How to Localize your Examples

When I think about a common snack food, I think of apples and peanut butter. But in many cultures peanut butter is a bizarre food, not a common snack. So in a recent localization conversation, a coworker asked “should we remove all examples?” The answer is no. Localize your examples!

As we localize to different cultures we have decisions to make, which basically come down to engagement vs budget. A hyperbolic example: how do we personalize to the hundreds of regions and cultures in the world? If we want everyone to feel that the example is personalized to them, we need hundreds of examples of snack foods, to match each and every region and cultural background. Or we can have no examples at all, and have nothing to localize.

Obviously no one is suggesting their product go to these extremes, but most organizations are finding their place on a spectrum.

Availability Heuristic

Why do examples matter? According to the Salience Bias, people put more trust in things that feel familiar or recognizable. (This is just one of many cognitive biases.) So if examples feel personal, they feel trustworthy.

In other words, people assume that what they feel comfortable with is important. What do you think is the most valuable part of Reduce-Reuse-Recycle? Did you say “Recycle?” Well, it’s something you likely do, but it’s actually not as good for the environment as reducing purchases or reusing products. Or think about shopping. If you are looking for toilet paper and you remember the name “Scott”, you might be more likely to buy that brand – even if two other brands are right beside it. This is why commercials exist. If the brand is memorable, you assume it’s the right choice.

The Salience Bias also plays into localization. We want information to feel personal and familiar. That makes it memorable. People are more likely to listen to a health app if it references their favorite snack, rather than just “a snack.” It’s easier to visualize the peanut butter and apple.

How to Localize Examples without Breaking the Bank

What most people don’t realize about localization is that it’s just like translation. If I asked for content to be translated, the first question someone would ask me would be “translated into what?” I can’t just “translate” content. I translate it to another language. Equally, we can’t just “localize” content. We localize it to a specific audience.

For example nutrition apps targeting American suburban markets tend to use examples of foods that are common in suburban areas ranging from outside NYC to outside Santa Fe. Farmers markets are more popular in some places than others, but most everyone buys groceries at a “market, grocery store, or food stand.” The three examples in a row provide a bit more opportunity for that personal touch.

Similarly, localizing for South American Spanish might mean researching where the audience lives. Are they in South American cities, or is the audience actually people of South American descent living in the US? The cultural references will depend on the audience.

How Can You Localize?

To localize examples, start with research.

  1. Identify who your audience is (not just what language they speak). Research the culture.
  2. Note where you are using examples. Your localization team will appreciate the heads up of where to focus their efforts.
  3. Pay attention to date and time! Remember that many cultures use military time, and put the month before the date.
  4. Consider cultural assumptions. Are you assuming your audience trusts their doctors? How do you believe your audience feels about large corporations? Check your own mental models for bias.

All of this will save time and money on your localization project, without cutting the number of examples you can include. Make your work personalized! Make it culturally fitting.

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