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In the Era of the Small Screen, Localization is More Important Than Ever

If you plan on competing in the global marketplace—and chances are, you eventually will—you have to make sure that every customer in every country has the opportunity to engage with your brand. After you mark off the logistical action items for globalizing your website, such as accommodating different time zones and currencies, you’re faced with a bigger question: How will we get users in this country to engage?

How you answer that question depends on which country you’re talking about. The colors, wording and calls to action that make Chinese users engage aren’t the same ones that Brazilians will respond to. And chances are, users in every country are going to be looking at your brand from a mobile screen—so you have to make your message and cultural context concise and crystal-clear.

Translation Isn’t Enough

Basic translation, which places words into other languages without awareness of local context, is a first step. But it’s not the thing that will lead to engagement. Localization will.

Localization is the art of incorporating idioms and cultural associations that can influence the word choices and visual layouts that drive customer engagement. It’s especially important to localize in light of the proliferation of mobile devices and social platforms. If social and mobile have one thing in common, it’s that they limit real estate, both in terms of the number of words you use and the size and types of your images.

Make Your Brand Mobile-First, In Every Country

It’s important to adopt tools like Drupal for Mobile for your Web design, so that you can accommodate all screen sizes, and it’s also important to think of localization before you translate your sites for other countries. A direct translation of online text can easily obscure intended messages about your products—and this can be especially disastrous on a shrunken mobile screen or a quick social posting, where you don’t have the space to repair your credibility.

For example, think of the AirBnB search field. American users are greeted by the pithy call to action: “Where to?” It’s immediately clear that you’re supposed to type in your desired vacation destination. If the words “Where” and “to” were literally translated for the German site, though, the resulting “Wo zu?” would make no sense to German users. Understandably, this confusion would discourage German users from entering the site, because the call to action doesn’t seem credible. (AirBnB, of course, was smart enough to localize, so the call to action is the appropriate: “Wo soll es hingehen?”)

As mobile-first becomes a business imperative, and user engagement the bar-none marketing imperative, you must think carefully about how you present in other countries. The truth is, you can lose a lot of users very quickly if your mobile localization doesn’t work out—and gain a loyal audience if it does.

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