For at least a decade, global companies have pursued online regionalization policies with varying degrees of commitment and enthusiasm. Radical contraction in the world economy has injected a far greater sense of urgency into that pursuit, however, as global players rush to create content in local languages and build a user experience relevant to local cultures. So why is localized content so much more important in tough economic times?
As spending tightens, decision-making – for consumers and commercial buyers alike – becomes more cautious. Decisions take longer. Managers of budgets – household or corporate – operate from within a siege mentality, parting with their cash or utilizing their credit reluctantly and with extreme discretion. No-one can afford to make a poor decision, so it takes longer for each buyer to reach their own point of Certitude – defined as “freedom from doubt,” the point at which they can actually pull the trigger.
Whatever their country, culture, or condition, buyers don’t buy until they reach their own particular point of Certitude. As buyers move through the decision-making process, they are making the climb toward Certitude. That climb is much more difficult if the steps require the decision maker to evaluate an offering in a language not his own or through an online experience foreign to his way of looking at the world. Global companies understand this, hence their rush to deploy global platforms versatile enough to deliver localized content.
Rushing, of course, carries its own risks, because international projects require different success criteria from domestic projects, no matter how complex those domestic projects may be. Time after time, we see clients launch international projects without any idea of the pitfalls that await them and the additional costs they incur by falling into those pits. Here are just a few examples.
- Timelines – quite apart from the difficulties of scheduling review sessions with constituencies in time zones as far apart as New Zealand and Poland, US-based project managers rarely build in sufficient time for their overseas stakeholders to review materials with their own stakeholders, who may also be scattered across time zones, countries, and languages. Whatever review period you envision, double it. Your in-country team will need all that extra time.
- Translations – even if you use an “approved” translation company, have them submit three sample translations from three separate translators for a language. Give those samples to the in-country experts and have them chose which translator best reflects their preferences. No two individuals understand nor therefore translate text in exactly the same way. Let your in-country stakeholders select up-front their preferred style. Otherwise, there’s a risk they’ll feel compelled to nit-pick your translators’ work to death.
- Coordination — Never rely on your in-country resources to furnish you with customer lists or set up customer interviews or focus groups. It’s not their job; it’s incredibly time-consuming; and it’s often done poorly. You’ll likely end up having to use a third-party, in-country recruiting firm, so spend the money up-front and reduce the cost of rework and rescheduling that will otherwise occur.
- Communication – Annotate deliverables heavily. – The international team will almost always have its own in-country or in-region stakeholders. Those team members need to be able to explain the deliverables to these stakeholders and then answer their questions without your being there. This is much easier for them if the visual deliverables are fully annotated or if written deliverables have simple English annotations.
- Politics — Understand that from a usability perspective you don’t need to test the wire-frames (the container) across a dozen countries. From a political perspective, however, you may well need to test across many countries. So the best use of your dollars or yen or deutschmarks would be to test wire-frames in a smaller group of countries; then test the beta site (the content) in as many as possible.
If, however, you are contemplating a global site redesign project, you would be wise to start with a global survey of the user experience. Many US-based global corporations deploy websites with a hybrid localization architecture – they provide content in the local language down to the product page level, then switch the user back to the US site for detailed specifications and, especially, for support. The US site, of course, provides content only in US English.
This language switch occurs because it is cost-prohibitive for companies to provide and maintain content in multiple languages. They know the cost “savings” of deploying this architecture; they have no idea, however, of the opportunity loss they incur by doing so. Visit success (or satisfaction or purchase intent or brand affinity) scores for visitors forced to make the “transition” from content provided in their local language to content (especially technical content) delivered only in English run consistently and dramatically lower than the scores of those who do not have to make the transition. That differential negatively impacts “conversion.” The cumulative effects undermine revenue and retention.
Companies like HP have made enormous strides in moving content localization deeper and deeper into their country sites. You can bet there is a sound ROI for doing so.