To people who are new to localization, the entire field can sound nuanced, dreary, and overly complex. The opposite problem is when folks tend to oversimplify localization, reducing it to just translation, which is only one piece of some (and not all) localization initiatives. We often try to offer one of the most basic definitions to help people understand what we do. You might have caught yourself saying something like this:
“Do you know what a locale is? It’s a combination of country and language. For example, en-UK means English-United Kingdom. Localization ensures that a user experience is relevant for people who are in that locale — they speak English and are based in the UK. That’s why it’s called localization.”
By the Time You Explain Localization, It’s Usually Too Late
One phenomenon I’ve noticed is that when business people who need to know what localization is finally gain a clearer understanding of it, it’s often too late to enable localization to even happen without tons of extra work that could have been prevented. Why? Because companies move fast, and things are rarely designed, architected, and created in a way that is localization-friendly from the start. In our field, we often refer to some of the technical and architectural refactoring that has to take place as “internationalization,” getting things ready for localization. Priming the pump, so to speak, to make sure localization can happen seamlessly later on.
But by definition, all of the “-izations” in our industry imply that something wasn’t ready for global markets initially, and that it will take a process to convert something that was built for just one market into something that works for more than just the original one.
Here is where I’d like to challenge us, as an industry, to do better, and to avoid using terms like “localization” in many cases.
So, what do we use instead?
Introducing the Multi-Market Concept
Localization enables a company to do something for more than one market at a time. For this reason, I’ve taken to using the term “multi-market” instead of “localization,” especially since the latter can sound off-putting to lots of people who don’t work in the field. It depends on the circumstance, but here’s an example:
LocPro: “Would you like to know how we could make this more localization-friendly?”
LocPro: “Would you like this to work for multiple markets?”
Stakeholder: “Oh yeah!”
Why does “multi-market” work better than “localization” in many situations?
- It frames the problem in a simpler way. Localization, as a word on its own, even sounds complex and like it’s going to be a nightmare. Multi-market? Doesn’t sound so complicated. Also, multi-market can be used as an adjective. “Let’s give this tool multi-market capabilities.” “Let’s ensure multi-market reach for your initiative!” “Oh, with some slight tweaks, we can expand this to make it multi-market.” Using this term, I don’t even have mention the “L” word.
- It combines country and language. OK, so “locale” also serves this purpose too. But locale just isn’t part of people’s everyday vocabularies in business conversations. “Locale” is professional jargon. “Multi-market” sounds accessible and friendly. More inclusive. Good reasons to use it instead, when applicble.
- It’s easy for growth-minded people to understand. The beauty of “multi-market” is that it has the word “market” in it. Marketers love and understand markets. So do salespeople. So do businesspeople. You won’t hear about “locales” in business school, but you will hear about markets. This concept is just much more relatable than “locale” which sounds too technical and in the weeds.
- It strikes an aspirational tone. Maybe it’s because we hear about multi-millionaires, multi-nationals, and so on. I’m not sure why, but I notice that people’s eyes light up much more when I mention “multi-market.” There is an attitude of curiosity and openness that just isn’t there when I say “localization.” I believe it has much more power to get people dreaming big, and thinking globally. “Localization” just sounds… sorry to say it, but often it seems like an annoyance, a process, way too downstream for most people to want to deal with.
Multi-Market Works Better for Strategic Conversations
Often, when we try to explain to people why their mindset needs to shift to incorporate multiple markets (or “locales”), their eyes glaze over. No one wants to have to change the way they think. That’s actually really hard! But, what’s great about “multi-market” is that it doesn’t seem like a leap too far away from where a person is already at. It’s not asking them to boil the ocean, or address every single language and country imaginable, it’s simply asking them to consider more than one market at a time. That’s a much easier pill to swallow!
Think about how we normally try to explain this process of changing one’s thinking and vision to be more global-friendly in the first place. We use a term that is well known in our own space called “globalization,” or “business globalization” or even “business process globalization.” But the more syllables we add, the more people snooze. We think we are adding clarity, but to the listener, we’re only adding complexity and opacity. This is why localization is so often viewed as a “black box,” because when we try to add clarity, we so often use our own lingo and fail to actually adapt what we’re saying for our target audience. (Oh, the irony!)
Worse yet, when we talk about “globalization” and try to explain what it means, we tend to lose people. We venture into territory that can seem judgy or even condescending, because we have to call out biases, ethnocentricity, culturally-rooted design processes and even mono-market thinking. This makes people really uncomfortable. They can even be ashamed of their lack of global awareness. That is not what we’re trying to accomplish. We’re not in the business of making people feel bad! We want allies and partners in this global growth game, after all.
It’s so much easier if you approach any stakeholder conversation from a perspective of supporting multiple markets. Hardly anyone will argue with the need to support many markets.
That is strategic, after all.
People in our industry often ask how we can make localization more strategic. I don’t think we can, or necessarily should.
Localization on its own is not strategic. It’s a process.
But having a multi-market vision or roadmap is strategic. Supporting customers across multiple markets is strategic too. Achieving revenue from multiple markets is a strategic goal that even investors on public company earnings calls will ask about nearly every quarter.
So, if you want to get strategic, stop talking about localization. You can keep doing localization of course. (You’ll probably have to!) 😉
But where possible, talk about multi-market instead.
This will enable you to align localization strategically, in support of a multi-market strategy.
Once your company, customer, or stakeholders “get” that localization has the power to enable multi-market growth, you’re on the right path.
Something we all know but need to implement in our daily conversations with non-localization folks? It’s always easier when you can just use words people already know and embrace, instead of boring them with definitions of words they don’t want to learn in the first place. That’s what our industry is all about really, providing clear and targeted communication that resonates for a given audience.
That’s why I’m using “multi-market” in most of my strategic conversations these days, and hope you will too.