Listen to Your Customers Before Adopting Software Localization


Previously almost all software was available only in English because the main user group, the technology geeks, were used to work with English speaking computers. It may have something to do with the fact that computing and software development has its roots deep in the English world, and most industry terms and vocabulary were originally invented in English. Even today the most hard-core nerds won’t voluntarily choose another language over the English version of the software. Continue reading Listen to Your Customers Before Adopting Software Localization

Global Product Names Are Challenging – They Always Have Alternative Meanings in Some Languages

Like you probably know, Nokia introduced its new Windows Phone a few days ago. While the phone itself got some positive feedback right away, the name of the platform caused some confusion – especially in the Spanish speaking world.

Lumia can be found in the Spanish slang and it basically refers to prostitutes. From the Nokia’s point of view, it is fortunately somewhat rare slang expression. Generally this kind of unintentional meaning could be potentially quite harmful for the brand. Today, having a global brand is challenging because the illusion of the power of English can give a false feeling of security. Yes, the majority understands English but simultaneously there are thousands of languages spoken all over the Globe. Situation like this makes it hard to find a balance between local and global strategies.

Product name localization used to be easier when the people were traveling and communicating less outside the country or continental boarders. Today there is no right strategy for product name localization. Some of the global mega brands have been localizing their brand names in some markets and others use one name everywhere. It is basically a strategic decision.

Some of these global brand names have been more successful than others. Nokia isn’t the only brand which have used a name with multiple meanings. Here are a couple of famous examples of not-so-great brand or product names:

  • Car manufacturer Mitsubishi changed the name of its “Pajero” SUV into “Montero” in Spanish speaking markets when they realized that the original name means a person who masturbates.
  • Another car manufacturer Chevrolet had similar situation when its model called “Nova” was saying “not going” in Spanish.
  • Swedish mineral water company didn’t manage to get any success in the Finnish markets with its popular “Loka” brand. It is not a surprise if you know that “Loka” means the same as mud or dirt in Finnish.
  • A Finnish food company tried to launch its cookie brand into international markets. The name of the cookie brand didn’t mean anything in Finnish, but the Englishmen did see the problem. Understandably, “Rape” is not a good name for a cookie in English speaking countries.

Although these examples are more fun than shocking now, they prove that there is no difference between entering new markets with existing product or existing markets with new product. Product name is the first thing that a potential buyer will see. It is important to remember that localization is always important to think about, and that there are many aspects to consider when making a localization plan.

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Strategic Importance of Software Localization: Angry Birds, Facebook and MySpace

Usually expanding the market is considered as the main reason for localizing software to new languages. Here we represent two well-known cases of using localization to gain strategic advantage in several ways. In these cases software is localized to smaller language markets where there is less competition. This enables faster growth which eventually helps in winning the major language markets.

Case 1: Facebook vs. MySpace

Based on the graph below in April 2008 MySpace apparently had no reason to worry about Facebook. After all, MySpace was growing and still had a huge lead although Facebook was growing somewhat faster than MySpace. MySpace was still about twice as big as Facebook – in US!

In reality MySpace had already lost the game. Facebook beat MySpace in international markets. In the graph below you can see the worldwide visitor numbers. Facebook had developed a more effective approach to localizing its software than MySpace. It was able to leverage its own users to localize the software to new languages faster than MySpace. MySpace was localizing its own software too but with traditional methods and at a much slower pace. Facebook was translated to French in less than 24 hours by its own users. MySpace could not match that speed. It lost first the the minor language markets and then also the major language markets.

Please note that based on the user numbers in US it seems that Facebook’s product was not essentially better than MySpace’s. At least MySpace was still growing in US and not losing its users to Facebook in large scale. Facebook conquered first the markets with less competition and only after that became dominant also in US.

Case 2: Angry Birds vs. other game applications for smartphones

A few years later Angry Birds used the same strategy to conquer smartphone game market. First it achieved good positions in iPhone app stores of smaller countries such as Finland (home country of Angry Birds and also Multilizer!), Czech, Sweden and Denmark. The game sold extremely well when it had reached top positions in the app stores of small countries. This convinced Apple to promote Angry Birds as its ”game of the week”. Only then the sales really took off and Angry Birds became a global brand.

These two cases show the strategic value of software localization. It’s not only about increasing the market but also about bypassing your competition. Typically software is published first in major languages what means more competition in them and less competition in minor languages.

Angry Birds is a great game but how many other great games have we missed because Apple was not convinced to promote them? For Angry Birds localization and success in smaller markets were the keys in building the necessary credibility to become big. For Facebook, international markets provided the main bulk of the growth, while MySpace was too slow to respond and was out-grown.

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Product Name Translations Are Critical For Businesses: Localize Like Kekou-Kele And Bai Shi Kele

Translating any commercial material can be much more difficult task than it seems to be beforehand. There are at least two important dimensions to take into account: (1) the translation should communicate the wanted message, and (2) it should be “catchy” from marketing point of view. Any word-by-word translation won’t most likely meet both of these criteria.

An example of successful translation projects is the localization of Coca-Cola brand into Chinese markets. Coca-Cola is called Kekou-Kele in China. If you try to pronounce that name, you’ll probably find out that it sounds quite a lot like the original brand. My Chinese skills are nonexistent, but this article reveals that also the message of the Chinese brand name, which can be translated into “tasty soft drink” or “to be happy with the tasty”, is favorable to the company. Likewise Pepsi-Cola has done a nice job in that same market with its Chinese name: Bai Shi Kele means something like “everything laughable” or “to be happy with everything”. Both companies have discovered very positive translations to their brands.

Which one is your favourite: Kekou-Kele or Bai Shi Kele?

One could even argue that in these cases the Chinese translations are much better than the original brand names. The name Coca-Cola refers to coca leafs and kola nuts, and  Pepsi-Cola is argued to be named after the digestive enzyme pepsin and kola nuts. Today neither of these brand names tell much about the product or arouse especially positive images when thinking only about the names; not the whole brand image. The Chinese names sound nice and positive even if you don’t know what’s inside the can.

What is the best product name translation which you have seen?