#7 Going global? There's a digital policy for that!

#7 Going global? There's a digital policy for that!

#7 Going global? There's a digital policy for that!


When it comes to conquering new markets, do you need localization, globalization, internationalization, or all three? If you are already on the global stage, do you have a digital policy to maximize your ROI while ensuring you avoid faux pas and legal risk? Tune in to get your terminology and marketing ready for the global marketplace.

Episode number:
Date Published:
March 4, 2020

KRISTINA PODNAR: Localization, globalization, internationalization: These all sound like similar concepts and are often used interchangeably. But the three terms are quite different, and they each might prompt an organization to adopt a digital policy, but from slightly different perspective with different reasons.

Let me quickly define these terms to ensure we are all speaking the same language.

When I say  globalization, I am referring to digital marketing, products, and services that bring people, cultures, and economies of different countries closer together. In other words, it means becoming more closely connected and integrated with customers and partners around the world. Many businesses will say that they are a global business or that they are going global, and that is what they mean. They are adopting a strategy by which they will bring awareness and consumer potential into the global marketplace.

It is usually easy to spot a global brand, because it is known the world over. Think about Amazon, Coca Cola, NetFlix, Burger King and other multinationals. These are global business, focused on globalization. They have taken their brand, their products, their services to a global audience.

Internationalization is different than globalization. Internationalization refers to your organizations strategy of making products and services as adaptable as possible in order to enter and operate in different national markets, often called local markets. Internationalization involves adopting services, products, marketing and communications to a local market, with its unique language, cultural and functional requirements.

Organizations internationalize when they adapt a product or service so that it is available in other markets, specifically looking at making them more relevant to a larger group of people. For example, Pepsi has adopted products into French to accommodate speakers in France, Canada’s French speaking Quebec, Belgium, and parts of Africa. By creating marketing in French, the organization can reach more international customers, namely those who speak French or have a French-culture connection. Generally, internationalization is done for a large group of people, and requires product modifications for a region. Not always, but mostly the case.

Localization, conversely, is the process of actually adapting that product to a specific target market once internationalization has taken place.

Organizations that have gone global, such as McDonalds, have also localized. Consider for example, that at some McDonald's in Europe, beer is available on the menu. Some McDonald's in the UK serve organic milk, which is also used in Happy Meals as well as for oatmeal, coffee, and tea. If you find yourself in Portugal, you can visit the Golden Arches for some  pea cream soup, cream of vegetables soup, caldo verde soup (a Portuguese favorite featuring potatoes and collard greens), or a lavender soup with red beans, dough, and ham with vegetables and olive oil.

Now, you might be asking me why might you need a policy around globalization, internationalization, or localization?

It is hard to understand and account for all local legal and cultural requirements. This is especially true for those within an organization’s headquarters or when creating content for a global audience. This challenge has brought negative press to many companies over the years.

For example, IKEA experienced loss market share and public credibility when it dropped its lifestyle website in Russia over fears that the government would consider it a promotion of gay values to minors (illegal in Russia), only to be met with public backlash and boycotts. Smaller issues—such as heeding that some countries and regions (e.g., Quebec, Canada) require websites that offer products and services to be written in French—have troubled the likes of Pottery Barn, Club Monaco, and Anthropologie. Williams-Sonoma group, which owns Pottery Barn, blocked access by site visitors from Quebec until it could re-launch the site in French and cater to the local audience in full compliance with the localization law.

You may actually want to develop a policy for localization, especially language requirements.

What might the policy entail? Often times, language requirements. Research markets where your services and products are targeted. Create a policy documenting your plan to provide content translated and localized for cultural norms. Because content creators and contributors may not be aware of all requirements, it is a good practice to include the requirements directly into the content management system. Users can learn about the requirement as content is being created or produced. It is best to have a local resource review content prior to its publication, or even consider a small content focus group for key strategic campaigns and content publications.

Here are some key points I want you to consider for your policy:

  • Determine which countries and regions in which you have prospects or customers require content to be localized for language and/or culture
  • Document your digital policy to reflect when and how you will localize content so as to meet your market-specific objectives

If you are one of those organizations that learns overnight that you need to localize your marketing, services or products, you need to think fast on your feet and get going. Determine whether localization is required by law in any of the areas in which you operate. If you discover situations where you are not currently compliant, discuss them with your legal team immediately.

Currently there are several jurisdictions have local language requirements, including:

  • Brazil (Portuguese)
  • Canada (Quebec requires French)
  • France (French)
  • Italy (Italian)
  • Japan (Japanese)
  • Portugal (Portuguese)

When ready, turn your attention to documenting the policy. Ask yourself:

  • Where localization isn’t required, what criteria should we use to decide whether or not to localize? Do our customers expect localization? What do other business operating in that area do? How much will translation cost? Do our local offices have sufficient resources? Will we still be able to maintain brand control?  What aspects of your digital channels must always be localized for maximum alignment with your content strategy?
  • In situations where local offices don’t have the resources to supply complete language localization, are there some types of content that we should prioritize? If we’re only going to employ language localization for some of our content, for example, should it be web copy, social media posts, video and audio content, etc.? What criteria should we use to make those decisions? How much input should local employees have?
  • When content is being written, should it be written with an eye to its future localization? (Usually known as internationalization or I18N.) For example, languages such as German tend to use more characters to express the same meaning as an English phrase, so is there enough space for the text to grow, say, 50%?

And this is just the beginning. Whether you are looking to support your organization’s attempts at globalization, internationalization, or localization, there is so much to think about.

That’s why this month, I am focusing on companies looking to international markets and customers to grow their brands and consumer base. I will be speaking with Bruno Herrmann who will tell us what it takes to effectively localize content, services, and products. Bruno will also provide you with some practical insights on what you should pay attention to and how you should work with vendors and 3rd parties to make your organizational expansion a successful reality.

I’m equally excited to be speaking with Kathrin Bussmann, who helps brands attract, engage and retain more global customers by developing marketing strategies that are focused on international growth. In a marketplace that is global, social and multilingual, how is your business keeping up? Kathrin will help us understand the dos, don’ts and getting it right on the international stage.

So get ready for a month of learning as stay tuned to The Power of Digital Policy, where my objective is to make you smarter on digital policy topics and balance out the risks and the opportunities that come from marketing and working in our digital world.

Until next time, be well and do great policy work.

  • Language and content localization policy
  • Policy background, how is done: Immediate steps, Documenting and Implementing the policy in "The Power of Digital Policy" book, page: 250
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