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THE NEW GLOBALIST

The Death of Localization and the Birth of Internationalization

Jun 8, '19 by Gabriel Fairman

Localization initiatives can only be as successful as the overall international strategy the powers the forward. Let me unpack that.

Let's suppose you have a fantastic product or service that does incredibly well in a given country. Also, let's presume that as a part of your growth initiative, you will try to conquer international markets as well. Now you are ready to begin your localization efforts. Suppose for a second that you managed to land in localization utopia: perfect tools, talent, and processes. All you have to do now is celebrate your international stardom, right? Wrong!

As much as I would like to say that localization is the perfect driver for international growth, I would be blatantly lying if I did. Products and services do not necessarily perform well in different markets despite their local success and despite the economic potential of those given markets.

Take our case, for instance. We began as a local translation agency in São Paulo, Brazil, and then morphed into a global technology platform based in the San Francisco Bay Area, United States.

When we decided to introduce our platform back in Brazil, we realized that we would have to create an entirely new product to succeed in Brazil. We base our tech on connectors, end-to-end workflow automation, and translator performance management. As exciting as these items may be to our US buyers, most of our Brazilian buyers could not care less for these things. If we were to localize our website, for instance, it would come across as ludicrous. Sure, the concepts could seem trendy and exciting, but from a buyer perspective, no one would even be able to understand what is it that we do.

The use case is entirely different. Based on our research, our customer base wants to upload a set of files, choose their talent in a market place, and hit the Translate button at the lowest possible price. While the US driver is the elegance of the solution and the complexity of the use case it encompasses, the Brazilian drivers are cost and simplicity.

Even if we were to Localize our product, website, and offer world-class customer service in Brazilian Portuguese, we would fail miserably in growing our customer base. We would be left staring at each other, wondering what went wrong. The language can be flawless, and the branding can be spot on, but it's still not nearly enough. That is why you must ensure product compatibility before beginning localization initiatives.

Ensuring product compatibility cannot be left as guesswork even though we may be considering introducing an entirely new product or concept in a given market. We need to get to know everything we can about that market.

  • Overall macroeconomic trends
  • Political setting
  • Ease of doing business
  • Red-tape and local regulation
  • Value system around your specific product
  • Local taxes
  • Local values and drivers
  • Product fitness

Companies that expand aggressively sometimes overcome these hiccups by launching in multiple locations at once with the prior assumption that the product will fail in many of these locations. However, for most organic businesses, starting in numerous countries simultaneously is not an option. Resources are limited, and pressure on return is huge forcing you to pick wisely.

Even without a crystal ball, thorough research can provide us with authoritative guidance regarding the countries our companies are most suited for and how we must adapt our product to succeed in those countries. Thorough research will provide realistic expectations both in terms of the required investment in product adaptation and expected returns. Localization is one but a plethora of aspects of product adaptation that must be considered carefully before internationalizing a product.

Gabriel Fairman

Written by Gabriel Fairman

Gabriel is the founder and CEO of Bureau Works. He loves change—and eating grass.

Keep your finger on the pulse of the localization industry - technology, innovation, people.

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