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These 8 Localisation Mistakes Can Kill Your App Before it Ever Takes Off

International localisation fails are legendary – which go on to show even the most established brands fail big time when they take their campaigns beyond familiar borders.

When Pepsi introduced their slogan “Come alive with Pepsi Generation” into Chinese, the translated message meant “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave”.

The famous California Milk Processing Board’s tagline “Got milk”, when translated into Spanish, meant, “Are you lactating?”

The need for the right localisation and translation is most important today as digital mobile brands are spreading across different geographies at lightning speed.

There are numerous aspects to localisation (and you certainly want to get them all right). To break into your next lucrative market, you would have to understand the cultural differences. Onboarding customers would vary from country to country. People in different regions would respond differently to different monetisation tactics. The user experience would have to be adopted accordingly.

In this article, we discuss the 8 localisation mistakes which can kill your app even before it takes off.

app localization mistakes

1. Failing to think about localisation while developing the app

Create a localisation friendly app from the very start if you are targeting the international markets in the later stages. Plan international expansion while developing the app. This way, it is much easier to roll out multiple language versions. In technical terms, this process is called internationalisation. Your app should be flexible enough to be customised for any local market. Changing the colours, modifying the design and rewriting the code becomes much easier.

While writing your app in an easy to translate manner might add some initial expenses; it is advisable in the long run. Separate the text from the code and ask your developers to use Unicode strings. Hence you leave the door open for the app to be translated into whichever language you plan to launch in.

2. Not translating the app’s name

When you take your app global, it doesn’t matter how cool the name sounds in English. If the name is not interesting enough for foreigners or projects a negative sentiment, forget your app seeing the light of the day.

Pick a name that is easy to pronounce, remember and recognise. Keep it short and optimise the description for the app store. With millions of apps in the app store, describing the app with the right keywords is essential. Users will not spend time trying to understand bad translations. They’d rather download your competitors’ app.

While translating, ensure that the brand identity stays intact. It should resemble and mean the same as the original name. Often, bigger brands change their names while launching in a new country. Linkedin, Coca Cola, Nike, BMW, Pepsi and Toyota changed their brand names while launching in different countries.

Linkedin China
Linkedin translated into Chinese
Nike Chinese
Nike translated into Chinese
Pepsi Chinese
Pepsi translated into Chinese

Things you should take into consideration while translating the app’s name:

  1. What is the first thought which comes to mind when you hear the name?
  2. Does the name have other potential meanings?
  3. Are there any negative connotations associated with the name?
  4. Do any other products have a similar name?
  5. Does the name sound similar to any other local word?

Research each individual marketing, and you’ll be successful in coming up with a name appropriate for that particular market.

3. Using the same icons for all languages

An average person is exposed to anywhere between 3,000 – 20,000 brand messages and advertisements every day. An awful lot competing for traffic! How many of these ads and messages get actually noticed? A mere 12! Imagine the minuscule chance your brand has to gain audience engagement. Your app icon has to leave an impact on the audience.

The app icon plays an important role in localisation. People hit the download tab when they’re compelled by an inviting image, irrespective of where they come from. Having the same visuals for all markets is risky. Because different colours and symbols carry different means in different countries and cultures.

Enter a new market with significant research and user testing. Keep your identity unique while respecting the local culture. The brand name “Coca Cola” had no meaning for the locals when they decided to enter the Chinese market. Hence they found a close phonetic equivalent, kekou kele (pinyin romanisation; 可口可乐) which means “let your mouth rejoice”.

Coca-cola China

The best thing being, despite creating a new local identity using a different name and different symbols, they were able to maintain their brand’s distinctive features.

4. Terrible cross-cultural communication

Many times localisation projects fail due to fundamental culture-related issues about how the information is presented. Based on our experience we have identified the following three ways culture impacts communication. Understanding how these fit into your app increases the odds of success in reaching out and appealing to your target audience.

Cognitive concerns – Every culture interprets ideas in a different way. For instance, United States has an underlying culture of freedom and independence. Many cultures find this mindset shocking. For example, in South East Asia, interdependence on the family is the foundation of their culture. The idea of moving out from the family is horrifying.

Behavioural concerns – The definition of appropriate behaviour greatly varies among different cultures. Some groups encourage the direct expression of their thoughts while other cultures consider it inappropriate to openly share ideas and opinions. For example, Western cultures encourage the importance of being blunt. In case of a disagreement, it is clearly communicated. Whereas in African culture, looking into the eye of the elder and directly disagreeing is unacceptable.

Emotional concerns – The way one expresses his feelings is strongly influenced by culture. Certain cultures permit the use of gestures and a strong language to communicate one’s thoughts. While in other cultures it is considered unacceptable and a sign of disrespect.

You would have to understand the communication style of the locals – regardless of the languages being used, while entering a new country. This has a great impact on the overall approach you opt for your app. This could be the difference between success and failure of your business.

5. A frustrating user experience

Irrespective of your popularity in one country, while entering a new market your potential users wouldn’t line for the opportunity to download your app. Study the expectations of your target population and create solutions to meet their needs.

Japan, Australia, the USA, UK and China are the greatest iPhone users in the world. While India, Russia, Indonesia and Brazil have the greatest Android penetration. While Instagram was first launched as an iOS app in the USA, for a country with high Android penetration this might not have worked.

If you are building an app with a payment solution. You might have to make in-app changes to accommodate the preferred payment gateway. Can your app show the price in the local currency? Does it accept local currency? Take out time and efforts to perfect customer experience. A smooth customer experience is rewarded with loyalty and commitment. Further, these loyal users become your brand ambassadors.

English and Chinese UC Browser
Side by side comparison of UC Browser in Chinese and English

6. Tainted credibility

Rushing into localisation can make you a laughing stock. For instance, KFC made a hilarious blunder. They decided to take their message to China. Instead of “finger licking good”, their Chinese tagline meant “eat your fingers off”. You will find many such stories of localisation errors made by international brands.

Hire skilled translators to create an alternate language text. Professional translators would rather translate the meaning of the text instead of going for a word-to-word translation.

While translating from one language to another, the idioms and nuances must be communicated conceptually rather than literally. Experienced translators and qualified app localisation testers ensure that the images and translations are appropriate for your target audience.

7. Different languages take up different amounts of space

Every good app developer is familiar with the importance of space. Your app must be clean, easy to navigate and not cluttered with too much information. The right placement of “Buy Now”, “Click Here”, “View More” and “Make Payment” allow the users to take the right action.

When it comes to localisation one should know that all languages do not take up the same amount of space. When you start localising the app, take into consideration the physical space the other languages would take up. The app design must be flexible enough to accommodate multi-language internationalisation.

For example, “try our new product” is made up of four English words. In Japanese it would be ““私たちの新しい製品ラインを試してみてください” while in French “essayez notre nouvelle gamme de produits”.

app localization

When you work with limited space in between headers, the other tabs and images, the translated words would not fit in the framework of the design. Being unable to deliver an optimal user experience is the worst thing you could do to your users.

8. Skipping app store localisation

According to a survey by Ipsos MediaCT, more than 40 per cent of smartphone users browse for apps in the app store. Further, the study says 1 in 4 app users discover an app through search. App store optimisation is therefore essential to increase your visibility in the new market.

Study the local audience to find the right search terms they use and optimise your content accordingly.

Include the right keyword in the title. A study conducted by TUNE of the top 25 ranking positions and found apps with a relevant keyword in their title ranked 10 per cent higher than apps without a keyword.

Lessons in ASO
Essential elements of app store optimisation

Then on, create a compelling app description with strategically placed keywords. Add screenshots and videos. Localise the iTunes and Google Play Store listings for easier discoverability and readability. These two together can increase downloads by as much as 767 per cent.

Wrapping it up:

Avoid these 8 common app localisation mistakes and learn from the apps that’ve tasted localisation success. The right app localisation partners would make this seemingly difficult task manageable and help you succeed in new markets.

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