How to Make Localization Strategic

Many of the localization concepts and techniques I’ve written about elsewhere on this blog all roll up into a framework for Strategic Localization. This framework ensures that localization becomes interwoven into the fabric of a company, to the point that it helps inform business strategy.

You can access the full Strategic Localization deck here, or by clicking the slide image above.

Why does Strategic Localization matter? We all *know* that localization helps fuel international business expansion. Localization needs to play a key role in order for a company’s long-term international business to thrive. It’s a small but important piece of the overall international puzzle. Think of it like that one glaring center jigsaw piece that will really stand out when it’s missing! Otherwise, you wouldn’t even notice it blend in when it’s there and serving its connecting purpose.

To deliver just an “adequate” or “average” customer experience, localization must be involved at the tactical level within the scope of individual projects and business initiatives, to actually get them off the ground. Projects simply can’t happen across markets and languages otherwise — at least, not at scale, and not efficiently.

However, if you want to deliver a phenomenal customer experience, localization also needs to be represented in higher-level, strategic discussions as well. This is the missing link at many companies. Localization needs to have a seat at the table, but teams often struggle to get invited.

So the question is, how do we change that?

We have to change how we think, and talk about localization.

And we have to make these changes in some pretty significant ways.

The Three Pillars of Strategic Localization

In the deck, I break down what I believe to be the three core pillars required for strategic localization:

Concepts

To change behaviors, you have to first change the way you think. That’s not easy! Introducing new concepts can help. The eight concepts outlined in the strategic localization deck are new ways of looking at things to trigger the types of changes desired for strategic localization to take place. Many of these concepts align readily with other concepts used at SaaS and digital companies.

Metrics

In most companies, what gets measured gets attention. If you work in software, it’s even more important to have a tangible conversation about things you can measure. Ideally, in ways people can easily grasp. Measuring localization work matters, but how you measure matters. The eight metrics introduced in the deck are ones that matter in digital companies, but are not widely used in localization (yet).

Comms

Localization is a niche area of specialization, which means that the burden is on localization teams to bridge a huge communication gap in order to align with other teams. For that reason, communication is the third, and perhaps the most critical, of all the pillars needed to enable strategic localization. When this breaks, concepts and metrics don’t really matter, so it’s important to prioritize it.

Key Concepts That Enable Strategic Localization

There are some of the concepts that have been important for building a strategic localization program at HubSpot:

Multi-Market

The multi-market framing gives us a new way of talking about localization, rooted in the customer’s perspective instead of that of the localization practitioner. Multi-market sounds more growth-oriented and is simpler and easier to explain and understand than localization is.

GILT the Remix

This little visual, which I’ve described in more detail here, contains a set of simple, one-word definitions to help explain what localization really is, how it differs from translation, and how the other “ations” like globalization and internationalization come into play. The goal with this is to make localization more accessible.

Flywheel

This is a concept used heavily by HubSpot to discuss the relationships between various parts of a company and the customer experience. It reflects the evolution of the journey from a “marketing funnel” type approach to a continually spinning flywheel, in which a broader picture that includes constant micro-interactions matters far more than isolated events and stages. Localization is embedded within the flywheel, supporting all teams and all aspects of the non-English customer experience within the flywheel. More about this concept and localization over at this post.

Polyglot

This is an initiative we created on the localization team at HubSpot to take a holistic look at all parts of the non-English customer experience in order to measure strengths and weaknesses. Polyglot means someone who speaks more than one language, which of course, as a business, we also need to do when we interact with customers. We don’t just want to be a “global” or “multilingual” company, but a true polyglot. This endeavor involves surveying customers annually on two simple questions, then concentrating efforts on the weak spots that emerge from the survey data.

High-Availability Localization

This is an approach to building a localization system that focuses on the continual availability of the right resource types at the time needed as one of the highest priorities, as opposed to a focus on merely speed, quality, or cost in isolation. More details on the HAL framework and what it consists of in this post.

Translation Tech Trifecta (T3)

This is a model that breaks translation workflows into “touchless,” “low-touch” and “high-touch” but also serves to explain the options to stakeholders in a simpler way. This is also a method for measuring volumes and monitoring data as content types shift from one workflow bucket to another. You can learn more about the “trifecta” model here.

Enablement and Engagement (E2)

This is a process we developed in order to more efficiently “prep” stakeholder groups for localization, bring them up to speed on multi-market needs, and ensure that localization can work harmoniously with them. The goal of E2 is to “open up the APIs” between localization and other teams, so that ongoing production work becomes a seamless part of run rate activities and daily operations.

Linguistic Inclusivity

This concept highlights the importance of considering non-English users as a group that does not have the same level of access as native English speakers. The goal of this is to ensure quick actioning on any internationalization or localization bugs, to ensure an equitable user experience and language parity throughout a software product. More on inclusion and the link to localization in this post.

As you can see, there are a lot of concepts here! Each of them serves a distinct purpose within the context of localization at a high-growth SaaS company.

Metrics That Actually Matter

There are also quite a few metrics that are introduced in more detail with examples in the deck, including:

  1. Supported language revenue. This is a measure of how much revenue is supported via localization. It reflects the revenue derived from countries where localization plays a heavy role.
  2. Fully loaded cost per word. This not price per word, but rather a measure of the total all-in cost of all localization activities (including headcount costs, vendor costs, overhead costs, and so on) compared against total throughput within the same time period.
  3. Capacity scores. These are measures of project management capacity and linguistic team capacity.
  4. Non-English customer experience. This is an overall satisfaction metric for non-English customers, obtained via an annual satisfaction survey.
  5. % of content localized. This is a measure that shows what % of all content desired by stakeholders at the company is current localized or not localized.
  6. Average project duration. This is the average duration of each project delivered by a localization team from the moment a project request is submitted until the moment it goes live, broken into various stages, many of which are stakeholder-dependent.
  7. Average project phase duration. This is the subset of the average project duration. Add up the duration of each phase, and this metric allows a team to work with stakeholders to reduce the time spent in stakeholder-dependent phases.
  8. Localization velocity. This is the number of words localized per hour in a given day, week, month, quarter, or any other time period. You can read more about the velocity metric as well as average project duration and other “speed” metrics here.

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words, so if building a Strategic Localization at your company is of interest, I would highly encourage you to take a look at this deck on Strategic Localization to learn more about it. Feedback welcome!

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.

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