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September 4, 2012
Fabio Branca

Cultural Awareness and Userization in Latin America

Userization is essentially user-specific localization for what might otherwise wrongly be thought of as an unvarying linguistic and cultural landscape – and Latin America is a good example.

The capability to interact with and exchange information is creating new standards of corporate communication while generating new customer interaction policies, languages and procedures. Within this scenario, corporations are still trying to understand and adapt to their new “tone of voice,” image branding and communication standards through a trial and error process that questions deeply-rooted processes across geographies and cultures. While organizations may feel vulnerable knowing that users are interacting in social media worldwide and having constant access to multilanguage news on international portals, marketing and communications professionals wonder what sort of image the corporate brand is going to convey. What degree of consistency do they need across their communication channels? And to what extent will they have to localize their procedures and content to fit the linguistic and cultural nuances of the local market? While there is not an easy answer to all these questions, one thing is certain: at this stage, the key is to find a balanced method that combines global and local content and meets the requirements of both a global target audience and the locale’s linguistic and cultural specifications.

Glocalization or Userization

As you may be aware, glocalization is the combination of the words globalization and localization. The term glocal refers to an individual, organization or community that is willing and able to “think globally and act locally.” The term is largely used in today’s business world as a mantra by executives who are trying to adjust to our constantly-changing society. Not only is the speed of information, interaction, innovation and communication increasing today at a pace never before seen, but through the capabilities offered by the internet and social media, they are also merging into a new source of user-generated content that I like to call userization. Bearing this in mind, companies need to craft the content specifically to the brand’s user audience using appropriate trends, interests and slang, and combine it with the relevant language and cultural characteristics of their target market. The right combination of the message for a certain market, and the message for the target audience within this market, could be defined as userization. However, as mentioned earlier, to maintain global branding, there must be a balance between this degree of userization and the corporate communication guidelines. Companies need to include in their market strategy not only the internationalization of their communication channels, but also the localization of their content, products and services. Therefore, they find themselves in need of specialized language services that go well beyond bare translation, but which are capable of conveying the company message and localizing it to the specific target market. Corporations, therefore, are required to choose carefully what strategy to pursue for their localization needs. When it comes to this point, the “make or buy” decision must take into account several variables such as quality level requirements, levels of volume, turnaround times, language, cultural nuances and industry expertise. Once all these variables have been considered, companies need to decide whether or not they have the appropriate internal resources to complete the job. The same view can apply to small enterprises that are trying to diversify their market geographies. At some point, to make the content available to the new targeted audience, their communication channels (web page, social networks, blogs) will have to be localized. Most often, it is not possible to deal with all these variables internally on a large scale, and today, localization service providers are increasingly becoming strategic partners, since they can offer greater scalability through comprehensive services and advanced technology solutions. It is easy to understand how the localization industry is transforming itself into a more pivotal service delivery hub that promotes the connection of pieces of information from enterprises to target markets, creating bridges across different cultures and languages. LSPs, therefore, are moving away from being mere language service providers, earning a status of language solutions partners. One example that comes to mind is a situation that virtually anyone has experienced at least once: traveling to a new country and having the language as the very first barrier, with the cultural difference as the second. The classic scene of the tourist who cannot make himself understood while trying to buy a sandwich is well known almost everywhere. Surely the poor guy is starving and wants to eat, but neither he nor the person who is trying to sell the sandwich can understand the other. The situation may result in the tourist giving up and going to find somebody else who understands what he wants, or in desperation, buying something that is not what he wanted in the first place. As a result, the tourist will be frustrated and the seller will potentially have lost an opportunity to sell a more expensive product. Probably the tourist would have paid a fair amount of money to get what he wanted, while the seller should have invested more to make himself understood. After all, sales and negotiations are all about communicating in a timely, effective and accurate way in any business. Unfortunately for the tourist, there still is no technology that can instantly implant language and cultural skills into our brains. There are indeed some efforts to overcome such barriers, but these are still in the rudimentary stage. It is a fact that the age of one-way, company-to-consumer communication is gone. Today’s consumers are savvy and in control. Through the internet and social channels, users actually “reply” to companies, interact with them, complain about them and are able to spread bad comments, creating an image crisis in a matter of hours, sometimes exposing brands to embarrassing situations. Marketing news broadcasts publish case stories of consumers seriously challenging companies about their products, campaigns or corporate ethics. While these episodes cannot be avoided, companies can and must work constantly on their image and communication strategies, not only to promote themselves but also to prevent and eventually deal with potential issues. In order to do this, utmost importance should be given to the act of listening, studying, understanding and engaging with the audience. Produce what users want, understand their culture, speak their language. Some technology companies are so focused on the userization of the content that they are indeed working on a daily basis to improve their technologies to understand consumer habits, passions, desires and behaviors. They even track the user paths through the internet in order to tailor how the content will be displayed to every single individual or group of individuals. In doing so, they pay the highest degree of attention into localizing their message properly, making sure that not only custom content is displayed, but that the user receives the message in the correct language, such as UK English as opposed to US English.

Getting Country-Specific in Latin America

As a natural evolution of today’s society, business culture and technology, a radical change has manifested itself, making possible what until recently would be unthinkable. Clear examples of such phenomenon are the several political uprisings throughout the world and the transfer of economic power to previously developing countries. Goldman Sachs reports, for example, that many emerging economies are coming out of the recent financial crises better than the developed world. Latin America is a vivid example of this change. As the region continues to gain momentum in the global marketplace, corporations increase their investments in the region by developing production sites for goods and services. While Argentina was the strongest economy in Latin America for the first half of the twentieth century, Brazil is now taking the lead and paving the way to advancement in this new world. Latin America is experiencing a level of growth never seen before. Due to more widespread internet availability, access to information and a revival of mass immigration that is taking place with similar strength for the first time after the Second World War, Latin Americans are much more in contact with and aware of other cultures today than they were a few decades ago. Furthermore, global companies are continuously establishing satellite offices on the continent, while bringing along thousands of executives and associates that are helping transform metropolises like São Paulo and Mexico City into even more cosmopolitan centers. This phenomenon not only naturally promotes intercultural awareness, but also contributes to creating further opportunities and growth. Latin Americans now speak the social media and internet language: with 37.8% of users in a population of over 200 million, Brazil is among the top countries in the ranking for social network usage, a percentage that is growing as rapidly and consistently as its economy. However, despite the fact that the Latin American population today is familiar with the various likes, shares and follows of social media lingo, the region’s population has, according to some rankings, one of the lowest levels of English fluency (Figure 1). Furthermore, the region’s languages, cultures, roots and nuances define its characteristics specifically and distinctively, country by country, far beyond a simple distinction between Spanish and Portuguese speakers. Brazil, for example, is a totally different country when compared to neighboring Bolivia or Uruguay. It is not only the language, but also the country’s history, culture, business environment, economics and political background. Argentina could be a world apart from Mexico in all regards but the basic language. It would be enough to think of what sort of differences may exist between two Spanish speaking Latin American countries when it comes to technical or legal terminology, but there are also different laws and totally different rules. The ability of a brand to create empathy and a strong bond with the regional consumers requires an outstanding strategy, excellent marketing, a unique product and, of course, the ability to speak the language and understand the culture of that target market. This is no news to most companies and corporations. Yet many struggle to identify these differences as key bullet points in their already well-planned strategies for Latin American countries, which could lead to missing the opportunities for faster and stronger growth. Latin America is opening up opportunities to sell to an audience of new consumers that can afford and want to buy new products and services. Following the organic growth of the marketplace and the needs of thousands of companies that keep landing on the various countries that form the region, the localization industry in Latin America has been growing consistently over the past few years, keeping pace with or exceeding bigger markets such as North America, according to studies such as “The Language Services Market: 2010,” a report by Common Sense Advisory. As a consequence of this growth, taboos are crumbling with respect to the professionalism and scalability of Latin American LSPs. They are attending to the ever-growing needs of the marketplace, some becoming actual points of reference in the territory due to their long-standing history and experience. Regional conferences and market players are also attracting the attention of the localization industry. One such example is the Globalization and Localization Association regional event, which will take place in Argentina later this year. Think Latin America, deemed as a study group of high level executives and entrepreneurs interested in and knowledgeable about the region, is already organizing its third edition, which will happen in Seattle within the realm of Localization World in October 2012. These regional stakeholders, following the trend of the global marketplace, are exporting the idea that Latin America can be not only a place to look for in terms of investment, innovation and cost-efficiency, but also a major source of quality language services. When thinking of a market strategy, it makes a lot of sense to calculate thoroughly whether or not it is worth making a proper investment by adding language quality value to the final delivery. But Latin American customers expect it. Your competitor may already be doing it. This recommendation may apply to any region of the globe, but even more so in Latin America. While in Europe, the myriad of languages makes it clearer that there are diverse cultures in place, and in Latin America the existence of mainly two languages can be misleading. Choosing a partner familiar with the region will therefore ensure that your message is userized to your target audience in the most effective way.

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