Content Goes Global: Communicating With Customers in Their Own Language

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When enterprise wiki provider eTouch Systems wanted to land a new customer for its SamePage collaboration tool back in 2008, the platform met all the customer's requirements for ease of use, intuitive user interface, and affordability. There was only one problem holding back the sale.

The interface wasn't in Hungarian.

"Having a translated version of the tool was a prerequisite for them to become a customer," says Devang Mehta, head of marketing and business development for eTouch SamePage. The client, Szinergia Ltd., is a project management training company based in Budapest. Gábor Lipi, Szinergia's project manager who was tasked with finding a tool to underpin internal knowledge sharing for the 20-person firm, said requesting the Hungarian interface stemmed from a simple fact: "Most Hungarians do not speak a foreign language," Lipi says. If eTouch wanted to win the sale-and position itself to meet the needs of clients in other overseas markets whose only reservation was a lack of localized interface-it had to grapple with the challenge of content localization.

The opportunity facing eTouch is by no means isolated. According to a 2006 study "Can't Read, Won't Buy: Why Language Matters on Global Websites" by Common Sense Advisory, 56.2% of consumers say that the ability to obtain information in their own language is more important than price. To focus in on just one country, a 2009 study by Forrester Research called "Translation and Localization of Retail Web Sites: Maximizing the International Experience Through Tailored Offerings" found that 95% of Chinese online consumers have a greater comfort level using websites in their language. Yet only 1% of U.S.-based online retailers offer sites specific to China.

Of course, a company doesn't even have to look beyond U.S. borders to encounter the challenges of content globalization. According to 2008 figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, 19.7% of U.S. households speak a language other than English at home. And in California, one of the 10 largest economies in the world, a similar percentage of respondents reported they speak English less than "very well." This is not unique to the U.S., as many nations are populated by those speaking a variety of languages.

Hans Fenstermacher, chairman of the Globalization and Localization Association (GALA) and vice president at, believes that the internet has fundamentally changed the way companies think about globalization. "Decades ago only companies of a certain size were looking beyond their borders. But thanks to the web, every business is in competition with every other business across the planet," Fenstermacher points out. Whether or not your company is interested in reaching customers on the other side of the globe, your international competitors may be using smart localization strategies to appeal to the customers right in
your backyard.

What Is Globalization?
First, here are some definitions: According to Burton Group analyst Craig Roth, "globalization" is a strategy to convey information in the cultural, linguistic, and business context of
target audiences-a business approach. "Internationalization," on the other hand, is the work done to enable localization; it sets up structure, systems, and solutions for repeatable results in multiple languages. And "localization" refers to the adaption of content for a particular locale. The work done by translators on content itself is referred to as transliteration, using characters from one language to represent those in another.

Often, companies start with localization or even transliteration, which may not be the best strategy. At a recent conference on content globalization sponsored by SDL, a vendor of comprehensive global information management solutions, Gilbane Group analyst Mary Laplante referred to this miscue as "Language Afterthought Syndrome." What are its symptoms? Paying for the same corrections twice, paying for inconsistencies in corporate standards, paying to re-create existing content, handcrafting multiple websites to align with corporate branding, and developing media-specific content and workflows that do not lend themselves to reuse in multiple channels.

At the same conference, Carroll Rotkel, director of product documentation for FICO (formerly Fair Isaac Corp.), characterized the localization process that existed prior to 2008 when she and a colleague began a systematic approach toward standardizing procedures for internationalization. "Whichever product manager screamed the loudest got their product localized first," Rotkel said, to knowing nods from the audience.

Treating localization as an afterthought means losing out on potential competitive advantages such as improved global customer satisfaction, faster time to market, and global brand consistency. It may also fail to recognize the true scope of internationalization, which is not limited to words but must account for all the touchstones of cultural preference such as colors, images, idioms, dialects, gestures, flags, and maps. is a social network of food and entertaining enthusiasts, receiving more than 270 million annual visits from home cooks who share and download recipes, reviews, photos, personal profiles, and meal ideas. When it came to developing its first localized site in July 2008, company president Lisa Sharples says, "We never considered globalization an afterthought, not for one minute. Our goal is to have the top food site in each country where we compete, and the only way to make it work was to build our localized sites from the beginning; each needed its own language, measurements, and rating systems." Not to mention an understanding of local food preferences so that the recipe database could be prepopulated with dishes appealing enough to local tastes so that home cooks would be encouraged to share their own recipes.

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