating involves understanding a text or message produced in a source language (original language) and converting it into a target language (the language in which the message is to be disseminated). The translator strives to ensure that the various established standards and rules of the target language are respected and that the translation faithfully preserves the content of the source document.
Localization, on the other hand, is the art of transforming content, taking into account the cultural, social, legal, historical and, in some cases, religious and political context of the audience for which the text is intended.
The localized content is adapted to the jargon and tone of each region, taking into account its customs, habits and other sociological aspects. Printed documents, audiovisual material, websites, video games and software are just a few examples of items that call for localization.
Localization requires not only linguistic work, but also the analysis and adaptation of elements such as images and colours, font type and size, writing systems (from left to right or from right to left), systems of weights and measures, currency and numerals, etc. It also takes into account semiotic aspects, such as the appropriate use of signs and symbols.
The purpose of the message and the expected reaction of the audience are also issues that localization addresses. Effective localization gives the impression that the adapted content has been created by an author who is native to the target region. It allows companies to overcome linguistic and cultural barriers when spreading a message to different parts of the world. Furthermore, it is an extremely relevant tool for advertising and marketing, given that it involves creating a coherent communication and branding strategy. Content adapted to the realities and daily life of a given audience will have a much greater impact; it will better appeal to consumers, who will more easily identify with the brand in question. In addition, localization is a powerful tool that can enable your product or service to reach multiple audiences, each with its own regional specificities, and is very useful when potential customers speak different languages, as in the case of e-commerce companies.
There is a plethora of companies that make use of localization. Coca-Cola is a shining example of a highly successful brand localization. On its Canadian website, Coca-Cola advertises its coffee and guarana-based energy by emphasizing its nutritional value, which is very important for the informed Canadian consumer. On its Colombian website, it advertises the same drink by emphasizing its primary ingredient, i.e. coffee, thereby appealing to the strong sense of belonging and pride that Colombian consumers feel towards coffee.
Its “Share a Coke” campaign, launched in 2012 in Australia and subsequently rolled out in several countries, involved printing proper names on the labels of its soft drinks. To ensure a successful campaign, Coca-Cola localized this content by choosing different typical and popular names in each country or region where the product is sold. In some countries such as China where proper names are highly respected and not everyone can call you by your first name, Coca-Cola localized the content by printing more general expressions on its labels, such as “friend” or “partner.”
Multinational brands such as Ikea also rely on the localization of their content. For example, when comparing the same product on the Canadian and British websites, you may notice that the spelling is different: “organize” according to North American language standards and “organise” according to British spelling. On the Canadian website, measurements are provided in both centimetres and inches to reflect the use of both the metric and imperial systems in Canada.
Even in countries where the same language is spoken, there may be differences in expressions and terminology. For example, the household goods company SODIMAC adapted the name of its sinks to the slang used in each South American country. In Argentina it is called “mesada,” in Colombia, “lavamanos” and in Peru, “lavatorio.” It has also adapted its prices to the currency of each country.
Films that have enjoyed worldwide success, such as Coco from Pixar, have also had to be adapted in different countries. In Brazil, its name was wisely changed to “Viva, A vida é uma festa,” which means “Viva, Life is a party,” because “coco” in Brazil is a slang word for “ass”!
As you can see, localization is the key to success in globalizing a brand and engaging consumers. It is a process that requires a great deal of knowledge of your target market and collaboration with a specialized partner who can guide you in adapting your messages to other languages and dialects.
A language service provider who is proficient in the various localization tools and who knows the “street speak,” terminology and slang of your target region will be able to better adapt your content to the culture of your target audience, helping you to create messages that meet your communication objectives and reflect the essence of your brand in any corner of the world where you want to do business.