Localization is vitally important to take a digital product into any new market. If you are marketing your application to a new audience, it is vital that it is adapted to meet their specific needs. This means changing the language but also adapting other elements of your product to ensure a better cultural fit.
Ambitious marketing managers won’t restrict their ambitions to a single secondary market. This means the localization process may need to happen several times as the product is scaled.
For major markets such as the U.S. and Europe, it may even be appropriate to create several versions of the product so that it suits the different language and cultural groups within that territory.
One way to rationalize the costs of localization for several new markets is to take an internationalized approach to building it in the first place.
Internationalization is a way to structure a piece of software so it can be adjusted for different markets with relative ease. If you are building a product that you have ambitions to take to several new markets, internationalization is a way to help manage the costs of localizing that product into new markets.
It is a building approach that ensures your product is ‘localization-ready’ and does not need to be rebuilt from scratch when it is localized for new languages and needs.
Internationalizing your product
Internationalization means designing and building software with as few barriers to localization as possible.
For instance, this might mean the navigation design is flexible enough to be translated into another language and moved into a new environment without needing major redesign or redevelopment first. It is essentially a way of building with flexible possibilities for future adaptation.
In practical terms, this means the original development of the product will be Unicode-enabled or have the ability to handle legacy character encodings so it is flexible enough to use other alphabets.
If developers are really thinking ahead, they may even factor in for features that will not be activated before the product is localized.
Maybe they will give the product the ability to support bidirectional text even before it needs to, or build a CSS that can accommodate vertical text. Decisions like this help future-proof the product against whatever is later asked of it.
Localization involves much more than accommodating other languages. It also includes such things as measurements or clothing sizes on product pages, date and time formatting, local holidays and calendars, address and ZIP code formats, and how an individual’s name is presented.
By separating the localizable factors from the source code, the different international factors can be applied to the site without significant rebuilds.
For instance, a shoe retailer can easily switch from using U.S. shoe sizes to European ones without having to rebuild the dropdown list or filter navigation.
Even better, internationalized websites can be built to adapt to the user’s location or pre-determined preferences for which site they use.
This means a person can visit the Tommy Hilfiger U.S. site and select the country and language based on their location. Any preferences they select will automatically be saved.
If internationalization practices haven’t been applied to the master site, it is common for the localization to perform poorly.
It is fairly common for retailers to slip up and fail to adapt their clothing sizes when they enter new markets. It was one of the reasons U.S. retailer Banana Republic floundered when it entered the British market. Customers couldn’t easily understand the unfamiliar sizing in store or online, and customers do not feel comfortable unless the size format is familiar.
Your internationalized product will ultimately support localization into a wide number of markets. Perhaps the key considerations are ease of adaptation and cost-effectiveness.
A well-built digital product is one that scales easily and quickly into new markets. Rather than focusing on development costs and rebuild considerations, it will enable your localization team to focus on cultural and language factors that can help the product perform well in its destination market.
If it is well built, an internationalized product will help smooth the product’s path into the new market by minimizing the number of bugs that need resolving before launch.
Localization teams can focus on cultural and language considerations, rather than QA-ing the product for the new audience.
If there are any future updates required, these only need to be made to the code once rather than duplicated across localized product versions. In the long term, this may significantly reduce your costs.
Of course, the disadvantage of building an internationalized product is that a wider set of factors need to be considered in the initial build stage.
Often the hardest part of the project is getting the product launched with MVP, and building with multiple future localisation projects in mind may extend the initial build period.
It is perhaps not something to be undertaken lightly. But if you have any real international ambitions for your product, you should start considering its eventual localization at build stage by factoring internationalization into the initial development.