That the United States leads the world in the creation of popular digital properties won’t surprise many. What might come as a surprise, though, is how much of their audiences come from places other than the U.S. In fact, as of January 2013, 79 percent of the people who use these properties live outside this country. (Check out this timely article on the latest trends.)
This underscores the importance of building for people all over the world. Doing that requires a dedication to localization.
I recently connected with Steve Nemzer, Solutions Architect Director for Lionbridge, and invited him to share his perspective on the importance of localization, which involves much more than just language. What follows is an excerpt of that conversation.
Matt Collins Blog: What is Lionbridge?
Steve Nemzer: Lionbridge is a globalization business solutions company. We’re a partner and service provider. We offer translation, localization, online marketing, global content management and application testing services that enable companies to conduct business internationally.
MCB: I bet most developers and mobile marketers intuitively understand that localizing their apps is critical to driving more downloads and engagement. Does Lionbridge have any data to help us understand just how important it is?
SN: Most developers agree they should be in international markets but they’re not always sure why. If your app is only in English you’ll reach about 31 percent of the digital world. But if your app is in five languages – English, Chinese, Japanese, French and German – you’ll hit 60 percent. Localization isn’t only an option if you want to go to foreign countries. It’s estimated that around 45 percent of people in San Francisco speak a non-English mother tongue. Chinese is so widely spoken in Vancouver that a lot of websites and apps and software products designed for Chinese markets are really popular. So think of localization as a language and cultural consideration and you can see how important it is.
Better data can come from the community. Lionbridge has a service called Social Media and Community Management, where we have a person working as a moderator on forums and a team gathering trends and data. Some of it is hard data – “X number of new users signed up this week”- but a lot of it is focused on sentiment, e.g. “Based on what people are saying on the forum, this app or game is really popular. The sentiment is high”. We can see an app doing only so-so in one market, but doing extremely well in another after it has been localized. So it gives us information to convince the developer to try additional markets as well, or localize other apps for the same market.
MCB: Good localization is more than just word translation, right?
SN: Absolutely. Increasingly it has less to do with word translation and more to do with cultural and geographic issues. A lot of our work now focuses on helping developers meet cultural, political, and demographic requirements for various markets. We do that partly through translation, but also with test, metadata and SEO work, and marketing. Localization is more about making an app completely appropriate for any given market and giving users the same experience. Users in Korea or India or Spain should have the same experience with the app as users in the U.S.
MCB: Who’s really good at localizing, and what makes them so good?
SN: In our industry there are the people who focus on tactical – making the translations, doing the testing, for instance – and there are people who focus on the strategic, for example marketing the localized product, and providing support and care. At the risk of blowing our own horn, Lionbridge is very good at doing both. We’ve been in the business a very long time, so we have the technical pieces down hard, and we have a strong position in the strategic. If a developer is looking for a quick and simple translation of some UI text string, there are plenty of places to go for that. But if developers are really serious about serving international markets and non-English speaking users, then they need things like social media and community management, in-country crowds to test and evaluate user satisfaction, marketing and CRM outreach. There are only a small handful of companies that can offer that, and Lionbridge is one of them.
MCB: In what ways does Lionbridge help companies ‘go global?’
SN: We can really add value to the user experience their customers expect. If you look at software localization as simply a series of jobs to make sure an app or website functions properly in another language, you’re not addressing the reason the company made the product in the first place, which was probably to make money and please its customers. What a CEO really wants is a bunch of happy, loyal and enthusiastic customers. In the old days of localization the service provider’s involvement usually stopped once the product was launched abroad. If the product didn’t sell well in its adopted market, no one really new why, and the localization provider was at that point long gone. Lionbridge is far more attached to what the product does after it has launched. We can help our customers follow the adoption of the product, execute multilingual outreach and CRM activities, provide technical support, and manage entire marketing campaigns at a regional level. The experience we’ve gathered and the footprint we have around the world ensure we’re giving advice to our customers that will help them be successful.
MCB: Are you seeing an uptick in companies coming to you with mobile projects?
SN: Yes. Not necessarily just with mobile projects, but with projects where a main component or consideration is mobile. It’s a rare software developer that doesn’t have any plans to have mobile users interact with their applications on a device. It’s at the top of nearly everyone’s request now.
MCB: A lot has been written lately about the dominance of mobile apps, relative to mobile web. Are you seeing that, too, in your work?
SN: I’d say in the world Lionbridge is playing, the answer is still “both are important”.
MCB: What advice would you give developers who might be just getting started building for their native markets but have ambitions to enter new ones?
SN: They should start thinking about it right away. Technology and coding practices have improved dramatically over the last decade, but there’s still quite a lot to think about when you’re sitting down to design for international markets. Language is important – things like remembering text expands when translated into German, or that Chinese text is hard to read if it’s too small – but so is design and usability. Is a user in Beijing going to use the app the same way someone in the U.S will? Does the design look OK for that market? Maybe the design and interface you’ve come up with looks very much like a competing product in China, or maybe it’s not right for the demographic. Will it print properly in all markets? What are the companion apps people are using in Turkey? Again, don’t think of localization only as a way to enter a foreign market. Start thinking of it as way to reach a non-English speaking user. Spending a little upfront can save a lot of time later on.
MCB: How can people learn more about Lionbridge?
SN: Our website, http://www.lionbridge.com, has good information, and we speak regularly at conferences and seminars. We’re easy to find on social media as well.