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By Iñaki Hernández-Lasa, solutions architect

You need to globalize your company, but localize your products. Confused already? Language service providers are constantly using globalization and localization interchangeably, and for a company that’s fresh into taking their markets global, this could be a major headache. What exactly is the difference? And more importantly, what exactly does your company need?

In dictionary terms, globalization is the act of globalizing or making something worldwide in scope and application. Localization, however, is almost the opposite—defined as “to make local.” Simple, right? No, not really. When it comes to what your global company needs from a language service provider, the answer is a bit more complicated.

At a time when the world is going global, it makes sense that more companies now, more so than ever, are reaching out across borders. It looks as if in order to secure a place in next-generation markets, you can’t afford not to speak multiple languages. That’s where language service providers come into the picture, by managing your company’s globalization efforts. Whether they’re translating your products, documents or website, they’re the ones globalizing your company’s footprint and speaking to your foreign consumers. But are they?

Globalization is more of a one-size-fits-all approach to translations, which even the weakest of language service providers can help with. After all, that’s the only reason they still exist—by providing you with only the bare minimum. Sure, it serves as a cheaper route to help maintain a unified branding across all countries, but it has its drawbacks. Unifying can result in ineffective messaging within countries, grammar rule and common style inconsistencies across languages, and lack of cultural sensitivities.

In an unfortunate example, four was an unlucky number for a golf ball manufacturing company when they packaged golf balls in packs of four for convenient purchase in Japan. Unfortunately, pronunciation of the word “four” in Japanese sounds like their word for “death.” Being a very superstitious culture, the Japanese typically avoid all things associated with this number because it is considered unlucky. Needless to say, sales of these convenience packs of four balls didn’t fare well in the Japanese market.

At first, everything goes according to plan. Your company’s materials can be translated into 33 languages in 15 different countries, and it will cost you next to nothing. But just like the case above, what happens when that material doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to those local consumers you wanted to reach? Or worse yet, is not up to par grammatically? Not only have you wasted valuable company time, effort and money on the project, but you’ve presented a not-so-pleasant company image to the people you were hoping to impress.

To avoid this altogether, you need to seek language service providers that can localize your company just as well as they can globalize it. This assures you’re still reaching the global audience you want while targeting their specific locale. Localization helps address cultural nuances so that your messages better relate to your target audiences and give you higher satisfaction ratings. Be sure to ask your language service provider what types of processes they have in place to add local value to your company’s projects and guarantee a smoother transition into your new destinations.

So the answer to this blog’s title is . . . both. When going global, be sure to remain local. Please feel free to share your thoughts with us on all things localization, globalization and taking your company abroad.