What the heck is Localisation? (And why you need it)

Localisation | |

You may have come across this word and thought “Does it concern me or not?” And then, to stop thinking about it, you delegated it to someone else. But why don’t we just take a moment to revisit… What does localisation mean? Here is the answer:

Localisation is basically translation with bells on.

Yes, it really is that simple. But it is also important, especially if you have clients, customers, people and companies you do business with anywhere that isn’t your own back yard.

People like it when you talk their language, it makes them feel that you’re making a real effort to connect with them. And beyond language, if you adapt the content to suit that particular cultural market or society, they’ll feel that you understand who and what they are and what they want out of life, their values, everything. Business-wise, you’ve got a real head start into their hearts (almost).

Sell, sell, sell

That is what it’s all about. Even in our post, post, post-Gordon Gecko world, money still has to be made and business has to be done, in ever more global circles. Whatever the message is that you want to get out to your prospects, leads and existing customers, you can’t just translate it and think that the job’s done. Different cultures do things differently, and those cultures need respecting or, at the very least, taking into account.

Also, with translation, things can come out wrong. Everybody’s heard of Pepsi’s “Come alive the Pepsi Generation” being translated as ‘Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead’ in Chinese.  Aside from being hilarious, this fails on two counts. Firstly, it’s clearly a bad translation (like a machine did it – the even funnier thing is that this advertising faux-pas dates back to the early 1960s, decades before machine translation even existed). Secondly – and this is the less obvious point – it’s especially offensive to the Chinese because of the inferences to their ancestors: family and ancestors are very much revered in Chinese culture. So, you can bet, politics and religion aside, nobody was drinking Pepsi in China for a good few years.

Gecko: man or lizard?

Clearly, without a deeper understanding of the target language and the target culture, offending your customer is easily done. But there are other things to think about too. Let’s take this blog post as an example.

So far, there really aren’t any stand-out problems linguistically speaking. It might considered a little too informal for some markets (German, for example, where the ‘customer facing’ tone is markedly more formal than the one we’d use over here). You might have to think twice about translating the phrase “you’ve got a head start” but the content is pretty straight-forward, until you get to Gordon Gecko. Red flag: cultural reference. Everyone who’s first language is English should know who Gordon Gecko is. Even Gen Zs will recognise the name as “that guy from that Shia LeBoeuf movie about Wall Street”. In Taiwan, Lativa, or the Lebanon, you can’t take it for granted that people have seen either the original Wall Street film or it’s slightly rambling sequel. So what do you do: do some research and change it to a different, locally appropriate film, change the reference to something that doesn’t rely on any culturally specific knowledge, or just take it out completely? Well, it will depend on the post as a whole, who that post is destined for, and what function the post serves in the wider context of this blog and Alpha’s digital marketing output.

It is okay that you didn’t think about all that when you delegated it to someone else the first time around. But now that you do know…