How’s this for a challenge? “We want you to manage IT for the regional offices. Well, part of it. You won’t know who’s working on the other parts. No, there’s no software to knit everything together — we can’t justify the spend. No, we don’t know the overall spend. You’ll have enough budget to do about 20% of what people want. No, we haven’t got any data on what people want. But we do know that they’re unhappy with the quality.”

This is the sort of madness that localization managers live in. Localization is expensive, and the scope of work encompasses the product interface, website, apps, e-commerce, sales and marketing collateral, technical documentation, training, and all the stuff for legal, finance, HR, operations, and supply chain. Localization managers make sure that these are in the local language and/or have local elements such as data formats, legal/regulatory information, cultural factors, thought leaders, customer stories, imagery, and market data. And they have almost zero institutional support to do it in a rational, scalable manner.

I’ve led localization for over 25 years, and I’ve realized that the reason this insane, expensive, manual approach continues to plague us is that we lack the tools to prioritize localization properly. Localization is part of too many workflows, too many functions, too many cost centers. Against that, we have localization managers who are embedded within functions and have no time, authority, or ability to set up enterprise systems. Meanwhile, executives can’t make investment decisions without data, presenting a vicious circle.

The Three Keys: Countries, Customers, And Coverage

So Mavis Liew and I built the Forrester Localization Prioritization Tool. We agreed that it had to be based on three elements:

  • Country importance and ability to win. Localization is part and parcel of the customer experience, affecting how customers perceive ease of use, effectiveness, and emotional connection. We reasoned that localization will have a higher impact on win rate in countries that have less of a built-in product advantage, especially if audiences in that country strongly prefer localized touchpoints. Marketing and customer experience leaders should consider: Which countries will be most important to you, financially and strategically, over the next three years? How likely are you to achieve your target market share in those countries?
  • Customer preference. Understanding local preferences is a strong indicator of a mature localization program. Some audiences will walk if you don’t use their language and local elements, or they’ll go with a “good enough” competitor who does. In other countries or with other roles, it may be a nice-to-have or a nonissue. Picture the range of touchpoints in each country for each customer role: interactions, content, apps, products. The magic question for localization prioritization is: Which ones do customers want to have in local languages or with local elements?
  • Coverage of key touchpoints. To customers, your company is the sum of all the touchpoints. If the localized experience is inconsistent and substandard, customers will conclude that either you don’t care about them or you’re disorganized. Neither one of those is a great look for you. So ask yourself: Which touchpoints are you localizing now? Are you looking at the whole customer lifecycle? Are you covering the ones your customers care about?

The Information You Need To Prioritize Localization

In the companies where I have worked, and with the clients I’ve advised at Forrester, this information is known — by multiple people, all over the world. The trick is assembling the information in a useful, maintainable format with clear, easy-to-share guidance.

We designed our tool to:

  • Show which countries are most important to win and where localization may have the greatest impact.
  • Track localization preferences over multiple roles or personas and across all touchpoints in the customer lifecycle.
  • Be easy to build out bit by bit, with insights that are useful at every stage. Localization preferences are a long-lasting attribute, so the tool becomes an increasingly powerful central resource.
  • Separate language from local elements such as culture and market data. They can apply independently — a piece could be in the local language with no local elements or have local elements but not be in the local language — and people care about them differently.
  • Map customer preferences to what’s currently localized. Show which parts of the customer lifecycle are well resourced and which are neglected.
  • Show what kinds of localization to prioritize, maintain, deprioritize, or do on an as-needed basis.
  • Provide a clear list of annual localization volumes to share with vendors. Show how well localization management and infrastructure stack up to the need in order to guide investment decisions.

Forrester clients can now leverage the Localization Prioritization Tool to cut through silos, streamline processes, and prioritize localization investments – and set up a guidance session with me for additional insights and support. With this tool, fewer people will have to panic when their boss starts a conversation with “We want you to take this on … ”