Challenges of going vernacular: A thought for newly localizing brands

Written by: Gomathi Shankar

If languages were to be characters, English can at best be a good-mannered colleague but only a vernacular language can be the buddy to share inside jokes and fool around with. Brands are increasingly desiring to be that ‘friend’ to their target audience. They want to speak the language that delights and not just communicates. If it takes so many languages to delight so many people, so be it! 

Localization is rapidly changing the landscape of consumer engagement in several industries. Conversations are moving from mass media to ultra-personal touch points within the palms of people. There is a greater emphasis on personal touch to make customers feel more at home. This new ambition is not born out of a nicety. Rather, it has become a necessity. Competition is growing. Market shares are shrinking. Differentiation is more challenging. In such a business environment, a successful vernacular strategy opens up hitherto untapped markets and creates a strong differentiator in the existing market segments as well. But it is easier said than done. What are the challenges facing brands in going vernacular? In our rich experience of understanding brands and languages, here are the top five challenges. 

1. Losing absolute control over the narrative

Localization is not a new phenomenon at all. Media and publishing industries have been successfully adapting content into various languages from time immemorial. But their core product is ‘content’ and they understand the intricacies of translation and localization. However to most new brands going vernacular, language experience is not the core product even though it is a critical component of customer delight. Naturally, even the sharpest minds of such organizations face nervous moments in decision making. Going vernacular also means losing absolute control of the narrative in their point of view. How can they be sure that their brand’s key message is delivered exactly the way they want in a language they don’t understand? This leap of faith scares several companies into playing safe rather than aiming high. Those who succeed in this nervous mission are those who find the right people to speak on their behalf. 

2. Puzzling question of priorities

Each brand has multiple touch points for a consumer. In most cases, brands do not have the will and resources to go all out local at once. This is where one must decide where to start. To answer this question, a brand should carefully study each touchpoint from a language experience point of view and understand where the impact would be maximum. The most visible experiences are usually the most rewarding ones as well. It can be an advertisement, a website’s landing page or a product interface. These touchpoints attract and delight a customer instantly and make them want more of this experience. A good vernacular strategy will start with this priority touch point and follow it up comprehensively till the whole experience is recreated in the target language. Similarly, effective market segmentation will also give a clue about which languages to prioritize while localizing.

3. Identifying the right partners

All brands can not have the luxury of in-house language and culture experts. Identifying the right localization partner plays a major role in the success of a vernacular strategy. We carefully use the term ‘partner’ because that is the attitude that works best in this mission. A wise brand would do well to partner with the right agency that understands and reflects its core values. It is easier then to train and align the agency to the brand’s exact wavelength. Where there is a sense of shared ownership, there is mutual trust and effort to succeed. A transactional relationship will only just be that, and nothing more!

4. Understanding localization vs. translation

Think of this phrase. There is no set rule that a well-set brand should rule a market like a monopoly. In fact there is a thumb rule that states that any brand that tries to do so will only fall like a set of cards. There are three instances each of the words ‘set’ and ‘rule’ which appear in entirely different contexts here. A translator, who tries to match the source sentence word-to-word with a target sentence is very likely to set new standards for comedy of errors here. On the other hand, a localizer will see the underlying message and pass it on through a different language. Language is a funny thing. And it can sure get very funny when it goes wrong. Funny to the outside world, but embarrassing to the brands involved. We must remember that localization is one of the few remaining areas where a machine has not yet been able to outsmart a human. Resist the temptation to translate and embrace localization by context. That goes beyond words!

5. Achieving efficiency with quality

Good businesses always find a way to improve their efficiency. There is always a redundancy to shed, a similarity to leverage, a process to automate and a potential for scale. Technology has transformed the localization industry with the help of Computer Aided Translation (CAT) tools. As much as language is an art, there is also a science behind localization which allows ample room for optimization. For a newly localizing brand, this will be the easiest of the challenges to understand because it is in a familiar territory of numbers and logic. Make sure that your localization partner is well-equipped to create and apply tech-enabled solutions to cater to your needs. 

All points considered, it definitely makes more business sense to go vernacular than not. Make sure your brand goes in with the right mind and right partner.

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