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When Globalization goes Local: Localizing Content at Intuit

Intuit is the world’s leading provider of financial solutions for individuals and small businesses. In Canada, products include TurboTax®/ImpôtRapideMD, ProFile and QuickBooks®. For a technology company specializing in financial tools, the process behind localizing product offerings for different countries goes far beyond language and requires careful cultural and technological adaptation, so a one-size-fits-all approach to localization is loaded with caveats.

By Katia Bélanger

Companies need a global brand strategy (globalization), brands that work well locally (localization), and offerings that mean something in different cultures (translation). There is no easy way to achieve a rapprochement between the three processes on a global scale. Each market must be studied carefully, with strategies based on whether the market receives the source culture in a more, or in a less, welcoming way.

Going global often requires large-scale projects where companies tend to adopt an operational model and push it through to its local markets. From a translation standpoint, this is where a company must choose between the culture it wants to create around its products and the culture of each local market. The key question is this: Is the company culture so strong that it can go global and achieve strong local adoption levels simply because it is that brand, or does it need to embrace each local culture and adapt its products to obtain acceptance and cultural inclusion? That’s a tough one, especially when a company is based in Silicon Valley, surrounded by companies which are that brand. In the case of Intuit and the Québec market, efforts are focused around finding a balanced approach between Intuit’s culture and Québec’s culture. The goal is to find that sweet spot where both meet in order to become a household name.

Where global goes local

At Intuit, this is where global goes local. Globalization makes room for localization and translation at the same time, in a model where localization teams interact with translation experts in a globalization work frame. Before the translation process even begins, teams are working on content adaptation to make it suitable for each market’s financial, legal and cultural environment. - That would be a dream come true. Translation is often one of the last processes in a long chain of content-creation activities. Intuit embraces translation as an integral part of globalization, and so those responsible for localizing content and software collaborate with translation experts. Translation is no longer confined to the last, fast, rushed part of the production chain. But let’s be clear: while translation will always be at the end of the chain, we’re no longer only there!

Reconciling the processes of globalization, localization and translation is no simple task. One of the main common threads in those processes is a concept well known to every writer in every language: voice and tone. When your name or your brand does not inherently set the voice and tone of your company or products, there is something to be said for creating a team of global content experts who work to define the company’s personality through its communication style and collaborate with local teams to adapt the global style to each market. It is a vast undertaking which requires the originating culture to become deferential to other cultures. While some cultures are more open to source content being visible in the translated content, others are very reticent. A Brazilian might say that there is no problem incorporating English words into the Portuguese language content. But that simply would not work in Québec! 

Corporate translators as educators

The funny thing is, as companies go global and start thinking local, translators can’t help but raise an eyebrow because it’s been part of our job since well before the inception of buzzwords such as localization. Different types of content require a different approach to translation. That’s nothing new. What’s new is that translators are starting to go up the production chain and work with content creators to adapt material to be translated. Those “simple” questions translators have been asking for years – “Do I have to convert imperial to metric?”, “Prices include the VAT, but we pay GST, or HST, or PST, or no tax, what do I do?” – which often led to annoying answers such as “Leave it as is” or “Just translate it,” were nothing more than an effort by language professionals to push for localization of content. Corporate translators can thus be valuable educators – translators have been localization specialists forever.

Intuit values the expertise of local language specialists upstream of the translation process, and it is making real efforts at integrating local experts into the content-writing process. And it recognizes the multiple challenges associated with localization, or as we all know it, translation. That is no easy task when starting with a very strong American culture coupled with the Silicon Valley subculture. Yet Intuit is truly working to embrace and work with local cultures The company understands that translators are there to address a new audience in a new cultural environment, that they are local experts whose skillset is useful throughout the localization process, and that they can add value that goes far beyond replacing words in one language with other words from another!

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Katia Bélanger holds a Master’s Degree in Translation from York University’s Glendon College. She is currently French Language Manager at Intuit Canada and a small business owner. Prior to joining intuit, Katia worked for 25 years as a translator in the healthcare and tourism industries.



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