The continued rise in demand for global content presents a challenge to localization programs. Companies must expand globally faster than ever before and are tasked with meeting fast-growing localization requirements while maintaining or growing levels of quality. The brand voice of a company in-country is determined by the content and the effectiveness of global and local content strategies.
Content maturity offers a methodology for gauging if a company’s global content strategy is evolving well and able to achieve business objectives. An elevated level of content maturity has become a priority for many companies. This means directly supporting localization programs with the right technology stack.
Having the right language technologies is one thing, but deploying them in the right order and understanding how to optimize their usage can ensure that you are making progress through the various content maturity levels.
As a starting point, establish your current level of content maturity, which will help you determine what your current level is and how you can progress to the next one. We will define these maturity levels, their identifying features and what you will need to progress to the next one. But first, let’s look at what content maturity is and why it is a key driver in an efficient and effective global content strategy.
What content maturity progress looks like for technical writers in five steps
The importance of content maturity
Global content maturity is a measurable assessment of how well content processes are able to meet global content strategy, analytics, and business objectives. Having a higher level of maturity means you have a better mix of processes, technology, and people than you did at a previous stage. This means content can become an asset to your brand and an integral part of your customer engagement strategy, while also enabling data-driven innovation and continuous improvement opportunities. Global content made by organizations with a higher maturity level is produced efficiently and resonates with target markets, ensuring accurate messages and a consistent brand voice.
Let’s illustrate the importance of content maturity with an example: Company A has decided to expand the commercialization of its new video game console to markets in East Asia – markets on which its main competitor, Company B, has also set its sights with its shiny new console. Company A needs to localize all of its collateral and content into local languages, but without a strategy in place, all files are translated at once using archaic methods and outdated formats, such as Word and Excel. It takes Company A six months to localize the high volumes of content, and without the use of appropriate technology there is no consistency in terminology and quality or brand voice, and the time-to-market is considerably delayed. Company B, on the other hand, has a content strategy with defined objectives in place as well as a technology stack with process automation built in. This helps them to localize large volumes of content in a cost-efficient way and publish in a timely manner. A few weeks later, Company B has already landed in the new markets and increased its brand reputation by providing quality localized content, while Company A is still waiting for its collateral to be translated. Clearly, when Company A enters the new markets, it will already lag behind its competitor due to its late arrival on the market and the inadequate quality of its localized content. In all likelihood, its push into new markets will be challenging, whereas Company B will thrive and take the larger slice of the cake.
This example may seem obvious and logical; however, we see the gap widening. The need to produce more scale with global content and to continually optimize the time-to-market of that content are current business realities. Companies who understand this and have already evolved their language technology and content maturity have a clear head start.
Going up the maturity ladder
In its Content Maturity Model research firm, Gartner set out five different levels of maturity, each with its own characteristics and processes, which are improved and optimized from one to the next. We will use these as the basis for our localization technology maturity model.
Figure 1: Five steps to content maturity
Step 1: Primitive to Basic
Organizations are at a low level of content maturity without a localization-technology stack in place, or when language assets are scattered in different formats across the supply chain (e.g. in Excel, Word files, etc.) and there are no tools available to ensure content consistency.
A decade ago, an industrial company based in the U.S. Midwest had various teams working on global content in a siloed format. Each team had its own supplier, causing a lack of consistency, standards, and centralization. The company’s senior management realized the inefficiency and demanded changes, requesting teams to work together to improve productivity, remove duplicated efforts, and achieve sustained and continuous improvement. To solve these issues, they understood they had to dig deeper into their content to build root-cause solutions.
Localization technology expert Mikołaj Lauer points out where to start looking to address this problem: “To get to the bottom of your issues, you need to go straight to the root and identify inconsistencies, and in this case that would be the source text. Localized content cannot be consistent if the source is not consistent. A consistent process minimizes the chance of problems appearing down the line or makes them easier to resolve; however, if source creation is riddled with issues, such as a lack of processes in place or little collaboration between teams, any future actions that depend on it have a high probability of running into problems. This will inevitably result in increased costs, reduced efficiency, and unpredictable publication times.”
Finding a system that could be used as a central platform for all localization activity and centralizing all their language assets became a priority. The company began its localization journey by doing a deep dive into its current content and identifying where the gaps were: quality, inconsistency, and duplication. They then identified a technology solution that met these criteria and brought in suppliers who fit their new centralized approach. This resulted in a streamlined localization process, which not only increased the quality and consistency of their product but also helped them realize the many options that were now open to them thanks to their technology, such as more control over their time-to-market. This was just the start of their language-technology journey.
What technology will help you progress to a Basic level? Transitioning to a CAT tool from manual translations using basic software, such as Microsoft Word or Excel.
Step 2: Basic to Practical
After reaching a Basic maturity level, improvements continue to be necessary, as there are still gaps in the model that are unsustainable in the mid- and long term. Creating a content strategy is the next step in the logical path of building content maturity. Buyer personas allow you to structure your content and choose the intended level of engagement, by mapping out a logical reader journey. With a strategy in place, stakeholders, from content writers and linguists to localization managers, can now carry out different tasks simultaneously. However, this is where new problems can arise. If workflows are not automated, the receiving and submitting of tasks can be delayed, and this directly affects time-to-market. Any delay in the launch of a product or publication of content poses the risk of falling behind what competitors are doing, which, as a consequence, can negatively impact brand image and reputation.
This issue particularly affects companies that must regularly deal with direction shifts for external reasons that are outside of their control, i.e., situations which are difficult to predict. There was a case of a travel retail company, which, due to the impact of Covid-19, had to diversify its services and products and adjust at a rapid pace to sustain revenue. The system in place could not handle the sudden increase in volume and its localization, so the retailer had to find a technology that could meet the demands at a rapid pace. Automation became a key requirement.
Being able to configure their newly automated workflows individually gave them the flexibility to adjust to the new content types and review processes. They implemented a localization technology that allowed the whole team to work simultaneously by assigning a workflow step to each individual, enabling them to fulfill and submit their tasks in a timely manner while already receiving new ones. This considerably reduced delays and optimized the workforce’s time while meeting time-to-market requirements. Process optimization is a critical step for developing language technology maturity. Nevertheless, it is never the same for all companies in all sectors, as their requirements, objectives and pace can be very different.
An online fashion retailer optimized its process even further by creating workflow templates. Workflow templates provide a self-service model within the organization, whereby other departments can send localization requests directly to the team without requiring previous communication with project managers. The templates are created and automatically assigned to the corresponding person. Anyone from any department can now log in to the localization software and select the template for their project, which will include relevant job type, brand type, target languages, target market, etc. The automated template will then outline the steps and assign the tasks to all stakeholders on time.
This level of automated processes allows the model to progress to a more practical standard. Lauer explains that organizations reach this level of Practical maturity when “they develop their own standardized and documented processes, integrating them across all stakeholder teams. Technical writers should be able to engage in cross-team collaboration within the organization in order to identify shared needs and establish benchmarks. Being able to do this on a single platform, which provides full visibility of all localization activity, makes all the difference.”
What technology will help you progress to a Practical level? Introducing a translation management system enables centralization of all localization assets and stakeholders.
Step 3: Practical to Connected
Connectivity between your content repository and localization technology allows for seamless integration between the two platforms. This optimizes the continuous-localization process, a key feature to improve time-to-market and eliminate manual processes. However, connecting your technology stack to your content-creation system or repository is not enough, as you may require additional features that your out-of-the-box connector may not provide, which is why tailoring the integration to your needs is key to maximizing efficiency.
Following a spin-off merger with another company, an American software company realized that their previous localization technology would not be able to meet the company’s new and complex requirements. These included implementing new processes and producing a completely different level of output volume. They began the search for a solution that could meet these needs – one that not only integrated their CMS but also enabled future connectivity. Their localization manager explained how tweaking the connector to the company’s needs was a priority for them, as this customization would improve productivity thanks to optimized text selection and interface familiarity. In other words, connectivity is not a one-size-fits-all concept; connectivity, like workflow systems, needs to be natively flexible to enable enterprises to evolve their content maturity.
Furthermore, some translation management system providers offer custom connectors that make integration even more seamless. Connectivity and integration expert Steve Maher explains how adding a custom integration can further enhance the productivity of your end-to-end process: “Custom connectors may allow you to target more content and metadata than a standard connector at higher speed thanks to richer selections of content and increased automated workflow options, making the whole process quick and seamless. It also allows you to personalize the interface to your existing needs, so that productivity is not affected by a new look and feel, which linguists may not be used to.” While custom connectors come at a larger cost than standard connectors, this investment in tools and processes that brings increased productivity really can make a difference, and most companies see a significant return on investment for this kind of localization technology in between six months and three years.
Automating manual tasks is the first step in the quest for maximum cost efficiency. Any manual task that can be automated is costing organizations unnecessary time and money. With a connector, content creators can seamlessly send their text for translation, and it is automatically assigned to the appropriate linguist. Once the translation is completed, it is directly sent back to the CMS or content repository. The process thus requires no sending of files or attachments, importing files, or back-and-forth with the localization team: you can manage activity from the content-creation platform. The localization manager of the American software company mentioned earlier explains the process: “With a connector in place, we can work more easily and efficiently from our interface, and linguists can see their translations in context thanks to previews, which means that we’re saving time on design tweaks at a later stage. This is saving us many hours and cutting costs.” Connectors also support continuous localization, which means that content sent to localization will always be fresh and up to date.
A content manager from a British company in the retail industry explains how being at this Connected level of maturity affects their productivity: “One of the things that sets us apart is that, from the get-go, we wanted to use technology to give our team back time. Rather than simply aiming to reduce costs and resources, we kept the same number of staff, and said ‘Here are two hours of your day that you would normally be spending on repetitive tasks. Use it to focus on optimization instead.’” Thanks to connectivity and automation, his company now has the resources to not only improve its own localization services but to also commercialize them, creating a new revenue stream.
What technology will help you progress to a Connected level? Having connectors to integrate your CMS, marketing automation or PIM solution or developer tool to your TMS will further automate your localization process and reduce manual tasks to a minimum.
Step 4: Connected to Optimized
Using data and customer feedback can help you to optimize your content output, and even possibly decrease its volume. How is that possible? With data obtained externally through market-research companies and internally from your technology stack, you can make your program a lot more efficient by identifying your most effective content and leveraging data for time and cost savings respectively. Implementing both of these approaches means that the content you publish will have a higher customer impact and that you will be able to localize it in the most cost-efficient manner thanks to the internal data insights your localization technology can provide you with.
The use of data obtained from market research and customer surveys can help you identify which of the content you publish is the most efficient in terms of customer engagement. You can therefore focus on the topics that are really engaging and meaningful to your clients, instead of creating large volumes of them hoping that some of it sticks, with the added costs that this entails. In short: you’ve reached the point where quality matters over quantity.
Competitive localization technology provides you with analytical data that you can use to identify improvement opportunities and bridge gaps, adding substantial value to your content strategy. You want your localization technology to give you transparency, providing you with every line of costing and resourcing data needed to make informed business decisions. An organization that produces its own data through its technology solution, using it together with customer feedback to optimize existing processes and create new and improved ones, has reached a high level of content maturity.
At this Optimized maturity stage, your content is an asset to your organization. Using data, customer feedback, and benchmarking to optimize your message, you will rely less on paid content on third-party platforms and more on your direct channel. Your brand’s reputation has been enhanced and customers will go directly to your source to find the information they are looking for. Your content, enabled by your technology stack, makes a true difference.
As one of our contacts from the online retail industry explained how the use of an advanced translation management system shaped not only their department but the whole organization: “We’ve transformed the team and expanded on what we do. We are no longer just receivers of translation requests, but rather drivers of change within the business. Internal teams often come to us for advice on processes. Sometimes they say they want the same level of automation the localization team provides, but in other areas too. We’ve become a benchmark.”
It’s a long journey from sending Word files or Excel sheets via email for translation and then having to import and code them up to your website to your content driving the organization’s business decisions. We see how enterprises are climbing up the maturity ladder more and more quickly thanks to improved decision-making and maximizing the potential of their technology stack.
What can technology do to help you progress to an Optimized level? The data that your technology stack provides you with can help you find cost opportunities and improvements that will not just help your localization program but also transform your team's dynamic and turn it into a business driver within your organization.
Assessing your level of content maturity
In our company, we focus on language technology maturity as a key way to assess current levels of content maturity and on how moving to the next level can bring clear and expected returns in a methodological and measurable way. The first step is identifying roles and responsibilities within your team, how you deploy your technology, your level of automation, connectivity, scalability, and cost-efficiency, and how you use data to optimize your content.
Understanding all of these aspects will help you establish your current level and, more importantly, allow you to progress to the next one. While this does require analysis and a commitment to an improvement strategy, the results have been obvious for those who take the journey and will enable teams to show the ROI easily with each step. With each step up the content maturity ladder, you will come closer to unlocking the full potential of your technology stack and your global content strategy.