The title of this article is Localization vs. Internationalization but we are not opposing the two. We will explain why the two concepts are essential and support each other to achieve the final goal of entering a market correctly while scaling your business.
If I am to summarize it in a sentence, I’d say: Internationalization is something that makes localization more successful and easier.
Internationalization comes first, then comes localization. Let’s see what that means.
What is internationalization?
Abbreviated to the numeronym i18n, “Internationalization is the process of preparing a product, service, web content or application to the localization stage.” Yes, the concept seems very simple and it appears to be common sense. Yet, there are a lot of details that shouldn’t be overlooked. We already covered that in one of our previous posts. I’d suggest you have a quick read here.
Internationalization can be useful on its own, even if you don’t localize later. But combining the two ensures content that both resonates and scales across multiple regions. It is nowadays seen as a necessary step before going international. Locally successful concepts, products, and services often fail when they try to export without taking the specifics of the new markets into consideration.
One thing businesses cannot skip about i18n is the legal adjustments to local laws and regulations. This step has to be thought for and well prepared to avoid major legal issues and in general, all businesses are very careful about that. But the “legally non-mandatory” part of internationalization is often forgotten or minimized by businesses. It is true that it might be a time-consuming process, involving all the departments of a company, a lot of resources, where you need to decide which marketing and sales materials are relevant for the new market, whether you should localize your brand name, subtitle or dub your videos, transliterate or not, and so on. All of these strategic decisions have to be made before moving forward to the localization step where you will be applying these decisions to your brand, to your product, and to your content before entering a new market.
Once you are ready, you can move to the next step: localization.
What is localization?
Abbreviated to the numeronym l10n, localization is basically making a product or a service tailored to a specific locale/market. Whatever the business is, localization is an essential part of scaling a business. The buyers are usually a lot more comfortable with their purchasing decisions if the product/service makes sense to them. The easiest way to accomplish this comfort is to understand the target audience from top to bottom and speak their language, physically, linguistically, and culturally. What does that mean?
Physically? You need to figure out if you can ship your product or offer your service in the target locale. Are there any legal restrictions, different tax regulations that could prevent you from expanding there? How to shape it in a way that would fit in the target market without flaws? You base your marketing strategy on social media, let’s say LinkedIn, it might not work in China. LinkedIn is not blocked in China but still is not the most popular networking platform. You might as well need to shape your product/service if you really want to succeed in your new target market. You wouldn’t like to try to sell refrigerators to Eskimos, right?
Linguistically? If you’ve been researching what localization or translation is all about, you’ve probably tried to figure out “Localization vs translation”. Translation accomplishes the perfect linguistic understanding - it’s probably the single most important piece in the localization process.
As mentioned in the first paragraph, you don’t buy what you can’t understand. If the translation is poor or there is no translation at all, you might be missing a huge opportunity. If we are to talk numbers, only 20% of the world population speaks English and 72% of shoppers that are not native English speakers prefer to read reviews in their native language.
Culturally? Pigeon represents “love” in some cultures and “peace” in some others. Would you really want to translate “pigeon” as it is, even if it doesn’t convey your actual message? You probably shouldn’t. By understanding both cultures, the professional translators know the difference and shape your message accordingly - in a way that would perfectly resonate with your target audience.
To conclude, localization and internationalization, or l10n and i18n, are two concepts that will prepare your brand to enter a new market with market-specific knowledge, language, communication strategy, and a product tailored to succeed in the new market. The internationalization step is to set the framework of what should be done during localization, attacking a complex multi-market localization process without first going through the internationalization step would most probably lead you to failure, and going through the internationalization process without finalizing it with proper localization will also put your chances of success into a big risk. The right localization partner will be the one who will ask you for your internationalization strategy before starting to work on your project.
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