What is localisation and why does it matter for business?

Have you ever come across a website, seen American spelling and immediately decided it’s not for you? 

In general, US-centric sites don’t put international consumers off nearly as much as they did, say, 10 years ago (except when it comes to money and financial services). But they also don’t connect with customers as well as they could. 

That’s where localisation can help. 

What is localisation?  

Too often, the terms “localisation” and “translation” are used interchangeably. Sometimes people can even use the term “transcreation”.  

These three services have different outputs so it’s important to know the difference. So what’s what? 

Translation takes existing copy and translates it into a new language. It’s true to the original content and message. While Google Translate and similar tools will often give a literal translation that doesn’t always make much sense, translators will make sure the right terms are used and clean up the grammar. 

Localisation takes translation one step further. It considers the message and how well that will resonate with a local audience. A localisation specialist will take into account cultural and societal norms and beliefs to ensure your copy better resonates with your audience. 

The nature of translation and localisation means that the waterfall project management style needs to be adopted. The English (or other source language) must be created and approved first before the linguist or localisation specialist gets involved.  

But transcreation can work within an agile project management style. 

For transcreation, you’re actually hiring a writer, not a linguist or localisation specialist (although often they can do both). The transcreator crafts copy specifically for the target market and audience in parallel with other writers writing for their markets. You can end up with completely different messages across the markets, but it’s all crafted with the messages most likely to resonate with each target audience. 

Why localisation matters 

Localisation isn’t just about getting new customers who speak another language. It can make a huge difference in comprehension and brand affinity – even within the same language. 

Let’s take one of the easiest examples there is: Money. 

  • Salaries: In Australia, salaries are referenced on an annual basis. In Singapore, it’s monthly. 
  • Pay: Are people generally paid weekly, fortnightly or monthly? By bank transfer, in cash or by cheque? 
  • Payment methods: How people pay is different around the world. There are different providers (like Giropay, China UnionPay and Alipay) which are just not available in all markets. There are also differences in tech adoption rates – did you know some people still have chequebooks in their bedside drawer? 
  • Tips: I don’t know about you, but I still find it super awkward being asked if I want to tip at a restaurant in Australia. As I’m sure you know, it’s an expectation in the US. 
  • Taxes: Forget about all the complexities of this – fiscal years are different around the world. And on an item or service level, is the tax included or added on top? That varies too. 

Then, of course, there’s the cultural side. Do people talk about money openly or consider it to be a state secret? Is budgeting the norm? Is money shared between couples? Do kids get pocket money, and how much on average? Is money an acceptable gift between friends? What about red packets for Lunar New Year? And is the Tooth Fairy a thing? 

Talking about the norms of one country as if they are global standards can lead to misunderstandings or a lack of trust. 

And of course, this translates (no pun intended) across all facets of people’s lives – from dining to holidays to home life to the environment (do you call it the bush, the woods or the forest?) 

When to translate, when to localise and when to transcreate 

Here at Engage we will always champion localisation over translation. No one is an expert in all markets and countries, so you can never quite tell when a red flag is going to arise. Localisation is just the safer choice. 

But when should you use transcreation instead of localisation?  

  • When timing is super tight: Transcreation can work within an agile project management system, while localisation requires a waterfall approach. If you don’t have time to tack a couple of days (or weeks, depending on scope) on at the end of your project schedule, transcreation is the way to go.  
  • When a foreign market is the most important: Sometimes, the most important market for a project isn’t the one the project team is used to creating for. By writing for the target market in the target language first, you can optimise your spend and reduce edits and major rewrites and revisions through localisation. 
  • When markets have different key messages or product features: If you follow a localisation process in this situation, you’ll need to write multiple versions in your source language (often English) first. It adds extra time, pressure and effort to the source content writer that could be easily taken by the localisation team. 
  • ‘Cos you think it’s cool: You’d be right. 

Need some localisation help? 

If you’re thinking of going global or want to connect better with your international customers, get in touch and let’s see what we can do to help. Engage offers localisation in 10 languages for 11 key markets across the Asia Pacific region, plus English for the US, the UK, India and Singapore. 

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