Don’t Fall into the Stereotypes Trap when Localizing

Localization is the process of translating a product, service or document from one cultural environment to another. It involves translating the text of the product, service or document from one language to another but localization is also more than that. Well-localized items take the cultural aspects into account in a way that the user feels that the product, service or document is originally made for her.

The challenge is that all people are unique and it isn’t always profitable to customize everything separately for each individual. The company that aims for entering a new market needs to group people into segments. It’s much easier to list requirements for the localization project when you know whose point of view you are adopting. Sounds simple and logical, so where’s the trap?

The trap is tied to stereotypes. Companies often look for as wide customer base as possible from new markets. There’s nothing wrong with it because more customers mean more income. However, there is a point where the target segment comes so big that the localized item becomes too general and distant. Then the localization is based more on stereotypes than real persona.

Today the world is so fragmented that any nation or language based groups are not as united anymore as they might have been earlier. The online world let people to form tribes that are blind to the physical or language boundaries. For example, there are very talented technology users in every country. There are people who only buy domestic products. There are young and ole people. There are extremely conservative people who expect etiquette and good manners everywhere. There are people who prefer informal communication style. There are people who are fluent in several languages and others who only speak one (and read none).

Every one of us has different needs and expectations. The idea is to find and define the target audience so well that the localization project will have a crystal clear goal. Bad localization is often worse than no localization. The truth is that one-size-fits-all rarely fits for anybody. The best advice to all localization project participants: Don’t ever forget who your target audience is!


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