In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need localization. We’d create all local experiences natively, without the need to adapt anything at all. Source content would be the only type of content, with no need to transfer concepts back and forth between languages, where things can too easily get lost in the shuffle. The only reason we really need localization is to ensure some level of consistency and scale as we move a company into new markets and languages. And when it comes to reaching local markets, the benefits of consistency are far more debatable than the benefits of scale. The latter is pretty hard to achieve without localization, and necessary for sustainable international growth.
The $56B language services industry is a testament to how important localization is and why it’s not going away anytime soon. But don’t assume native content doesn’t matter too! Here are some reasons why native content should form part of your overall international strategy, working hand in hand with localization.
Consistent messaging matters less than you think
Marketing friends, I know that you want a consistent brand voice, messaging that is repeated over and over, and all that jazz. This is all undeniably good and true when it comes to a single market. But it’s not always the right way to think about reaching multiple markets simultaneously. You do want for certain brand attributes to come across in all markets, of course, but only when they happen to be relevant to all markets. What you can’t do is automatically assume their relevance in each and every market.
For as much as you want consistency, you also want to pack a memorable punch. You don’t want your brand or product messaging to come across in a way that feels too… vanilla. And too often, that’s what happens when localization is done too strictly or rigidly, or jammed into a tight timeframe, with too much focus on a source text, as opposed to a more impactful goal of creating a relationship with people in a different market. The way you go about that should be different (even if only slightly) in other markets, because the people you’re trying to reach are, well, not the same. It’s hard to convey how important this is to people who don’t have much experience with markets outside of their home market, such as the United States.
Here’s an example that might help people working in technology and trying to get their heads around why messaging has to shift when you move it into new markets. You know how naive it sounds when people say with a blissful look in their eyes, “I only see one color… people of all races are exactly the same”? It’s a warning signal that a person doesn’t really have much experience with diversity and inclusion, right? Because if they did, they would never say such a thing. People’s experiences are different, and acknowledging this matters.
The equivalent in localization is saying, “We’ll just translate what we did for the US market.” The implication is that all markets are the same. This attitude — that language is the only thing that needs to be adapted — is a warning sign that usually flags a lack of international experience. It imposes one’s own culture as the dominant one. It glosses over differences by refusal to acknowledge them. It’s negating that these are human beings with different needs, experiences, cultures, and preferences that are simply not the same as those in your home market.
International marketers and localization folks, don’t be surprised if when you first try to explain the differences between markets to others, it’s like trying to explain to someone that their belief that they “see no colors” is actually pretty harmful and misguided. They probably won’t like you at first. They might want to run away from the topic when confronted about it. They might even see you as arrogant and they might feel hurt that you point out something they don’t want to acknowledge. But inclusion matters, and localization professionals tend to devote their entire careers to giving those local users an equal status. It’s an ongoing quest for localization teams the world over to enable an equitable (but not identical) experience for users outside of the company’s home market.
And, it would always be easier if people would just be humble, open, and willing to see things from another (local) perspective.
In other words, we all need to question it when we see people in business push back against native content (or even transcreation for that matter) on the basis of it not being “consistent” enough. There is often, I’m sorry to say it, an ethnocentric premise at the heart of that type of thinking veiled in the “consistent” argument that says, “My way is right, because it’s what I know.” What you know is your home market, steeped in your experience, plain and simple. It takes humility to learn, even on the surface level, that diversity matters for local market inclusion too, within your global strategy. It takes patience and time and most importantly, exposure to local markets and their realities and viewpoints, to truly internalize this.
ConsistenCy can be achieved with native content
One of the great things about localization professionals is that we are trained to think in ways of structuring content for scale, but delivering with local impact in mind. For this reason, one of the first things we do for any big new initiative or new language is create a glossary and a style guide. This way, we can ensure consistency when it really matters.
So when does consistency matter? When it comes to terms and phrases that have already been carefully chosen by people who understand the market. Not just terms that have been translated into another language. Messages that were hand-crafted to resonate in a way that really matters. Once you’ve put the effort in, you want to ensure you use those terms over and over. This doesn’t mean consistency in terms of translation being tied to the source too literally or closely. This simply means that once you’ve chosen the best terminology or message that will make your brand resonate or help you connect with a local market, that you stick to it thereafter, unless there is a good reason to later make a change.
The reason I point this out is that even with native content, you can achieve a great deal of consistency within a language. In fact, it’s easier to hire and onboard native content vendors if you’ve already done this work on your style guide and terminology. My own team at HubSpot has done this since day one, training not just translation vendors, but often other internal team members and non-localization vendors who work in the language as well. In other words, you don’t necessarily need localization (the process) to achieve consistency with native content. However, a localization team often provides the necessary foundation to enable you to grow and scale into that language, with or without native content, using the structures that are simply standard for us to use in our industry.
Native Content = More Customers; More Customers = More Localization
One thing I’ve been asked in the past is, what if people lean into native content too much? Will the dependency on localization go down? On the contrary. I view native content as a vital piece within the evolution of more mature localization and marketing programs. And it matters far more for some markets than for others.
If you do native content right, and deploy it strategically, you’ll achieve your goals much faster than with localization alone. Often, the deeper you go into a new market, the more you’ll need native content. But, I also believe it’s a strategy you can use early on, depending on how fast you want to scale in a given market. Native content is great, because it really works when done well.
The faster you achieve your international revenue targets, the more customers you’ll bring on board, and the more your business will grow. If you’re bringing more customers from other markets and languages into your business that use your product, there will always be more to localize. Native content, in turn, then actually generates more localization work! It’s not a threat, unless you don’t want more localization work, and you want your international business to actually slow down.
So, even if you hire people who are native speakers of the language to create content, don’t be fooled into thinking they are translators, or ever will want a localization job. Just because someone can write in English, does not mean you could trust them to be a copywriter as their job day in and day out, right? And most people who write in English don’t want to spend all day writing anyway. The same is true for localization folks. Most people who happen to speak another language don’t want to do this job, except for the people who chose to make this their life’s work.
In other words, localization and marketing folks, take a deep breath or better yet, breathe a sigh of relief. Don’t worry when native content becomes a topic of discussion. It’s not something to fear, but something to embrace. It’s a sign your localization and international growth efforts are evolving and becoming more mature. My advice? Run with it!