Failure to Localize Is Undermining Your Massive Personalization Investment

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Read any marketing publication or forum, and you’ll see dozens of articles on personalization, the practice of customizing interactions with each customer to foster a stronger relationship with them, with the ultimate aim being to drive engagement and revenue. As someone who’s been in marketing and martech for many years, I’ve personally seen personalization (no pun intended) skyrocket in its perceived importance, albeit the narrative is largely driven by the ever-increasing number of tech vendors. Indeed, it’s no surprise that the personalization engines market was valued at $1.7 billion in 2020 and is projected to grow to $12 billion by 2028.

Vendor narratives aside, marketers frequently ruminate on how to balance privacy and personalization, how to effectively target ads, campaigns and even customer journeys, and which personalization technologies best drive revenue and customer engagement. But personalization discussions rarely touch on what I think should be one of the foundations of personalization: localization.

Picture this scenario: A global ecommerce company makes a major investment in personalization software to tailor its platform to individual customers based on behavioral and contextual data across dozens of national markets. But the company hasn’t thought through its personalization strategy in terms of language and localization. So, even if the product descriptions are translated (which often isn’t the highest quality), when a German/Spanish/French/Japanese customer goes to the contact center or help pages, with no localized content, they can’t understand how to exchange a purchase. Couple these with the fact that many emails and communications across the business are personalized in one language only, and it’s clear that a poor localization experience can really undermine any efforts to personalize.

Let’s consider what personalization really means, how localization can boost the effectiveness of personalization plans, and factors decision-makers should assess as they make localization a strategic focus together with personalization.

Why personalization is not a targeting exercise

Marketers often discuss personalization in the context of ad targeting or email. But if you only think about personalization as a targeting exercise, you’re building a strategy based on your needs, not the customer’s. It’s also well reported that poor personalization efforts can actually harm customer relationships (the same is also true with localization).

On the contrary, personalization should be thought of as a way of engaging with customers — on their terms. If you’re personalizing an email, this means catering to needs the customer has expressed in the past. If the conversation is in real time, you need to be able to react to what they’re telling you throughout their journey and amend your conversations accordingly.

But to truly put the customer at the center of your personalization strategy, I’d argue you also need to think about engaging with them in their language and in a way that respects the culture and conditions of their environment. For example, if a large percentage of your customers and prospects do not have English as a first language, wouldn’t it be better to have a plan to engage with them in their first language with high quality translated content and communication? In cases like this, done well using the latest technology, localization can foster an engagement and personalization strategy that feels truly relevant and tailored to the customer. This will yield far better results than any misfiring personalization tactics.

How localization bolsters personalization

Some companies haven’t undertaken any effort to localize. But with most international businesses, the more common scenario is that they’ve translated some of their content/product/website/apps, often as an after-thought, without thinking about localization across the end-to-end customer experience.

Ultimately, embracing a customer-centric view of engagement and personalization requires viewing localization not as an add-on but as a mandatory condition of doing business. Localization marks an opportunity to grow your business by reaching more customers in the manner of their choosing and in a way that is relevant to them as individuals, so surely it should be a huge part of any customer engagement or personalization program.

What to consider in your localization strategy

Here are four things to consider when making localization a core element of your customer engagement and growth strategy.

First, don’t think of localization in siloed departments. Localization is a process that impacts every customer touch point, and together, those touch points add up to make the experience a customer has with your brand. So, be sure not to limit localization to one website or stage of the customer journey.

Similarly, localization requires effective integrations. To address the entire customer experience, your localization technology needs to connect across personalization software, email software, customer service platforms, and logistics, for example. Anywhere you’re engaging your customers, your localization efforts should be present, too.

Thirdly, localization should be top of mind when thinking about your marketing and customer-facing technology stack, and it should be built into your personalization on a fundamental level. Ask yourself: 

  • Does our current process and technology allow for localization connectivity and collaboration across the business?
  • Does our tech stack enable us to quickly and efficiently manage the localization of quality content and the end-to-end customer experience?
  • What technology and tools are available to help us do this more effectively and at scale?

By considering the above questions, companies can begin to identify gaps and fragmentation in their current localization approaches and consider how to close them.

Finally, because localization touches so many parts of a business (product, engineering, customer services, legal and marketing, for example), your localization software should provide capabilities for each: an automated translation management platform, a product and software development application, workflows, analytics, and machine translation.

With a good localization strategy, your business can build revenue in new markets much more quickly and avoid translation blunders that will harm relationships. Businesses will spend billions of dollars on personalization this year. Don’t spend that money, fail to localize, and expect your customers across Italy, Spain, China, Japan, France, and Germany to feel like you’ve made an effort to “personalize” their experience.

Jason Hemingway
I joined Phrase as VP of Global Marketing in August 2022 and became CMO in December. A marketing veteran with 20+ years of experience in B2B marketing, CIM qualified and Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, I started my marketing career at Dow Jones Newswires in the bruising field of trading room systems and real-time news. After 7 years at Dow Jones I moved to IntraLinks (enterprise solutions for secure cloud collaboration) and ran the European marketing department until shortly after the company’s IPO in 2010. I joined Thunderhead in 2011 to run the EMEA regional marketing team.

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