When Procter & Gamble started selling Pampers diapers in Japan, they used the classic image of a stork carrying a baby on the packaging. They later discovered that while the legend of the stork is common in the U.S., Japanese parents tell their children a different tale. Instead of arriving by stork, babies arrive in giant floating peaches.
You might think both legends are equally strange, but the fact is, you’re more likely to purchase a product that fits the narrative you know.
That’s why any brand introducing a new product to a global marketplace needs to consider localization, internationalization and globalization well before the launch.
Let’s take a closer look at the difference between these commonly confused terms and how they work together as part of a well-designed global marketing strategy.
What Is Localization?
Localization is the process of adapting a product, website or content for multiple cultures or localities so that it seems natural to that particular region. This typically involves translating written content as well as modifying images, symbols and other culturally specific elements.
It may also involve going beyond word-for-word translation and revising some messages or sayings so they convey the intended meaning, rather than the literal one. For instance, business cliches like “break down silos” or “capture the low-hanging fruit” are easily understood in English but likely won’t make sense when translated into another language. Likewise, a website that shows stock images of a bustling Times Square make it obvious the site was originally intended for users in the United States.
What Is Internationalization?
Internationalization is the process of generalizing a product so it can be localized for different cultures and regions without needing to be redesigned. In the website example, it sets the framework for the content and design to ensure it will be easy for anyone to read. Internationalization includes considering factors such as:
- Having the functionality to support various dates, time and currency formats
- Ensuring you have the functionality to support various characters and fonts
- Making sure you have enough space to accommodate translated text - which often can be longer than the original
- A user interface that accommodates reading either right to left or left to right, depending on the language
What Is Globalization?
Globalization is the process of conceptualizing your product for the global marketplace so it can be sold anywhere in the world with only minor revision.
Globalization is doing your due diligence, including conducting market research and studying cultural customs in that new market. This due diligence could have helped the Simmons Mattress Company avoid failure when it entered the Japanese market in the 1960s. According to Gary Knight, author of International Marketing Blunders By American Firms in Japan, the company overlooked a fundamental reality: the fact that most Japanese at the time were sleeping on futons, not Western-style beds.
The Four-Legged Stool Supporting Your Global Brand
Although most people think immediately of translation when they think of launching a global website or marketing campaign, this is typically the last step in the process.
The acronym GILT is one way to remember how these four elements work together to support a global brand.
- Globalization - Conduct thorough market research and develop a strategy for reaching your target market.
- Internationalization - Consider how your website, software or product needs to be developed so it can easily be adapted to that market and any others.
- Localization - Pay attention to slogans, phrases, images, formats for dates and times and other elements that will need to be modified so it will be easily understood within that culture.
- Translation - Convert text into your target language and ensure it conveys its intended meaning.
All this involves careful planning and attention to detail, but it can save significant time and money later. One software manufacturer found nearly half of all its customer support costs came from helping customers who couldn’t understand technical documents written in English. Taking the time to consider these important elements also gives you a competitive advantage and makes it more likely for your products and services to be profitable.
To learn more about how to prepare for a global brand launch, check out the latest edition of our most popular resource, The Guide to Translation and Localization.
Scott Ludwigsen is director of LanguageLine Solutions’ Translation division.