Digital transformation and acceleration strategies may be thought of as being seamlessly global by default. On the one hand, digital is global by nature as it enables and empowers you to cross physical borders and grow your business beyond your horizon. On the other hand, embarking on such a journey does not mean that global engagement and execution will go without saying and without dealing with much local complexity. This is where localization considerations and imperatives often play out in order to synchronize digital transformation with global expansion.
In each step of your roadmap you have to define priorities, negotiate trade-offs and make decisions with local entities that are tied to objectives that are really SMART (i.e. specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound in each and every target market). Here are a few criteria and examples that can help you think about these dependencies upfront and adjust your digital transformation plans accordingly if needed. You should realize that localization impacts what you have to do, and also how you have to behave when communicating and collaborating around the world. It is a business process as much as it is a human challenge.
Equally important, the following points can give you some ideas of how effective localization can get you out of trouble, whether it relates to your content, products or customers in and outside your company. Essentially, cost- and time-effective localization has to be considered a performance driver of your international digital transformation rather than a financial burden.
Digital transformation has to be accessible in each market. Localization enables you to reach out to your audience and customers where and when they want it. Internally, it means ensuring that local stakeholders understand the goals of transforming processes and adopt a digital mindset. To make this happen, evangelizing and training them requires different channels (e.g. in-person sessions in Asian countries or remote sessions in Western Europe) that are more or less preferred and efficient. Externally, localizing means engaging with local customers in their ecosystems and environments. Therefore you have to test and use platforms that are familiar as well as channels that are convenient for them. You should also localize all touchpoints where local customers need to see evidence of your digital strategy and potentially know more about it. For example, considering Yandex as your immediate target for search optimization in Russia is as sensible as doing the same thing with Google in the U.S.
Digital transformation has to be valuable in each market. Localization enables you to resonate with your audience and customers. Internally, it implies focusing on local experience requirements to accommodate variances and anticipate evolutions. You should focus your localization readiness efforts on understanding linguistic and cultural expectations in each target market. It empowers your stakeholders to make decisions and priorities about how to align product or service value chains with realistic business goals locally. For instance, they must be aware that digitized information has to be more concise, and in mobile-first countries, it has to be mostly portable and shareable. Externally, localizing means delivering local customer experiences and not just translated words or adapted visuals. Your digital strategy must truly resonate with local customers naturally. As part of digital transformation, you have to design and develop global content according to customer research and metrics while considering the creation of local content when it makes business sense.
Digital transformation has to be actionable in each market. Localization enables you to lead your audiences and customers to act, react, and interact without friction. Internally, it means providing tools, features, and assets that help your stakeholders to perform their daily tasks within a digital framework. The best digital content in the most relevant channel is not going to cut it if users cannot leverage it for their purpose. A typical example of locally actionable assets is data visualization tools that your sales or marketing teams must use on a daily basis. If they do not have the functionality they need locally to create, update, or export charts and dashboards they end up making limited and time-consuming use of critical data. Externally localizing means converting leads to become customers and convincing customers to come back as quickly and often as possible to your digital platform(s) or application(s). Customer acquisition and retention is a major cost driver and the success factor in local commercial strategies. Therefore you should invest in localizing components of your digital products and content which assist and prompt your local customers to perform actions intuitively. Business generating features in customer journeys such as acquisition and purchase are particularly at stake. Online payment frequently comes up as an example of a localized feature. If you intend to move away from the usual money transfer and go for options based on credit cards, cryptocurrencies, or mobile payments, you should use options that are functionally and legally relevant in each market.
Digital transformation has to be timely in each market. Localization enables your audiences and customers to benefit from digital transition and implementation when it is most impactful. Internally, it implies phasing processes that should be removed, updated, and added in line with local dependencies. The level and the scope of digital maturity is not the same around the world. So some digital operations must be calibrated and planned to match local facts and keep up with the local competition. It is sensible to introduce – and localize – a sophisticated analytical tool in selected developed markets where stakeholders have the capacity to use it rather than deploying it simultaneously worldwide. Externally localizing means launching or accelerating digital cycle times in full synchronization with local customer journeys. You have to respond to customers with agility, whether it is through a campaign promoting your product or an assistance application for buyers. A linear value chain must be translated into smaller projects or experiments that localization facilitates. Timely digital transformation may also require a combination of digital and physical touchpoints in some markets to avoid disruption, at least during a certain time. Localization also comes to play in such cases by delivering the right mix of content formats and categories.
From a local customer perspective, digital transformation has to be simple. This may sound provocative considering it is a significant cross-functional and time-consuming effort for you. But above all, it should be simple to understand so that it can be adopted and implemented by engaged people locally. Leading digital transformation across many markets is challenging and complex. It should be unfailingly positioned and sold to each local team or resource in charge of making it happen. Localization paves the way to local engagement, collaboration, and delivery.