Thousands of dollars and man hours have been spent researching, developing, strategizing, prototyping, testing, and tweaking the software, and it has successfully launched in the local market. Having assessed the potential returns on investment, your company is ready to transition to the global market.
Anyone who has ever tried to assemble a piece of furniture, set up electronic equipment, or read the label on an imported food product has encountered some of the issues that can arise when transitioning a product or service from one market to another. With only one chance to make a first impression, now is not the time to lose focus and deceive yourself into believing that less effort will be required to successfully launch in new markets. Here are some considerations for launching software in a foreign market:
- Plan, perform, and check all aspects of localization
This is the area most companies underestimate. Rushing software to market inevitably leads to failure. The same scoping, scheduling, and testing that were applied to the native product should be applied to the localized product.
Testing should be done at every stage of the process: engineering the code, testing the UI, analyzing the language, checking accuracy, and assessing functionality. Visuals and layouts ought to be examined to ensure the software is “speaking” and “behaving” as intended with the operating systems and applications of the localized market. Non-textual materials like colors, logos, and images will be evaluated for linguistic, cultural, and ergonomic lapses.
This is one area in which companies cannot afford to fail. The damage to a brand, not to mention the cost of cleanup and amount of time needed to start over, is certain ruination. When designing an optimal user experience, it is essential to get it right the first time around.
- Maintaining consistent translation of terms across products and documentation
To ensure a seamless user experience, the localization package should include the resource bundles, installation script, help manuals, online help content, user forums, legal notices, warranties, privacy policies, and any other files that the end user may encounter when using the product. How confusing it would be if a user consulted a help manual or warranty that was translated several months after the original software and found terminology was translated differently in each of the documents.One way to ensure consistency is to use a Translation Memory. By maintaining records of both the source and target languages, consistency is upheld throughout the various modules of software and its peripheral components. Once a translation database has been built, time and cost are maximized by reusing the translation.
- Being ready for technical layout production challenges
We can all tell the difference between something written in our native language and something that has been “adapted” to our native language—the adaptation does not look right. This presents a technical challenge to translation companies, as does programming logic. “Placeholders” are often used in the programming process, but many languages are made up of words much longer than those found in English. Some Asian languages may be written vertically, Hebrew and Arabic run from right to left, and a user can select German as a language but choose Switzerland as the locale. In localization, one size does not fit all.
A feature of layout production beyond basic data is complex functionality that addresses dates, currency, time, and address inconsistencies, to name a few. When layouts are adjusted without engineering changes to their programming logic, concatenated strings and multiple context strings end up having grammar and gender agreement issues.
It is not enough to patch up your software along the way; internationalization can be carried out at the source, and, when done properly, it only needs be done once for multiple markets.
- Legal obligations vary from country to country
Another consideration is compliance with local laws, regulations, and common business practices.
For example, the Toubon Law in France guarantees citizens the right to conduct day to day activities in French and stipulates the use of French in advertisements, marketing collateral, and instructional documentation, both in hard copy and in software, screen display, sound messages, operating systems, and applications.
Organizations are expected to know their legal obligations and adhere to them. Failure to do so can have severe consequences.
- Marketing materials that build trust and confidence
All materials should be seamlessly localized. Users will have greater trust and confidence in a localized product, as they will see it as evidence of a business’ caring about the local consumer.
In North America it is the norm to print letters, brochures, and other print materials on 8.5″x11″ paper. Europeans, on the other hand, use A4. By continuing to use the North American standard, a company immediately identifies itself as foreign and may not communicate the quality assurance they want associated with the brand.
Colors, fonts, graphics, images and text placement need to be evaluated to suit linguistic, cultural, and societal customs. Cultural knowledge and sensitivity are insufficient for reaching a foreign audience if a product’s message is misunderstood, misleading, irreverent, or inappropriate. Even companies with large departments dedicated to this type of research have found themselves embarrassed when their product is launched. In Africa, Gerber baby food jars landed on the shelf with their standard packaging, “the Gerber baby” beaming out to consumers. What their research hadn’t uncovered was that it was common practice in less literate parts of Africa to use pictures on labels to indicate what is contained inside—in this case, babies.
No matter how big the department is or how much a local culture is studied, there is no substitute for in-country familiarity and personal experience with local customs.
Bringing software to a foreign market is a complex and multi-faceted process. Having the right people on the team to help plan that journey and keep things on track in the face of difficulties makes all the difference.