Localising for several markets | A guide to product and service localisation

Over the last few years, we’ve had the privilege of working on some exciting localisation projects.  From hotels opening in Qatar, to retail giants entering European markets, to a B2B recycling brand transforming into one of Europe’s largest, we’ve used every opportunity to optimise our processes.

Some of the most interesting examples are when one brand has targeted their products and services at multiple markets at once.  This brings inherent challenges, but challenges that we have become really good at overcoming.

We wanted to share some of these experiences in this post, as well as some of the things that didn’t go so well, and how we fixed them.


Vauxhall models are called “Opel” on the continent

The Ultimate Guide to Localising for Multiple Markets

To make things really easy to digest, we’ve planned our experiences into 6 tips that will help make sure your localisation project goes well, when targeting multiple markets at once.

But first, what is localisation anyway?  I mean, is it just another word for translation?  Actually, not exactly.

I’m spelling localisation with an ”s” as opposed to a “z” (localization), since this article is mainly targeted at the UK market.  And that’s a hint to what localisation is actually about.

GALA (Globalisation and Localisation Association) defines localisation as:

“Localization (sometimes referred to as “l10n”) is the process of adapting a product or content to a specific locale or market. Translation is only one of several elements of the localization process”

A good example of this might be patient information.  If you were writing patient information in Polish for the UK-based Poles, you would refer to the NHS.  Meanwhile if you were localising for Poles in Poland you’d refer to the Polish system.

This is just one example the process of localisation basically turns a literal translation into a comprehensive and fluid document that reads as if it has been written in the target language.

Content localisation also could include a whole host of services such as adapting products and services ready for new markets, adapting images and adapting designs to fit the new market.

In this post, we focus mainly on the linguistic aspects.

language localisation

Tip One: Treat every country differently

This comes down to messaging, and the key is that you should treat every country differently.

Each country has its own culture and approach.  For instance, even the US and UK have been described as two countries separated by one common language.  In essence, even though they speak the same language, a completely different approach is needed for each.

When localising your products and services, be careful that you don’t assume different regions have the same tastes, no matter how similar they are.

The bestselling wafer in Czech Republic and Slovakia since 1953 was introduced to Poland in 2007 under its original name “Horalky” (Hora/Gora means a mountain in Slavic languages).

In spite of the similarities between the languages, one key difference is that where Slovaks use a “h”, Poles often use a “g”.

The product did fairly well, but it was when the product changed its name to “Góralki” in 2012 that it started to fulfil its potential in Poland.  While sometimes products can seem desirable when spelt differently, in this case perhaps it was the proximity between the countries that made the product seem less desirable with the original brand name.

Tip Two:  Do Use Sector Specialists

Whatever localisation firm you’re working with, make sure they hire the right kind of linguists for your project.

For example, if your services are related to the Oil and Gas sector, you should get a linguist who has experience in this sector, and is familiar with terminology.

Even though we would always use sector specialists it always helps to have a little guidance from you.  This can come in the form of style guides, glossaries or a translation brief.  But even just an email with some information about the intended use of the document or reference material can go a long way.

technical localisation services

Tip Three:  Do Develop Tone Guidelines

When you localise for multiple markets, that means mistakes might be multiplied too.

As a content manager myself, my advice to you is to develop some guidelines from your end, before letting the localisation company run with your project.  Any brand guidelines, style sheets and terminology guides will be useful to maintain complete control of your brand and avoid a fragmented approach.

For instance, we worked with one recycling brand a few months back, as I mentioned in the introduction.  Before our linguists started working on the project, the whole brand identity was solidified through a process of developing style guides and messaging plans.

This was fed with research in each country, and then our team of linguists got involved.

This seems like a good time to tell you about transcreation, which is “creative translation”.  Rather than directly translating content, high impact content such as slogans and introductions can be translated this way, to ensure maximum impact.

That’s exactly what we did with the recycling company.  For every language, we developed a style guide, terminology and eventually slogans that would work in each country.  With one Eastern European country, our transcreators and in-house linguists were arguing for hours (and what felt like days) about the nuance of just one slogan.

Eventually we launched an amazing brand across 8 languages, and the company has seen a huge positive impact with growth of 560% in the countries we worked on.

Tip Four:  Think about Images and Design

For many countries images and design are OK to stay the same.

However, bear in mind that according to Color Marketing Group, colour can be up to 85% of the reason people buy.  Think about McDonalds, Coca-Cola or Pepsi and it’s easy to imagine why colour increases brand recognition by up to 80 percent.

Brands like Coca-Cola use a different shade of red and different web layouts for every country.  For example, compare Nigeria and Sweden.  The Swedes value simplicity, and you can see that reflected in the design.

Or in Arabic countries, cultural roles of women mean that your images may have to change.  Ikea famously Photoshopped all women out of their catalogues in Saudi Arabia, and while they should have perhaps done an individual photoshoot for that market to avoid the PR storm that followed, it does serve to illustrate the point:

Will your current images and designs work in all the markets you’re targeting?

woman driving

This image may not be appropriate in some countries, for example ones where women aren’t allowed to drive

Tip Five:  Get Your Processes Right

All the above information is well and good, and it’s easy to find examples of brands who made mistakes, or advise on best practice.

But whether things go right or not often relies on whether you have good processes in place.  We’ve worked hard on our processes, and I’ll share them with you:

  • Preparation of tone/brand guidelines/terminology
  • Localisation in batches for review/QA (quality assurance) by client and us internally
  • Independent proofreading of QA’d localisation
  • Back to client for sign-off
  • Content fed into the system
  • In-country review of content in context

This kind of process eliminates risk, and ensures water-tight following of the above advice.

Tip Six:  Choose a Partner Who Understands Your Objectives

When choosing a localisation partner, what should you choose?

I think quality should be a given, as should using the right translators.  It’s really important that the company understands the value of processes and also brand guidelines and terminology.  These are the basics that any company must have to be shortlisted for your project, no excuses.

But what you can’t account for is attitude.

In any localisation project, things can go wrong.  There can be misunderstandings and misinterpretations.  But if you choose a partner who really tries to explain to you how things work, understand what you’re trying to achieve and really cares about your project, you can overcome these obstacles.


For more information about Wolfestone services:

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by Wolfestone Admin

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