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The Glocalization of Content: Part One

Content is king. But how can you glocalize it to ensure seamless experiences worldwide? Part One of our guide to glocalizing content is here.

Key Takeaways

  • In international digital rollouts, companies must reconsider and widen their perception of ‘content’.  
  • When glocalizing, organizations need to understand the specific types of content they’re dealing with, to identify challenges and allocate time and awareness from the start.
  • Glocalizing doesn’t just mean translation: it requires overcoming cross-cultural barriers as well as language barriers, which means involving cultural experts.

Glocalization of Content: An Example

Let’s take a look at the example of a project for a global manufacturer rolling out an international software. In order to make this software accessible from anywhere in the world, all text, images and content will need to be translated into around 20 other languages. However, a simple direct translation to the new language might not be sufficient. This is because it won’t take into account other factors such as cultural norms, expectations, and associations. It also won’t take into account the need to display content in a variety of character sets (such as Cyrillic alphabets used in Russia and other Eastern European countries, or Abjads, alphabets used in languages such as Arabic and Hebrew, or Hanzi characters used in languages such as Japanese or Korean).

 

For this global manufacturer then, this is so much more than just a simple translation project. It must therefore be considered as a process that’s more than the sum of its parts, and certainly more than a simple transfer of text into another language. An effective glocalization process will require a breakdown of the types of content you have, the challenges posed by each type of content and a resultant approach to the project which manages these challenges from the start with the involvement of cultural experts.

 

In this article, we’ll take a look at how to approach a challenge like this to ensure that the glocalization of content results in smooth customer journeys regardless of geography and quality data which complies with international standards.

Beyond Words: What Do We Mean By Content?

They say ‘content is key’, and content is a hot topic we hear every day. It’s a term that can be used to signify many different things, but in this case of the extensive content involved in an international rollout, what exactly does ‘content’ mean?

 

Simply, it refers to any materials used to connect businesses and customers. This means:

 

  • It can take many different formats including  text, images, videos, instructions, articles, web copy, digital assets as well as offline assets.
  • It can be ‘outbound’ content, meaning materials that are distributed by companies to the customer (such as instruction manuals) or internally (such as company web copy and design). ‘Outbound’ content will always need to be adapted into the recipient’s language and character set since they’ll be the user of the content.
  • On the other hand, it also includes ‘inbound’ content, meaning that which is provided by the customer or employee to the company (such as information through online forms). This will therefore need to be adapted into the company’s working language and character set since they will be the users of the content.
  • Additionally, it applies to content with different levels of ownership. It could mean content that’s owned by the company (such as blog articles created in house), or that which is not owned by the company (such as personal private data or other corporations’ data). These variations come with legal challenges which will depend on the country’s particular legal approach to data privacy and personal information.

 

Therefore, ‘content’ here is far greater than just text or marketing materials. In this context it means any material that goes between a customer and company. In glocalization projects, companies must account for the sheer volume of this content, and the different challenges posed by the different types of data.

The Volatility of Content: Classifying the Content You Have

When starting to manage the glocalization of content, there are four key questions businesses need to ask: 

 

  • What kind of content am I dealing with? (Text, images, audio)
  • What purpose does it serve? (Describing, defining, entertaining, educating)
  • Who does it belong to? (German corporation, Japanese customer, local French distributor) 
  • Does it involve meta-data? (SEO (Search-engine-optimization) data, product-numbers) 

 

Once we’ve established the answers to these questions, you need to identify the kind of differentiators you are dealing with when glocalizing the content. These could include: 

 

  • Language. This comprises translation as well as language dependent aspects like video, audio and icons. This needs to  allow for variations in language and dialect according to region (such as Brazilian Portuguese vs Portuguese). 
  • Character sets. This includes European special characters, and entirely different characters like Greek, and those in different formulations (right to left, top to bottom) like Hebrew or Japanese.
  • Culture. This goes beyond language to include humor that doesn’t correspond to other cultures, idiomatic expressions, word associations and nuances.

Beyond Translation: Cultural Adaptation

Going back to the example of the aforementioned manufacturer, though they may have translated the date of an event  to be organised through an online portal, they may have failed to grasp that different cultures write dates in different structures. Other geographies might also require a larger field in an online calendar to incorporate a variation in the way they structure dates. A marketing image chosen for their blog which might convey ideas of innovation and progress to one culture, might imply danger and foreboding to another culture. A word when directly translated into another language might have an unwanted formality, informality or niche meaning. Experiences that make up a smooth and intuitive customer journey in one culture, might be confusing and disruptive to another. Therefore, to ensure smooth customer journeys, we need to go beyond translation and think of glocalization as requiring something more: cultural adaptation.

Communication in Glocalization: Identifying Complexity in Teams

In addition to the nature of the content we’re dealing with, we also need to identify the context of a glocalization project in terms of the parties involved. Those managing the project need to identify how difficult and complex the glocalization process will be depending on the parties involved: their nationalities, languages spoken, experience and potential cultural barriers. 

 

This complexity exists on a large scale.  A low level of complexity will mean parties involved (eg. software provider and manufacturer) speak each other’s languages and are relatively similar in culture (eg. German and French). This ranges right up to the highest level of complexity in which both parties are forced to communicate in languages they aren’t confident speaking, and there is a large cultural gap to be crossed (eg. German and Chinese parties, speaking in English).

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The larger the cultural and linguistic gap between the parties, the greater the possibility of misunderstandings, mistrust, potential offense and misrepresentation. Therefore, the greater the complexity level, the more important it is to factor in time and resources for communications and reaching agreements from the outset. In large-scale glocalization projects, managing the human level is just as important as the technical elements.

Approaching Glocalization: The Importance of Cultural Experts

Once you’ve identified the exact nature of the content you’re dealing with, and the level of complexity that provides the content to your glocalization project, how can you approach internationalization?

 

  • Involve experts that are culturally immersed as well as having linguistic skills. These experts will help you to make your content accessible and your customer experience positive for users in particular locations that have culturally specific and sensitive elements.
  • These expert insights should be leveraged alongside data-driven insights into customer behavior and expectations.
  • Be aware that projects like this will need time and patience. They aren’t just a simple transfer of materials into another language but a large scale adaptation project, which will need to involve local experts.

Conclusion

Therefore, when approaching an international digital rollout, it’s crucial to reconsider and widen the idea of ‘content’ to include more than just translation. It’s important to understand the specific types of content to be dealt with, to be aware of the particular challenges they’ll present. A glocalization project will also require an awareness of cultural barriers to be overcome, in addition to language and textual issues. The negotiation process of this glocalization will also include a level of complexity dependant on the parties involved, which will need to be bridged and navigated to ensure a high standard of communication. A key solution to these challenges will be the involvement  of cultural experts from the outset, as well as building in time from the start to manage these complex issues.

 

Join us for Part Two of The Glocalization of Content, in which we will take a look at how this applies to a global software development project, as we look at glocalization of content  ‘in action’.



Lars Metze

Senior Business Consultant