Going Global: Navigating the Complexities of Global Content Delivery

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Localization Versus Translation

When it comes to marketing and branding language, you can’t simply take the English text and run it blindly through translation or Apple might turn into Apfel on the German website or Pomme on the French one. This simplistic translation would compromise the Apple brand, so it’s important to localize instead of translating. That means taking into consideration the power of the brand, local language, local cultural, and religious touchstones to adapt your brand and messaging accordingly. Larry Gould, chairman of translation and localization vendor thebigwordGroup, says it’s important to understand that in translation theory, there are two approaches: literal and free translation. Gould explains that literal translation is word-for-word, while with free translation, the translator has the freedom to ensure the message is in the style the customer wants and is appropriate for the target market. Gould says that it takes time and money to build a quality localization effort, and companies don’t always understand that. "What blows our minds is that large companies put huge amounts of money into branding and marketing and resist putting an effort into localizing or adapting content. That actually really, really shocks us."

Gould points out that products that came from Asia in the past had almost comical translations in instructions and manuals that accompanied the products. He says that such an approach simply wouldn’t be acceptable now in our global world. "People expect quality from developing markets, and sometimes, if they are not paying attention to the localization of the content, they can actually kill quality of the product for U.S. and European customers."

DePalma agrees with Gould and says you have to put your content through what he calls a "transcreation" rather than a translation process. "You start out with brand attributes you want to communicate and give it to the local team, and they do whatever modifications necessary to keep it on brand and also keep it on local market sensibilities." He says some typical things that might change are geographical references, holidays, and book and movie references. DePalma says you can use the content management system in this instance to flag content that is likely to change when you move into a new market, so it doesn’t simply get pushed through the translation process where it’s going to be unintelligible on the other end.

There are, of course, standard ways to reduce the cost of translation using translation memory (standardized blocks of content that have been translated once in the past and can be reused in different contexts), a glossary for dealing with names and concepts in a standard way, and just having the company generating the source language developing the content in ways that make it easier to translate. The trouble with branding and marketing materials is that sometimes the standard way of doing things breaks down because the whole idea of marketing language is to be creative, idiomatic, and clever.

Paul Wlodarczyk, vice president of solutions consulting at JustSystems, Inc., which sells, among other products, the XMetaL XML authoring tool, says there are times when you need to approach your writing in a nonstandard way, and that’s OK, so long as you are aware of that and plan ahead. "Sometimes that language adds value, especially in heavily branded content because you don’t want to sterilize the English so it’s a dead language in the source language just to lower the cost of the localization. If you are really leveraging idiomatic stuff and culturally sensitive stuff in the source language and you are using it in clever, heavily branded ways, you want the opportunity to recreate that same effect without literally translating it." He says the best way to approach this is to just be sure you tag this specialized content ahead of time so that you signal the local marketing groups that you need to translate and localize this carefully to maintain the brand integrity.

Paul Hampton, product marketing director at SDL, agrees with this approach and says it takes a combination of technology and local people to ensure the content is translated correctly and as intended. "If you look at SDL, we have a technology side of the business that helps companies manage their localization effort, the global authoring and web site management and distribution of content, but we also have a services business, and one of the keys there is having local people who understand the local nuance." Hampton offers an example of an employee survey that asked if a person had a best friend at work. This was fine in the U.S., but in Japan, when it was translated, the employees thought it asked if they have a lover at work. So it’s important, he says, to sit down with local people and make sure you are giving the intended message.

Keeping Brand Integrity

Hampton’s story illustrates how a simple matter in one language can have an entirely different and unintended connotation in another. This is not only true of language, but also of images. Lightman says that it’s not always easy to maintain the integrity of your brand and your core messages while balancing the needs of the local market. She says, "That line of what’s local versus what’s global is really hard because you’ll look to your local marketing and they will probably have an idea around how to take that content and localize it to that specific market, and sometimes I can definitely see how that could jeopardize a bigger brand and a bigger corporate communications strategy."

She says different companies deal with this issue in different ways. Some have a very structured approach where every web property looks and feels the same and tells the same story. The localization is done at the event and promotion level in-country. Yet other companies let the local countries determine how that information is targeted and displayed while they maintain control of look and feel and image and brand protection. She adds, "I think depending on the organization and depending on how critical their overall global strategy is where that line goes back and forth from local to global content."

Gould says that in order to ensure that the process works well, good communication with your localization vendor is critical in ensuring that your message gets across and stays consistent. "It’s quite a lot of work to actually understand what is needed in a translation. It can’t happen without collaboration between the company and the translation business. In order to get the best results in the shortest time possible, it’s extremely useful to have training sessions, sometimes in the client’s office, where you bring the translator in to discuss branding." He says this allows you to do things like build a glossary up front, a process Gould believes is critical to ensuring accuracy and consistency.

Otto de Graaf, director of products and solutions at SDL Tridion, says a good way to ensure things go as smoothly as possible is to establish clear lines of responsibility throughout the process. "If you start doing this and communicating across multiple markets, I think it is key for organizations to establish delegated responsibilities and determine up front before they do campaigns, where do the different responsibilities lie for different kinds of content." For example, a press release for a product launch would be delegated to local marketers, whereas the legal team might handle a merger or acquisition. He adds that, "In order to be agile in a world where things are communicated very quickly and meant to be communicated on a global scale, you need to think about this and implement it as part of your content management infrastructure in terms of who will be responsible for what and delegating the authority to the right level of people who either know the market or know the legal implications, depending on the kind of communication you are doing."

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