Localization is no longer considered an afterthought and successful businesses have already integrated the localization process into their marketing strategy and product development roadmaps. When launching a digital product, organizations need to carefully consider how it will be received by international audiences in order to maximize its growth potential.
Although localization is critical to successful adoption, in the long run, addressing language in this narrow context isn’t entirely effective when it comes to launching digital products in multiple markets. For products to be adopted successfully in international markets, businesses should look at culturalization and internationalization.
Where localization has the power to meet users’ language needs, culturalization goes one step further to ensure that users from different cultures can interact with a product in a more meaningful way.
The International Game Developers Association (IGDA) describes culturalization as a process that includes a ‘more fundamental examination of a game’s assumptions and choices, and then assesses the viability of those creative choices in both the global, multicultural marketplace as well as in specific locales’.
But this doesn’t just apply to the gaming industry. In the wider digital world, this could refer to color usage, symbols, character design and even the overall UX of an app or website itself. For example, in the West, the color red is often used to indicate negative aspects of the user experience, such as the presence of errors, unsuccessful form validation or energy depletion.
However, in China, red has more positive connotations. We’ve all seen the red envelopes (known as lai see in Cantonese and hong bao in Mandarin) filled with lucky money used as a common way to show appreciation during important celebrations like Chinese New Year, birthdays and weddings.
Even China’s stock market uses red as stock gains and green as losses. It’s no wonder why leading Chinese eCommerce sites such as Tmall and JD.com lead with the colour red on their homepages including their logos, search site banners and call-to-action buttons.
If you’re planning on developing a product in this market, it would be wise to take the prudent approach of understanding local customs and customer expectations before you sign off on key product or UX features.
On a more subtle note, you might want to pay attention to things that may cause offence such as drop-down country lists. If you’ve labelled Taiwan in a country list, for example, you’ve unknowingly made an instant political statement to China.
It’s these nuances that are often highlighted when product designers incorporate culturalization as part of their wider growth strategy.
In order to reduce the potential for issues to arise between product content and users in other markets, the IGDA advise developers to consider a number of elements when creating a product that will be distributed internationally. These include ethnicity and cultural friction, religion and belief systems, past and present historical accuracy and geopolitical imaginations.
On the surface, if there’s no initial plan to market your product or service outside of your home territory, the idea of localization can be seen as unnecessary. But failure to think about internationalization during the initial build of your product can lead to hurdles later down the line when international growth becomes a priority – which can increase your overall budget and increase the time to market.
Internationalization is a process which allows your localization strategy to be carried out with as few barriers as possible. It’s usually reserved for software, app and website development where a product is built so that localization can be carried out effectively when the need arises.
If you’re creating an app for US users but have ambitions to enter new markets in the future, internationalization will help you manage the long-term costs of localizing your app.
Ensuring that your design has the in-built flexibility to be translated or adapted to another environment is just one example of building the architecture of a product with localization in mind.
You could even add CSS support for vertical text or non-latin typographic features, provide additional support for bidirectional text, ensure Unicode is enabled or have the ability to handle legacy character encodings to use with other languages.
Typical internationalization practices also include the support for regional, cultural and language-related preferences such as date and time formats, numeral systems, name and address forms, currency and even clothing sizes.
It’s technical details like these that allow German users who land on a UK retailers website to switch to a localized version and order goods in Euros, or allow US customers to shop for products in the appropriate size without being bamboozled by European sizing options.
These processes allow developers to create a language-centered product in their home market that’s primed for marketing on a global scale with local customers in mind. By considering internationalization early on in the development process, a localization-ready product is able to lower costs over time and accelerate time to market without compromising on product quality.
While these processes have long-term advantages, developing a product with localization in mind doesn’t come without its own set of challenges, in particular, you’re likely to spend more time on the initial build to ensure your product is prepared for each locale.
But if you intend to set your sites on new markets in the future, it’s essential that culturalization and internationalization remain at the heart of your development project.