Global Extensibility and Local Inclusion

There are two themes that matter a lot at most global technology companies lately:

  1. Scalability. The ability to not only grow, but to create a foundation that enables efficient future growth.
  2. Customer centricity. Staying focused on customers and obsessing over their problems.

How should we talk about each of these, from a localization perspective? Let’s take a look.

Scalable = Globally Extensible

To help people understand what scalability means in the context of a global business, localization professionals often talk about “business globalization” or “process globalization.” The problem is that these terms seem a bit too niche for most people. These terms can also come off sounding pretty old school, especially for those of us working at SaaS companies.

However, everyone working at a tech company understands the importance of building for scale.

So, one alternate way of explaining “globalization” and why it matters for international growth is to talk about global extensibility instead. Let’s do a quick “before and after.”

BEFORE

L10N team: “That process hasn’t been globalized.”

Stakeholder: (Tunes out, sounds boring and unimportant)

AFTER

L10N team: “That process isn’t globally extensible.”

Stakeholder: “Hmmm. Tell me more.” (Tunes in, because extensibility seems important)

L10N team: “It could limit our growth the way it’s set up today. Maybe with some tweaks we could make it extensible to more than just one country?”

For people working in tech, the concept of extensibility is pretty positive. It’s another way I like to pitch internationalization too. After all, it implies “making it possible for something to extend” or get bigger. This applies to extending across borders too.

At this point, once you have their attention, you can explain that to make a process extensible to more parts of the world, it may need to be updated to ensure that other parts of the world could benefit from it too. The problem is usually getting their attention in the first place, and helping them understand you’re not just talking about some academic exercise in globalization. You’re talking about actually building something in a globally extensible way, from the ground up, to support your international strategy.

Another thing that’s nice about the term “extensible” is that it casts a person’s eye toward the future. If you ask someone to help you “globalize” something, it sounds overwhelming or unnecessarily complex. It can even make them feel guilty or embarrassed that they didn’t think about it earlier. That isn’t what you’re trying to accomplish, so perhaps get them to dream of a more scalable and global future instead of worrying about past actions they might think you’re viewing as mistakes.

Customer-Centric = Locally Inclusive

We’re fortunate to be living in a time during which inclusion is becoming more top-of-mind for companies, and is even starting to be embraced. More and more, people are understanding that it’s important to be considerate and aware of differences between people, instead of treating everyone the same.

We can connect the dots here into digital marketing, specifically personalized marketing, including targeted advertising and social media marketing. Technology and content are evolving to map to the reality that people might have certain things in common, but can’t always be cleanly bucketed into huge “segments” and “cohorts.” Our ability to message and market to people in a way that maps to them better as individuals is evolving along with our ability to capture data and make sense of the people we intend to reach through the ever-changing marketing mix. These means that creating an effective marketing strategy is getting harder too!

Ironically, while personalized marketing is enabling companies to understand their customer needs with greater accuracy, local viewpoints are often left behind. It’s almost like, as an industry, we’ve overlooked a critical middle layer. Local voices seem to get lost in this highly personalized shuffle. How can localization professionals advocate for local customers, in the midst of all this?

I think customer centricity is one strong point of entry we can use to advocate for local customers. There’s plenty of buy-in already. Everyone knows the customer experience matters. All most of us working in localization want to ask is, could we just slip a “local” in there too?

The push to embrace customer-centric concepts in tech has been underway for quite some time. The notion of what it means to be customer-centric is also evolving. In its modern form, being customer-centric is much more than just thinking about the customer. It requires empathy, operating with an inclusive mindset, and adopting principles companywide to focus on solving for the customer. (Our team at HubSpot even created a Customer Code.)

As such, the next time you’re tempted to throw out the term “localization” with stakeholders, consider swapping it for “local inclusion” instead. To most people, “localization” sounds robotic and dry. It sounds like a process, or a machine you just run things through. Unfortunately, that’s also precisely what localization isn’t.

To be locally inclusive? That sounds way more thoughtful. More careful. More precise.

And more like what localization actually is.

Local inclusion can be a really powerful concept. Often, localization teams serve in the role of “advocates” for local voices to be heard. Very commonly, we’re the ones reminding global teams to talk to in-country leaders and counterparts. Imagine how your conversations might become more effective if you made some small changes here, if you try using “local inclusion” a bit more.

BEFORE

L10N team: “Let’s talk to the in-country teams before we localize this.”

Stakeholder: (Tunes out, sounds boring and unimportant)

AFTER

L10N team: “To make sure we’re being locally inclusive, let’s talk to the in-country teams first.”

Stakeholder: “Hmmm. Tell me more.” (Tunes in, because inclusivity sounds important)

L10N team: “If we consult with people who are closer to the customer, directly in region, we can improve inclusion for our local customers.”

It’s All about Language, Really

Localization people love solving for local inclusion and global extensibility. It’s what we live for. We can communicate about this topic and how to solve such problems indefinitely.

What we’re not always great about is getting the opportunity to do this work as early as it’s needed, and in as many places as it’s required.

The only way we can get more seats at the table for localization, in my opinion, is to improve the way we communicate. If we can use simpler, clearer language, we can engender greater trust. Only when we do that, can we advocate for local needs, earlier, and more easily.

A truly successful localization team within any tech company does not just transform content across languages, cultures, and systems. We actually learn to speak countless new languages, those of our stakeholders. Often, we hitch our international advocacy agenda to the company’s star priority of the moment. What’s difficult about it is that these windows of opportunity come up when we least expect them.

As a result, we can sometimes feel like the character Amy Adams played in Arrival, using the most creative and scientific areas of our brain in order to decipher and communicate what other teams really mean.

But what we often don’t realize is, the non-localization person is the one who often feels like the Amy Adams character, on the other side. Except… they’re not skilled in decoding languages. That’s our vocation, not theirs. It wouldn’t be fair to ask them to interpret our world, at least, not until we know enough of their language to teach them ours.

So, we have to listen, learn, and find more points of overlap and common ground where we can add value in business growth and strategy conversations. It often starts with language, which I guess is pretty fortunate for us, since we know a thing or two about that. 😉

For more on this topic, check out this more accessible localization definition.

Nataly Kelly

Nataly leads localization at HubSpot and has previously held diverse roles in marketing, international operations and strategy, research, and product development. She writes for Harvard Business Review on topics of international marketing and business. Nataly works remotely from Donegal, Ireland, by way of New England, Ecuador, and rural Illinois where she grew up.

One comment

Leave a Reply