Localization Insights
Localization Insights

Product Internationalization vs Localization 

Internationalization and localization are often spoken in the same breath. While there’s a definite overlap between the two, they’re distinct processes that each have their own benefits. If you want to launch a product in multiple territories, you need to be thinking about both. 

With consumer habits changing, more companies than ever are waking up to the importance of international markets. While there’s plenty of untapped potential in foreign markets, actually striking the right note with global consumers is a different matter entirely. While more than 1.5 billion people in the world speak English, only a fraction of these are fluent. For businesses looking to capitalize on Latin American or Asian markets, internationalization and localization is the only way forward. 

Below, we’ll explore everything you need to know about internationalization, localization, and preparing your product for foreign markets

What is internationalization?

Internationalization is all about making products and services adaptable so they can be readily localized and adapted for global markets. Any type of product that’s going to be used by speakers of different languages will need to undergo internationalization. 

Once a product has undergone internationalization, localization strategies can be introduced to tailor them to specific markets. Internationalization is the first step towards globalization. By taking into account cultural nuances and regional preferences, fewer radical changes need to be made when localizing multimarket products. 

Internationalization examples 

Many businesses within the IT and software sectors prioritize internationalization at the product development stage. However, it’s not only tech-centric businesses that utilize internationalization best practices. 

Fast-food giant Kentucky Fried Chicken rebranded to KFC in the early 1990s, ditching the region-specific language from its brand name. This made expanding into new territories more effortless, while also allowing the brand to reposition its menu offerings. In 2011, Starbucks removed the text from the iconic logo it had been using for 40 years. This was done to simplify localization efforts. Nonetheless, the Starbucks brand is still as recognizable as ever.

The value of internationalization 

Internationalization offers many benefits. Brands can dramatically extend their reach, tapping into new markets and unlocking lucrative revenue streams. In the digital age, it’s easier than ever for smaller businesses to become global enterprises. 

By investing in internationalization and adapting products and services for multiple languages, penetrating new markets becomes a more pain-free experience. This in turn leads to increased competitiveness and more substantial profit margins. What’s more, brands that internationalize safeguard themselves against future market shocks. It’s easy for core markets to become saturated. By readying products for internationalization, companies can protect against risk. 

Software internationalization explained

We can turn to software design for an example of internationalization in action. If you plan on launching the same software products in multiple territories at the same time, you’ll need to accommodate multiple languages. 

Dashboard greetings, time and date formats, currencies, and more all need to be adapted to meet the needs of different users. Coding software for each language doesn’t make sense. It’s time-consuming and incredibly expensive. 

Instead, software internationalization sees hard code replaced with placeholder keys. This ensures software can be readily adapted for new languages in the future. 

Internationalization process

In many cases, internationalization should be considered during the product design phase itself. However, this isn’t practical for everyone. Before thinking about global expansion you need to ensure that your product is actually performing well at home. If the product/market fit is there, you’re ready to take the next steps. 

Your goal should be to make future localization efforts as easy as possible. If you’re dealing with software, this means optimizing your code and content architecture. Next, you can start thinking about which markets you want to target. Don’t automatically aim for the territories with the biggest appetite for your product. 

Instead, look for countries with the lowest risk. If you’re internationalizing an English-first product, consider markets with relatively similar languages. It’s far easier to translate English into Germanic languages than Mandarin, for example. 

Download your guide to product internationalization and localization

What is localization? 

If you’re looking to repurpose existing content and products for new markets, localization is something you need to consider. The localization process involves adapting content for an entirely new language. In some cases, it can involve localizing content into multiple languages at once. 

While translation is at the heart of localization, cultural nuances and any associated imagery will also need to be retooled. With localization, you’re adapting the full meaning of your content. It needs to resonate with new audiences and feel like it’s been created with the end user in mind. 

To achieve this, you need to think beyond replacing words from a target language with a new one. UI layouts need to be changed to accommodate languages with longer sentence structures. Graphics and imagery will also need a rethink. Sometimes this is for relevance, while for other teams it’s vital for ensuring you’re not causing offense. Currencies, units of measurement, and time and date formats all need to be localized for new users. 

Localization examples 

You don’t have to look far for examples of localization in action. Although Netflix has been outpaced in recent years by other streaming services, its commitment to localization deserves respect. Netflix’s in-house localization technology delivers highly-personalized interfaces to native users. Meanwhile, the streaming giant has been investing heavily in region-specific original content. 

Many e-commerce companies have also utilized localization to great effect. British retailer ASOS has never had physical stores, but this fashion platform has managed to become a heavy-hitter in the industry. After noticing an appetite from international consumers, ASOS went all out with website localization. As well as offering website content in more than half a dozen major languages, the retailer also extended the list of payment methods and currencies it accepts. 

Translation vs localization 

Although there’s a bit of crossover between translation and localization, they’re not the same thing. These are two very different processes. Translation is relatively straightforward, converting text from one language into a new one. Localization involves several different processes, including translation. 

The best translation services will ensure that your original message is properly conveyed. However, translation often neglects cultural nuance. This is a problem when it comes to emotive messaging and marketing campaigns. With localization, you’re using multiple elements such as colors, symbols, and other visual elements to resonate with a target market. 

The value of localization 

The main aim of localization is to ensure your products and messaging strikes the right note with new audiences. However, localization brings many other benefits. By resonating with non-native speakers in the language they use, you can build trust. This can bolster credibility and boost brand loyalty. In turn, this results in higher levels of customer satisfaction, increased sales, and a healthier market share. 

Software localization explained

Localizing software for specific markets isn’t always straightforward. Even if you’ve internationalized a digital product, you may still encounter issues when it comes to localizing it. There may be issues with phrases or UI elements that need to be rectified before localization can get underway. This can involve time-consuming development tasks. 

For a more streamlined localization process, it’s a good idea to create individual resource files for every language you’re looking to concentrate on. This way, you’re not going to cause any issues with coding when importing and exporting. Other good practices include deciding on set naming conventions and pre-testing for text expansion and contraction. 

Localization process

A typical localization workflow is fairly complex. To start, you’ll need to pick a localization strategy. Outline your goals so you can identify KPIs to measure the success of your campaign. You’ll also need to identify your target market and decide which tools and platforms you’ll be using for your localization project. 

Next, you need to pull together a localization team. Essential roles include developers, designers, translators, and marketers. Later on, you’ll need to consider product testers and marketers once your product is ready to be released to market. 

Using a translation management system (TMS), you’ll need to extract content that needs localizing. Using a TMS allows you to embrace automated workflows, relieving the pressures on human resources. Now translation work can get underway. Machine translation can prove effective here, especially if you’re making use of machine learning. However, there’s no substitute for an experienced human linguist. 

Internationalization and localization: What’s the difference?

With internationalization, you’re designing a product so it can be adapted to different languages and cultures in the future. With localization, you’re actively adapting the same product to specific requirements. It’s best to think of internationalization as the framework that paves the way for localization. 

Should I be using localization or internationalization? 

If you’re still at the design stage, you should be focusing on internationalization. During development, it’s much easier to prepare your product for multimarket destinations. Localization comes into play later when you’re ready to fine-tune your product for specific territories and languages. 

What is globalization? 

Globalization is an umbrella term that refers to when a company goes from being a region-specific operation to an international enterprise. Globalization has far-reaching ramifications for every corner of the business. It influences the design and development of new products, marketing strategies, and more. 

Globalization examples

Many brands have undergone successful globalization. American retailer Costco has enjoyed remarkable international success in recent years. Although the core business model remains the same, Costco’s service offering is wildly different depending on which country you find yourself in. In the United States, coupons are the standard. In Australia, this kind of money-saving initiative isn’t really a thing.

Spanish fashion retailer ZARA is another good example of globalization in action. The retailer makes use of real-time customer data to inform everything from product forecasting to designing new ranges. Because of its agile manufacturing processes, ZARA can bring new fashions to market in a matter of weeks. 

Globalization vs internationalization vs localization 

Each of these processes are intertwined and are just as important as the other. However, internationalization and localization are more relevant for modest-sized operations looking to expand. If you’re not taking internationalization seriously during the design and development stage, you’re setting yourself up to fail when you finally do come to localize products for new markets. 

Simplify internationalization and localization 

If you’re serious about succeeding globally, you need to commit to internationalization and localization. You can make life easy by laying the framework early, working internationalization into the design and development stage. Investing in internationalization means you can readily adapt products for multiple languages later, with relatively little effort. Having internationalized products ready to go ensures brands are far more agile than their competitors. Should market conditions change, an agile company can spring into action and start localizing for new territories. 

Localization comes later. If you’ve laid the groundwork with internationalization, it’s a fairly painless process. However, you can still incorporate retrofit localization if you’re ready for a challenge. Localization workflows are generally fairly complicated. You’ll need an extensive team of developers, designers, translators, and more to pull off a localization project. However, you can streamline the process by working with an experienced localization partner. 

Ready to introduce your products to an international audience? At BLEND, you’ll find an unbeatable suite of translation and localization solutions to help you penetrate new markets. We work with thousands of experienced linguists and localization experts, providing content in more than 120 major languages. Eager to discover more ways we can help you? Get in touch with the team today.

author post

Corinne Sharabi

Corinne is the Social Media and Content Lead at BLEND. She is dedicated to keeping global business professionals up to date on all things localization, translation, language and culture.


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