KNOWLEDGE BASE Cultural Localization For The US

 

CULTURAL LOCALIZATION FOR THE US

 

Localization is essentially making a product or service appear as if it was developed in the local market, and it's a key component of expanding into new countries. Cultural localization uses things such as local customs, colors, societal codes and values, and similar cues and sensibilities that are understood by the market.   Once you have a better sense for the culture of the United States, you'll be able to better localize your website and mobile apps for Americans. You’ll know what you can handle yourself and what areas will require professional guidance.

More broadly speaking, depending on any particular country where you are expanding, there may be a lot of similarities to your own.  With others, things will be very different. In either case, there will be changes necessary to localize your product for that new market.

 

Global strategy, internationalization, localization...and globalization

Let’s first  take a moment and put localization into context with internationalization and having a global strategy, since you will sometimes hear these terms used interchangeably.  We'll also give you a quick definition of globalization to help you differentiate it from global strategy.

Global Strategy - At some point, going global has entered your strategy, which is probably what brought you to Globig. Developing a global strategy is the process of addressing all of the logistical and organizational aspects for content, assets, and message across markets and cultures for your global expansion. Think of it as the first step in your process, as the foundation for what comes next.  In the process of developing your global strategy you’ll want to consider:

  • The research, identification, market validation, and selection for any new global market

  • The capturing and formalizing of global business requirements

  • Identification of technology standards, available solutions, and how your systems, products, and services integrate with these standards

  • Language differences leading to translation needs

  • Cultural considerations that could impact your product, service, messaging, and interactions

  • Any opportunities for marketing or technological reuse across global markets as you expand

  • Internal alignment and support for globalization, internationalization, and localization

Internationalization (i18n) - This is the process by which you prepare the technical aspects of your product or service to easily be localized, and requires both technical expertise and a knowledge of the markets you plan to enter. It is essentially building flexibility into your coding, site layout, and documents so that you can easily switch from one language to another, from one cultural setting to another. If you have done your i18n correctly, you can much more quickly and cost-effectively localize as you expand.

Localization (l10n) - With localization, you are making a product or service in such a way that it culturally belongs in that market, so that it feels natural and local. Depending on the market, localization may include:

  • Changing the language out to the one used in the new market

  • Changing out images, colors, and other visuals to be appropriate for that market

  • New time zones, contact information, hours of operation

Globalization - We've already defined what having a global strategy means. Globalization is not another term for having a global strategy. In fact, they mean very different things. Compare the definition below to the description of Global Strategy above, and you'll see that what you are undertaking is a global strategy, not globalization.

 

Globalization: The worldwide movement toward economic, financial, trade, and communications integration.

Globalization implies the opening of local and nationalistic perspectives to a broader outlook of an interconnected and interdependent world with free transfer of capital, goods, and services across national frontiers.

BusinessDictionary.com

 

If you understand local culture and etiquette, you will have a better chance of successfully communicating and providing products that fit. We’ll pull some of the information highlighted in the Business Culture section to provide background to this discussion.

 

Cultural localization for the US

Cultural refers to things such as:

  • Colors, shapes, sizes, styles

  • Images, icons, graphics

  • Societal codes; i.e. humor, etiquette, rituals, myths, symbols

  • Societal values, power, relationships, beliefs

 

Let’s look at how culture can play into product  localization in the United States.

 

National culture

Each culture has a collective way of thinking, which in turn affects the workplace.  For instance, in cultures where getting along is much more important than arguing, negotiations can be very confusing for someone who is used to saying what they think and demanding results.  In order to better understand how values in the workplace are influenced by culture, Geert Hofstede of the Hofstede Center conducted a comprehensive study around six different dimensions and uses this information to help explain business culture in a number of countries.

The six dimensions follow, with a brief summary for where the US falls according to Hofstede’s research. It’s well worth your time to read through this section to get a sense for the national culture dimensions for the United States.

 

The six dimensions are:

 

Power Distance

A measure for how much the less powerful members of a society accept and expect that power is distributed unequally. The United States scores toward the lower end of this scale, suggesting that Americans prefer to equalize inequalities in the distribution of power and do not simply accept that others have more power and control.  There is a lot of sharing of information between managers and workers, and managers are expected to be accessible. Business interactions tend to be informal and participative.

 

Individualism vs. Collectivism

In societies that show more individualism, its members are expected to take care of just themselves and their immediate families.  In societies that show more collectivism, individuals can expect that their family or members of their particular group will take care of them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty. The US has one of the highest scores in this category, indicating that Americans as a group are very individualistic. Society is loosely-knit, with people looking after themselves and family, but not the greater society at large. There is a great deal of geographic mobility and people are comfortable with doing business with and interacting with people they don’t know very well. They are therefore willing to reach out to others for information, even those they don’t know very well. Because of the low power distance culture combined with high individualism, employees are expected to take initiative and not wait for direction.

 

Masculinity vs. Femininity

Masculine societies show a preference for achievement, heroism, assertiveness, and material rewards, and are more competitive. Feminine societies show a preference for cooperation, modesty, caring for the weak, and quality of life, and are generally more consensus-oriented. Americans score high on the masculine side, reflecting their competitive, success-oriented, winner-take-all nature. Americans like to win and have other people see their success. Americans have a can-do attitude and like to be measured against targets to show how well they did. Because there is a goal to be the winner, a certain amount of conflict may arise from the competition to be the winner.

 

Uncertainty Avoidance

The level of discomfort members of a society feel with uncertainty and ambiguity. Americans score below average on this dimension, indicating that they are open to new ideas, other’s  opinions, and innovative products.

 

Long Term vs. Short Term Orientation

The degree to which cultures prefer to maintain long-held traditions while viewing change with suspicion versus cultures that encourage thrift and modern education as a way to prepare for the future. The US has a score that shows the Americans believe in long-held traditions and will check new information to make sure it is true. There is also a “good vs. evil” dynamic, which plays out in attitudes on many social issues.

 

Indulgence vs. Restraint 

Indulgent societies allow for relatively free gratification related to enjoying life and having fun. Restrained societies suppress gratification of needs and regulate them by means of strict social norms. The US scores as an indulgent society, and combined with the other dimensions, this shows up in dichotomies such as having strong anti-drug laws coupled with high rates of usage.

If you would like to learn more about this research and its findings, Geert Hofstede, Gert Jan Hofstede, Michael Minkov have written several books that you can read.

And once you've got a sense for the dimensions, watch this interesting video that shows how the different parts of the world compare.

 

If you’d like to hear Geert Hofstede himself describe these spectrums, take a look at the following short videos:

10 Minutes on Power Distance

10 Minutes on Uncertainty Avoidance

10 Minutes on Masculinity vs. Femininity

10 Minutes on Individualism vs. Collectivism

10 Minutes on Long Term  vs. Short Term Orientation

10 Minutes on Indulgence vs. Restraint

 

Images, icons, and graphics

Images, icons, and graphics take on special meaning in a culture, and when combined with other cultural influences, can make or break a marketing campaign’s or service’s success. The way that people perceive and interpret symbols and cultural norms is called Semiotics, and those perceptions vary from country to country.

Semiotics is the study of signs and their associated interpretation or meaning, and it’s the primary way that we understand concepts familiar to us within a culture. Your company’s ability to tap into that interpretation in the United States will contribute to your success. To avoid conveying your own culture’s meaning of images, text, and sounds, we recommend that you find local specialists to help you in developing products, services, and campaigns that are relevant to the US and don’t inadvertently confuse or alienate your potential customers.

This video gives an overview of semiotics and should give you a better understanding for what it is all about.

 

Holidays in the US

While Christianity is the dominant religion in the United States, just one federal holiday is based on a significant religious date - Christmas. The others are all secular events. Easter, while a popular Christian holiday, is not observed at the federal level and most companies do not observe it as a work holiday. There are also many holidays that are popular with Americans and are used as  commercial opportunities (Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, and Halloween, for instance), though they are not considered work holidays.

To familiarize yourself with the federal and primary popular holidays, you can start with the tables below and find additional popular holidays along with these in the Globig US Media Calendar for 2016 and 2017.

 

Table of federal and popular US holidays in 2016
 

Time your activities around the US holiday calendar, either to take advantage of certain holidays or to avoid them.  You can also download the US Media Calendar for 2016 and 2017 to keep track of your important dates along with the US public and popular holidays.

 

Humor in the United States 

Humor is different for every country, a fact that many of us may not have considered - we just laugh when we think something is funny. If your country’s style of humor is different from that in America and you bring it with you, you may end up confusing your

target audience, or worse, actually offending them.  

 

The following clip with the British actor Stephen Fry compares British and American humor, and demonstrates how different humor can be from country to country.


 

Before using humor in promoting your product or service (or building it into your product, service, website, or app), be sure that you have guidance from localization and marketing experts to help you get it just right for the American audience.

 

Localizing for color in the US 

In some cultures, color plays a very important role. In fact, though we may not think about it much, color plays a role in any culture.  For instance, have you ever thought about what the color white signifies? In Western cultures, white is often used to represent the 'good guy', angels, doctors, and peace.It’s the traditional color for wedding dresses.  However, to the Chinese white signifies death and mourning, and in India, unhappiness. If you launch a campaign in China showing a smiling, happy person dressed all in white, you will likely confuse your audience and miss the mark with your campaign. Now, imagine if there was a campaign showing an American bride in a red dress - the traditional color worn by brides in the East. That would send a very different message from the expected white. You get the picture.  

The colors you use in your app, on your website, or in your marketing materials are very important.  The chart below shows how a color can have a different meaning depending on the culture.  Quite simply, assuming that colors mean the same thing that they do in your country may sabotage your success. On the other hand, using the right color will help your product or service feel more natural in the United States.

The following chart gives you an idea for how colors take on different meanings in different cultures.

Chart showing the meaning of color in different cultures

We recommend that you get local expert help on branding and marketing  in the US and that you include color in your conversation. At the very least, find some trusted people who can give you some color guidance before you build color into your product or launch a campaign that loses effectiveness because the colors just don’t feel right.

 

Website style localization for the US

Website styling varies from region to region and does not always transfer very well.  A good example is the big difference between current website layout in the US versus what you will see in Singapore or China. Websites in those countries tend to be much busier - have a lot more happening on any page - than what you’ll typically find in the United States.

Here is the homepage for Coca Cola in the U.S.

 Image of Coca Cola USA home page

And here is the homepage for Coca Cola in Singapore. While it’s still clearly Coca Cola, it’s got a lot more going on.

 

Image of Coca Cola Singapore home page

Another good comparison is Taobao’s homepage with Amazon’s “Today’s Deals” page.  Taobao is ranked by Alexa as the 32nd most visited website in Singapore (and 3rd in China).  It’s a merchandise website for Chinese consumers with a wide range of products and services.

 

Image of Taobao website homepage

 

And here is an example from Amazon, which has a lot more white space and less color.

Image of an Amazon.com “Today’s Deals” page

You may not be from China or Singapore, but these examples are meant to convey the thought that what feels comfortable and local - normal - for a website in one country or region of the world can feel very strange to another. Be sure that you understand the current website layout preferences for the United States, or any country you enter. It’s very likely you will need some professional assistance to determine if what you have will work as it is, needs some adjusting, or needs a major overhaul in order to be localized for the US market.

 

Cultural localization for the US

The areas we’ve discussed in this section give you an idea for how cultural localization works. There are many components to it and when you pay attention to them, you can do a better job of making your product or service feel as if it was always made for the market.

Cultural localization is an important component of your success in the US or in any new country you enter. There are things you can do to localize your website, your mobile app, your marketing efforts, and your supporting documentation that will make your products and services feel more natural and comfortable, and thereby increase the chances that what you have to sell will be accepted.  We recommend you find people who are experts in localization in the US who can help you get it right. If you need help in finding the right fit for you, Globig has compiled a number of experts in the Marketplace who may be just right for your company.

KNOWLEDGE BASE Cultural Localization For The US