Moving from “Localization-Friendly” to “Geo-Inclusive”

There’s irony sometimes in localization. Even though localization practitioners are in the business of helping provide access to experiences and information, our own localization industry jargon frequently alienates the very stakeholders and collaborators whose support we need in order to craft better experiences for users. Yet, I caught myself doing precisely this recently when I used a term that is super common in our space. It’s a term that is seemingly innocent, yet actually problematic: “localization-friendly.”

In reality, our ultimate goal as localizers *isn’t* to make localization easier, or to make things “friendlier” for localization. That’s a means to an end. Our ultimate goal is to create a better experience for users and customers from all parts of the world. But when we use a term like “localization-friendly,” this can send the wrong impression. It focuses people on the process (localization) versus the outcome we seek (a geo-inclusive experience). It can make people erroneously think we’re all about making our own life easier, when in fact we’re advocating for the local customer. It’s a subtle but important difference.

How we communicate as we go about our work truly matters. If we’re to be seen as the experts at our companies in taking messages across languages, and experiences across cultures, we need to earn that credibility. How? By first being conscious of the fact that different teams who come from different professional backgrounds in companies have different ways of speaking and referring to things (language), as way as different ways of operating (culture). Before we can effectively bridge gaps for our customers, we first need to ensure that we understand the language and culture of all our stakeholders.

This isn’t easy! Before we speak, we basically have to learn their language, then “interpret” first in English, from one variant (L10n-ese) into another (the languages of engineers, marketers, and so on). Only then do we gain the necessary credibility to unlock the experiences we seek to open up more to customers and overcome barriers, geographically, culturally and linguistically.

For that reason, I’m replacing “localization-friendly” with “geo-inclusive” in my vocabulary whenever speaking with people outside of the localization industry. Other alternatives could be “geo-agnostic” and “geo-equitable.” Lately, I prefer “geo-inclusive” because it implies that local users are not only invited, but intentionally welcomed to the global party.

Another term we can replace in our vocabulary is “US-centric,” which tends to make people feel pangs of guilt. As localizers, we often “call it as we see it” and are not deliberately casting any judgment on anyone, but simply identifying something about an experience that is rooted in a US perspective. But others, when they hear this, tend to think, “Well, I’m from the US… and most of my team is too… are we at fault for something here?” This puts up an artificial barrier that decreases trust and the likelihood of collaboration.

There’s an easy solution here too. We can also replace the term “US-centric” with “geo-inclusive,” which sounds less judgmental. To be empathetic to those outside of localization, we have to remember that it’s hard to envision yourself *not* centering on the country you live in and likely were raised in. Being “geo-inclusive” sounds easier and more attainable to most people than erasing the culture and country that make up a huge part of their identity.

Often, localization teams end up in silos in companies, instead of fully integrated and in partnership with the teams they support. I believe a huge part of this is, ironically, down to the way we communicate. The language of localization has a lot of nuance to it. Unintentionally, we can end up confusing people if we’re not careful about the words we choose. Localization teams often complain that localization is viewed as a nuisance or a cost, instead of what it is: an enabler of revenue, an enricher of customer experience.

There’s a lot of focus in our industry on trying to prove the value of localization via a business case. But what if it’s simpler? What if we’re simply joyful to work with and easily align with others? We’ll never be viewed as a team that enables and enriches something bigger than ourselves if we’re constantly trying to prove our value with a business case. What other teams go around doing that? In fact, at many companies, that might only alienate localizers more.

Instead of wasting our time complaining about localization being placed in a silo, or worse yet accepting it as a given, I believe that ultimately, it’s the localizers’ job to do two key things: 1) align with stakeholders so they come to view localization as an extension of their own team, and 2) bring clarity on a daily basis to these micro conversations, so that we can better enable the macro ones.

Nataly Kelly

Nataly leads localization at HubSpot and has previously held diverse roles in marketing, international operations and strategy, research, and product development. Her latest book is "Found in Translation" (Penguin). She writes for Harvard Business Review on topics of international marketing and global business. Nataly works remotely from New England, having lived in Quito (Ecuador), Donegal (Ireland) and the rural Midwest where she grew up.

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