Why You Shouldn’t Localize Your Business

It might be surprising to hear that you shouldn’t localize your business, especially when it comes from a localization advocate like me. But there is a very simple reason behind this advice. Your business can expand into other countries. Your company can amplify its reach in new markets. Your firm might decide to create new local entities, add new languages, or pursue a new go-to-market strategy tailored to another country. Those are all great things to do.

But localizing a business? Quite simply, it’s not possible.

Here are some examples of things that can be localized:

  • A product experience
  • A website experience
  • A billing experience
  • A customer support experience
  • A check-out experience

What do all these have in common? You can localize any aspect of the customer experience (CX). If your business is exceptional at going global, you will localize the entire CX. You can tailor any of these things to ensure they are suitable for a new locale (country + language).

But you can’t, and don’t need to, localize the business that provides that experience.

In fact, if you’re thinking about localizing your business, your focus is in the wrong place.

Localization is not about you, or your company.

The entire point of localization is the customer. This is the only reason there ever has been or will be a need to localize anything. If you lose sight of the customer, and make it about you and your business instead, you’ve unfortunately lost sight of why you’re localizing to begin with.

So, what can you do, to adapt your business, if you’re not going to “localize” it?

You globalize it.

  • Localization = adapting an experience
  • Globalization = adapting the underlying framework that enables localization

When we’re adapting a function, or a system, or the various complex and interconnected pieces that make up any business, it often requires a deeper-layer process known as globalization.

Adapting an entire company’s way of working (usually, to enable further international expansion) is enterprise globalization.

In any company, if you don’t focus on the underlying pieces, processes, and systems that need to be globalized, localization efforts are often in vain (or at least, not as effective as they should be).

Globalization: The Underlying Foundation of Localization

The best way to think about enterprise globalization is that without it, no business can truly be effective at providing a local experience. Here’s an analogy that might help.

Globalization is the foundation the house of localization is built upon. Consider internationalization the wiring and plumbing hidden in the walls. Think about translation as more of the interior design that people really see, and notice, but that exists within the constraints of the former two things.

If you’re noticing the crown moulding seems crooked, it might actually be because the foundation wasn’t laid properly. You might not want to buy the house because of it, or live with it that way. You only see the crooked moulding, but it ruins your entire experience.

The same happens with translation. You might notice a bad translation, but perhaps the reason is that an underlying process wasn’t globalized. This means that the localized experience is poor, but the “bad localization” is ultimately due to things that are hidden from view, cannot be instantly perceived by the customer, and don’t sit on the surface.

Ultimately, small details can make an outsized impact on any customer experience. Localization is all about detail! But globalization is what ultimately enables your business to get those details right (or not) for your local customers. It’s part of the foundation, hidden and forgotten, neglected at most companies, yet exerting tremendous influence on what the customer ultimately sees, and will either love or find fault with.

So remember, if you have customers in other countries, or you seek to, your goal is not to localize your business, but instead, to localize experiences for your customers.

And to enable that to happen, you’ll need to globalize your business, which is a continual and ongoing endeavor, but the ultimate secret to long-term success as a global company.

Nataly Kelly

Nataly Kelly is an award-winning global marketing executive and cross-functional leader in B2B SaaS, with experience at both startups and large public companies. The author of three books, her latest is "Take Your Company Global" (Berrett-Koehler). She writes for Harvard Business Review on topics of international marketing and global business. Nataly is based in New England, having lived in Quito (Ecuador), Donegal (Ireland) and the rural Midwest where she grew up.

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