Remember the days when the biggest user interface (UI) challenge was how to get your website to work both in Internet Explorer and Netscape?

It’s a matter of opinion whether those were the good old days or bad old days, but one thing is clear. Now that mobile dominates online interactions, content creation has become a lot more concise and nuanced -- and the Internet of Things (IoT) is about to complicate matters. In the not-too-distant future, “do you speak my language” is going to mean more than it ever has before.

To gain a foothold in the IoT, savvy brands must think about global content in new ways, and understand that devices themselves are part of the localization equation. Otherwise, brands risk being the equivalent of stuck in the desktop era -- and we all know how that will turn out.

The Content Quandary

Over the past years, mobile has become the predominant form of online interaction around the world. One recent report shows that mobile platforms now account for 60 percent of all time spent with digital media. The Internet as we know it now fits into the palms of our hands. Facebook alone accounts for 18 percent of time spent on mobile devices.

Today’s users consider brief, consistent online interactions normal. Brands have been forced to shrink down and simplify almost everything about their presences in order to keep up, from websites to social interactions.

For marketers, that means branded communication must appear succinctly and effectively on every UI, whether large, small, written, audio or voice-activated. It must appear in the right language and with the right cultural associations. Otherwise consumers will abandon it in seconds flat.

Just as most businesses start to “get it” with regards to smartphone and tablet content, a new player is coming to town: the Internet of Things. IoT brings the everyday world online, essentially plugging your life into the internet with things like wearables, smart homes and connected cars. It closes the gap between online and offline life. Already, smartphones are hardly ever out of reach and wearables like the Apple Watch and Google Glass will make being connected a part of life like never before.

Here’s the challenge for brand marketers. If consumers tend to ditch poorly designed apps on the smartphone in the palms of their hands, imagine what they’ll do with bad apps they’re wearing on their faces.

IoT apps must perform flawlessly and instantly understand exactly what users want. As with smartphones and tablets today, if a device or a service falters, the connected user can instantly search for an alternative and have that up and running before their connected car drops them at the office.

The Real, Multilingual World

In the old days of desktop browsers, content seemed to imply something static. Its nature has changed. To remain competitive today, content has to dynamic, conforming itself to consumers' language and cultural needs.

The IoT takes that a step further by demanding that content be invisible, augmenting users' lives instead of becoming the focus. It requires a mixture of machine-to-machine and machine-to-human communication. For example, near-field communication (NFC) might alert a customer on his smartwatch about a discount on Makita drills, at which point he’ll pick one up, use his smartphone to compare it to other tools and then check out at the store’s point-of-sales tablet.

Making content work in the IoT is a challenge in English alone. But English is only the beginning for brands wanting to make a real dent in the marketplace. English speakers account for only one-third of the $50 trillion dollar global consumer spending power, according to Common Sense Advisory. To reach 98 percent of online users takes 48 languages. And 75 percent of internet users say they make important purchasing decisions only when information is presented in the language they speak.

Compounding the language challenge is the fact that every country has cultural norms that must be localized to -- including the way they use devices.

Maybe users in Japan are adopting all kinds of wearables while consumers in Tanzania are sticking with feature phones. Or one culture thinks yellow means death while to the other, it’s good luck. The importance of tracking and accommodating these cultural differences is growing. It's no wonder that translation budgets are growing, too, and that the bigger players in the web development market, like Drupal, are integrating translation capabilities directly rather than leaving them as add-ons.

Online All the Time

The IoT is poised to simplify many areas of life. The meaning of simplification, however, varies wildly by country. From language to naming conventions to aesthetics, users may not notice when it's done right, but they will definitely notice when it's not.

Companies seeking to maintain their competitive edge must find ways to fold this kind of knowledge into the development process. The trick is to identify the existing technological, language and cultural footprint before development or campaigns begin, and continue to iterate it within products and channels as you go, finding out what works best.

As the IoT gains traction in markets around the world, speaking the user’s language is going to mean more than ever before.​