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Don't Localize Your Content Unless You're Going To Do It Right

3 minute read
Gerry McGovern avatar

Quality localized content increases sales, reduces support costs and increases customer satisfaction.

In June 2012 Starbucks sent a message to their Irish Twitter followers. “Show us what makes you proud to be British,” it read. As The Irish Times put it, this tweet showed “a distinct lack of knowledge regarding relations between Britain and Ireland.”

Starbucks quickly apologized but this error reflects a type of blindness that large organizations have to what they don’t consider their core markets. A number of commentators pointed out that this sort of error was regular. “They consistently post UK phone numbers and talk about pounds and pence,” one person stated. Another commented that the Irish Starbucks website still had lots of UK references.

It reminded me of a large Irish tourism website that boasted about the fact that it had localized websites for 20 countries, including one for New Zealand. When you visited the section about how to get to Ireland, you were advised to take a ferry. It would take a very long time for a ferry to get from New Zealand to Ireland.

Years ago I dealt with a large hotel group. One of their most important markets was Japan and they were carrying out research with their Japanese customers in order to redesign their Japanese website. What they discovered, to their shock, was that most of their best customers never used the Japanese website. They didn’t trust it, didn’t think it was kept up to date, and preferred to use the international English language version.

Localization has often resulted in a reduction in service quality in all languages. One manager told me that he had essentially been told to create “unreadable English so that it’s easy to translate into unreadable German.” They were not allowed to use local words or colloquialisms because these were hard to localize.

Learning Opportunities

They had to create content that was stiff and wooden with words that were easy to translate, rather than words that worked with their target audience. Any web professional with experience running a quality website will tell you that the choice of words has a huge impact on customer behavior.

Get the words exactly right and people buy more. Get the words exactly right and people solve more of their problems. I have seen how changing the words in a link can increase the amount of sales inquiries by a factor of 6. These are by no means rare occurrences. The right words drive positive customer behavior. The wrong words drive your customers away.

If words are so important why do most organizations treat them as a cost to be relentlessly reduced? Because, when it comes to content, most organizations measure the input, not the outcome. We focus on the content itself. We focus on how cheaply we can translate X number of words into Y languages.

We need to focus on the outcome. How do we get more sales in Germany? How do we help more Italians solve their support problems faster and easier? We need to measure content in the broader strategic context. The local in localization has a lot of value potential.

About the author

Gerry McGovern

Gerry McGovern is the founder and CEO of Customer Carewords. He is widely regarded as the worldwide authority on increasing web satisfaction by managing customer tasks.

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