A friend of mine, who is the managing director of a European LSP – language service provider & DTP company, contacted me for advice recently. He explained that a potential client of his wondered if his sales in Japan were low because his company had not localized their products into Japanese? The client went onto explain that his sales were good in Europe, so wondered if it was more down to his products’ suitability for the Japanese market rather than them not being localized.
Will localizing my products increase my sales in Asia? is a seemingly straightforward question, however, opens up an array of contributing answers which I would like to share with members of this Group.
Potential exporters to Asian markets need to have products local consumers will want to purchase. A good example of how to get it wrong was Mattel’s attempt to launch Barbie in China. The company spent millions in acquiring the six story Barbie Building in Shanghai to launch the doll, so famous in the West. But Mattel failed to take into account Chinese parents would not necessarily want to buy the blonde, blue-eyed doll for their daughters. Furthermore, most Chinese consumers had never even heard of Barbie, so the failure to evaluate and prepare the domestic market and ‘localize’ Barbie cost the manufacturer dearly.
When I was last in Tokyo I was impressed with the volume and variety of products available, most, however, were manufactured in Asia. The only Western products I recall seeing in any volume were English china, Scottish whisky, BMW and Mercedes cars, British, French and Italian fashion items and Philips electronics equipment. During a client visit I asked the managing director of a German electronics components company about this and he told me, with a wry smile, that in Japan and, in fact any Asian territory, distribution was the key. And that many Western companies, in his opinion did not grasp this. He went on to say that companies who did not research local markets and find efficient distribution down to their target end-users or consumers would simply fail.
China, Japan and Korea, Asia’s main economies, have different regulations for user manuals and product information which need to be adhered to. Medical devices and hospital equipment, for example, are big business in Asia. Documentation, user guides, service manuals, not only need to be translated, they need to be localized to have an Asian look & feel and be produced in accordance to local government regulations specific to the product’s use.
No matter whether you are an airline, or manufacture automobiles, consumer electronics, life sciences & medical equipment, clothing or industrial equipment, your Asian customers do not want to be confronted with Western images, packaging or manuals laid out in colours, fonts and styles which are alien to them – think of the Barbie Doll fiasco mentioned above. Asian buyers and consumers want good quality products with good quality documentation & packaging that conform to Asian expectations. When appropriate, they want a (Asian) localized website to support their purchases.
The Localization Industry has globalized over the past 4 or so years, with a plethora of LSP’s available that European and US manufacturers can easily access directly. It seems the preference of many manufacturers in France, Germany and Sweden, for example, to use local LSP’s geographically close to them. But is this the best choice? Here are two examples for you to ponder:
I have done business with two European automobile manufacturers; the first insists on using LSP’s located near to their manufacturing base; the second manufacturer uses a mix of local and overseas LSP’s, the latter having in-country expertise who are willing to build relationships with the manufacturer’s local subsidiaries. By wisely choosing language partners who understand local Asian markets, the second automobile manufacturer saves time and money as the translated technical and user manuals and localized marketing materials are turned around more quickly and need less revision effort from their internal reviewers.
If I was choosing a language partner, this is what I would look for:
Pricing, Added Value & Time
So going back to the original question: Will localizing my products increase my sales in Asia? The answer is ‘probably yes’, but there are a lot of other factors which need to be considered. And choosing the right language partner can put you in a very good stead.
I am always happy to share my localization knowledge and give free and impartial advice. You can contact me on michael. firstname.lastname@example.org