These days more of us are working from home and doing more shopping from home. Even with the exciting accomplishment of creating not only one, but multiple vaccines, it will take a while until things are “back to normal.” Many people even say that many of the changes we’ve made during the last year will stick.
Despite all the challenges, a large set of opportunities have emerged over the past year. Shopping online can help retailers dramatically expand their reach while reducing costs associated with maintaining physical stores in expensive city centers. Going forward, I think we all expect a certain mix of in-store and online shopping, but I expect online shopping will gain more and more momentum.
For retailers, this means a lot of changes and chances. The IT infrastructure must focus on online shopping and become more flexible and agile. The creative heads of brands need to adjust to the new shopping culture, regularly creating highly anticipated new experiences (we discuss some ideas about this in a previous blog post). The shift to the sit-on-your-couch-while-spending-money shopping style opens another big opportunity for many retailers: Going international and selling their goods around the world.
Retailers just starting to expand globally and those already established in-market are both struggling to find an efficient strategy for the content that is needed. You might say: “What’s the problem? You just take your original market content and replicate it for a country-specific domain and maybe translate the text. Done!”
As many brands have discovered, going global isn’t that simple. Every market is different and sometimes brands sell sub-sets of products to distinct regional markets, which means that the creative content surrounding these products should also be different. Products can differ globally – for example, electronics require different security certifications, labels and power supply specifications. Legal aspects like copyright and GDPR need to be considered. For these markets, many retailers want or need to address different audiences with targeted campaigns. This points to one thing: The content must change, not just the language and the currency. In these cases, we must consider localization instead of a plain translation between two or more languages.
We also have scenarios where language translation is not required, but content needs to be synchronized for multiple countries. A classic example is making a site for the German market available for the German-speaking Swiss and Austrian markets. The catalog, promotions and campaigns may be the same, but small country-specific content pieces for copyright and shipping and handling are required.
In summary, we’re talking about two different kinds of workflows for localized sites: Synchronization within the same language and localization with or without additional content adjustments.
Figure 1: Translation vs. Synchronization
Having more content or multiple variants significantly enlarges the editorial team’s workload. More content must be produced, and a single campaign quickly becomes a bigger effort than originally expected. If creativity is the driver for success, efficiency becomes the tool to survive! Brands need to identify a scalable strategy for content roll out, cross-locale reuse and – most importantly - a tool that makes the process as easy and efficient as possible.
Examining Three Possible Strategies
When getting started with basic concepts, it’s important to first discuss the hierarchy of translated or localized sites. As a rule of thumb, you want to minimize translations and leverage more synchronizations.
Translations are usually expensive and error prone. To translate content properly, you either need a resource to translate the text or a translation tool to do the work for you. One way or the other, once the translation is completed, your team still has to perform a quality check. This can be tricky, since the original editor can’t always verify that the text is properly translated – it’s more of a check of the optics. Hence, the translation might seem to be correct according to a dictionary, but many words have different meanings based on context. In comparison, synchronized content is less expensive to maintain because you only have to verify the original content once.
So, what’s the best strategy to minimize translations and maximize synchronization? In general, there are three basic approaches:
For all these strategies, you first need to gather a few details:
- What are the countries and languages within these countries that you want to serve content to?
- What are your priority locales and languages? What are your secondary priorities?
- How big is your editorial team? What are your capabilities to create and manage multilingual content?
- Do you have different content strategies for your different markets?
Your beachy sandals won’t sell as well in Alaska as they do in South Florida. So, if your content differs that much between certain areas, you might want to consider building the localization hierarchy only for parts of your content. As you can see, there’s a lot to consider. Let’s go through each strategy individually.
The name already gives it away. With the country-first approach you organize the hierarchy of locales around each country, independent of the language at first glance.
You start with one parent site. Most use either the page of your company’s country of origin or the country of your biggest market. That is fine, let’s use that as our starting point! Now, let’s collect all the countries you want to have specifically addressed with their own site. This is our first level and usually defines the domain URLs for each website. Next, define the countries and languages you want to deliver content to - these are your second level. Lastly, collect all other language variants that you want to serve content in for your target countries.
Below is an imaginary example for a retailer that originated in Spain and expanded in recent years to the French and Swiss markets. Now they want to reach out to Germany and better serve the non-French speaking audience in Switzerland. Following the country-first approach, you can see that the translations quickly add up. At the same time, just looking at the French and German content, we see potential for synchronization to replace expensive translations.
While our imaginary retailer is still growing, they don’t have editorial teams yet in Switzerland or Germany. This isn’t a big issue for the French version of the Switzerland site since the French team can help out, but it becomes a problem for the other two language versions: German and Italian. You can already hear the Euro coins clinging when our retailer has to pay a translation agency or hire local language resources.
Figure 2: Country-first Example
Furthermore, let’s look ahead: In two years, our retailer wants to expand to Italy. They already have Italian content, via the localized version of the Switzerland site, and it would be easy to synchronize that site. While that is true, what if you want to address this market in a different way than the other European sites using a new creative concept? It’s not simple and the devil is in the details. In summary, the country-first option is therefore not really efficient for our retailer.
But when is it a good fit? Ideally, whenever you have a different set of products and content or simple independent sites for each country. Often, this is the case if you have editorial teams in each of the countries who directly manage their language sites.
It’s very obvious what this option favors: aligning around the language.
The first step is the same as the country-first strategy, defining your parent locale. Choosing based on your country of origin or the language you use the most across all countries - both are good starting points. Next, identify all of the languages that you serve content to. For each language, define the country that is your main representative – for example, the locale that you focus on and where you earn the most revenue. Voilà! You have your second level. Last but not least, synchronize your language-driven preferred locales to all country-specific versions.
Figure 3: Language-first Example
You can see how that change in strategy changes the picture: we “converted” two costly translations into synchronizations!
Let’s consider again that the retailer wants to expand into the Italian market. Adding one cheap synchronization workflow into the mix is now relatively easy, since we already have the Italian site for Switzerland. At this point you still have the flexibility to make the site for Italy the predominant country over Switzerland or add Italy as a “child” of Switzerland. That decision should be based on your content and where your content will be changing the most. Ask yourself – how much will the content differ? Which of these would be more likely to change more often than the other?
If you want to offer languages that are spoken in many countries that your organization targets, the language-first approach can be beneficial. You can save money by replacing expensive translations with simpler synchronizations, which are much easier for smaller and more centralized editorial teams to manage. However, this strategy loses its effectiveness if you need very country-specific content.
Grouped strategies allow you to group locales based on several criteria, such as by currency, marketing strategy, branding differences, region or language. For this strategy, several locales can be grouped based on an indicator that the company values and is driving their content strategy.
Using our simple example, a grouped approach with a focus on language looks like this:
Figure 4: Grouped Example
The groups are structuring the hierarchy and have artificial group parents to allow for easier expansion. These artificial site layers create standardized access points where further locales can be added.
As you can see, there are far more sites to manage than with the language-first approach. But if we focus our grouping around language, is the Italian site for Italy the parent for the Italian site for Switzerland or vice versa? Here they are all inherited from THE Italian site. And if you consider other countries that speak Italian as an official language, such as Slovenia or Croatia, we can simply attach their sites directly to the Italian page. In this example, language is the driver for defining a region since the organization prioritizes minimizing translation.
A similar concept could work for an international brand that has historically used different brands for different regions. While all brands originate with the same company, who makes the same products and uses the same manufacturers, each brand has an artificial “site” and is localized based on the artificial node.
In general, the grouped approach gives you the most flexibility in the future since it reduces the potential for unexpected rearrangements in the hierarchy when market focuses change.
A more complex global comparison
In our earlier examples, we focused on a small setup within the European market to explore the strategies. Envision the same concepts if you also include locales from Asia or Americas!
We also can dive into these more complex variations. Here, we aim to handle 26 locales around the world. Let’s start with the country-first approach again. You can see one difference here: instead of using the origin as a locale, the retailer choses an artificial root-node for English to not prioritize any country.
Figure 5: Complex Country-first Example
Applying the language-first strategy to the same setup and still maintaining the neutral English root node, we can see that a lot of translations were exchanged for synchronizations.
Figure 6: Complex Language-first Example
Finally, let’s use the same setup for a partially grouped approach. The hierarchy only changes a bit but doesn’t favor any country over the other.
Figure 7: Complex Grouped Strategy example
Granted, there are many factors influencing the setup. Growth and history are always drivers that influence the whole analysis. But let’s make it simple and just compare translations and synchronization to determine which strategy is the best for our complex scenario.
Here we have a clear winner: The Language-first approach!
There is so much to consider and so many influencing factors when considering a localization strategy that it can be hard to decide and then stick to one strategy. And maybe we shouldn’t stick to just one – we should focus on what brings the most value for the organization.
Many other aspects can be examined, including:
- Do you use manual translation or automated services?
- How many workflows can your tech stack support?
- How complicated is it for your editorial team to keep track of the hierarchical relationships?
- How can you track progress of each workflow?
- How can you identify errors?
- How would the concept work if you remove a dedicated locale?
- Can you convert a translated site into a synchronized site and vice versa?
Most of these questions are tied to your tech stack and specifically what your Content Management System can do to support you every day.
Of course, each strategy doesn’t need to be followed religiously and changing needs will often throw your perfect approach into a spin, so also consider your company’s long-term strategy regarding growing and expanding markets.
At CoreMedia, we have extensive experience with localization and bringing value to global organizations. Many of our customers operate worldwide, with some serving over 150 locales.