When in Rome: The Importance of Localization in Market Research

Do you run a multi-national corporation…or hope to in the future? Either way, you need to conduct international market research. Such research has its challenges. International surveys frequently require translation at both the “front-end” (the questions) and the “back-end” (the responses), as well as for the invitation, introduction, error messages, and more. In some countries, such as Switzerland and South Africa, translation into multiple languages or dialects is also necessary.

But translation is only half the battle. Another crucial—and often overlooked—process is localization. Localization “involves making specific questions or words local in character or meaning.” In other words, it “ensures that the translated versions are on-target, contextually precise, and culturally correct.” Without localization, research participants may misinterpret or bypass certain questions, resulting in weaker or inaccurate insights.

Popular Topics Requiring Localization Include:

Currency: If a question references money, the amount should reflect the prevailing exchange rate. It should also be denominated in the local currency. For example, a question like “Do you spend more than $100 on shoes?” should be “Do you spend more than €89 on shoes?” in Ireland.
Income: On a related note, questions about income should factor in purchasing power, i.e. the amount of goods and services that income can buy. After all, $50,000 goes a lot further in a developing country than in the United States. (Just look at The Economist’s Big Mac index).
Education: Ever heard of A-levels, lycées, or DPhils? The names of education systems and degrees vary greatly by country. Moreover, they are not universally equivalent. A law degree in the United Kingdom, for example, is an undergraduate degree, while a law degree in the US is a graduate degree. Hence, any question about educational attainment should use local terminology and classifications.
Brands: Unlike Coca-Cola and Apple, most brands are not global. And it may be for good reason (e.g. a snow tire company would “not be as relevant in Brazil as…[in] Canada). So before asking a research question about a particular brand, verify that the brand exists in that particular locale.  
Spelling: The US and British Commonwealth may share a language, but the spellings certainly differ! If a question features words with alternate spellings, be sure to use the British variant when appropriate. Pay particular attention to words containing “or” (e.g favorite, behavior), “er” (e.g. center, theater), or a single “l” (e.g. canceled, totaled).

Controversial Subjects: In some countries, posing questions about politics, money, ethnicity, religion, and sex is not just uncomfortable. It is highly offensive, intrusive, and even illegal! The European Commission, for example, does not allow questions about race in Germany, given its past. Thus, any taboo question should be reformulated or removed.

At first glance, localizing surveys may seem simple and clear-cut. However, to accurately localize, a person requires an almost native understanding of a region’s language, culture, norms, etc. They need an “artful and analytical skill set” and great attention to detail. Finally, the person “must be aware of the subtleties and nuances intended by the original writers.” 

Many research organizations fall short on these criteria. Hence, they decline to localize or put the onus on the client. But not Op4G—we are ramping up our full-service offerings, including translation and localization. For a modest fee, we can arrange such services upon request. 

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When in Rome: The Importance of Localization in Market Research

International surveys frequently require translation. But translation is only half the battle. Another crucial—and often overlooked—process is localization. Localization involves making specific questions or words local in character or meaning. Research participants may misinterpret or bypass questions without localization, resulting in weaker or inaccurate insights. Read this blog to understand common topics requiring localizations.

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