If your company wants to introduce its newest widget in, say, Japan, it's probably a mistake to think that a simple English-to-Japanese translation of your supporting documents and ad campaign will help turn Japanese customers onto your product.
According to "localization" experts meeting at the Doubletree Hotel in Salt Lake City this week, introducing just about any product, particularly high-tech ones, into a foreign market takes a great amount of cultural savvy.For members of the Localisation Industry Standards Association, or LISA, getting a product ready for a foreign market means making a complicated match to people in a particular locale. Language, culture, climate and customs all must be considered.
For example, interactive software developers consider such things a clothing, icons, names and colors when developing products for foreign markets. Consumers in southern climates won't relate to images of people bundled up for winter, says Deborah Fry, director of a Germany-based language consultancy service, Fry and Bonthrone.
Besides cultural and linguistic issues, software developers must also build in room for codes to accommodate Asian and Arabic language scripts.
Without product and marketing planning, the results can be disastrous. Alan K. Melby, a Brigham Young University professor and pioneer of tools that assists in translation of computer software documentation, recalls the marketing mistakes of Chevy Nova in Latin America. Nova in Spanish means "no go."
At the same time, Melby says that companies cannot assume that English is an international language accepted around the world.
"Nationalism is growing. Just because someone can speak English doesn't mean they prefer a product in English," Melby said.
Utah firms that have localized their products for foreign markets agree it's not an easy process. One year ago, officials at the Folio Products Group of Open Market Inc., based in Provo, decided to market the electronic publishing software Folio Views in Japan. After an abandoned attempt to adapt the software in-house, the company considered several bids from localization firms, said Garth Despain with Open Market.
"They did it the right way," said Mark Lancaster, president of SDL International, a software and documentation localization firm based in Berkshire, England, which ended up winning Open Market's contract.
Several multinational firms including Deloitte and Touche have contracted with Folio to purchased the software to help produce their products in English and Japanese. The software will soon hit the market in Japan, Despain said.
He recommends that firms looking to globalize their market should have an extensive planning effort, make sure they understand the market they wish to enter and, if they contract for localization services, to shop around.
While LISA members focus primarily on the information technology industry, others are taking notice, including those in telecommunications and medical technology. Airlines, car manufacturers and entertainment companies are interested in localizing their products. For example, Disney Interactive participated in the Salt Lake meetings.
A drive to a global economy is fueling growth of localization businesses. Sales inside the localization industry is expected to top $2 million in 1997, according to LISA figures.
Utah benefits from the localization business with both academic and business ties. For example, Provo-based ALPNET is the largest publicly owned supplier of worldwide translation and product localization services, with more than 475 employees working in 14 countries. Novell and Corel are heavy users of localization services for their products.
Brigham Young University and University of Utah linguistic professors and students helped pioneer computerized tools to help in translation of software documentation.