Building Your Playbook For International Product Launches
Launching your product into an international market for the first time can be challenging. There’s complexity in areas where a product manager may not have prior experience. Fortunately, you can develop a playbook based on international product management best practices. As a result, you can accelerate your entry into new locales.
The two elements that are the foundation of the playbook are internationalization and localization. Preparing your codebase to scale for multiple languages is crucial as linguistic differences can break your product’s design. Some languages (like German) have significantly longer words than English and may not fit into existing elements like navigation and menus. Languages like Arabic are written from right to left. East Asian languages are double-byte and require Unicode encoding.
Internationalization is the process by which you prepare for these exigencies up-front. Once internationalization is complete, you can localize your product into any language. While mainly a technical task, a product manager may need to champion this effort. Specifically, this will occur if your company is completely new to global products.
In parallel with internationalization, you’ll need to define your approach to localization. Translation options include Machine Translation (MT), crowdsourcing, in-house translators, and contracting with a Language Service Provider (LSP). In-house translators and LSPs offer the highest quality translations and, not surprisingly, are more expensive.
For a social offering, it may be acceptable to crowdsource or use an MT service like Google Translate. Usually, this approach works well for early MVPs. However, in verticals like finance or health care, where customer trust is paramount, you will need accurate and authentic language or risk reputational and brand damage. Airbnb actually combined approaches, using MT for elements like the venue description and host bio, and formal translation for ad campaigns.
Beyond this foundation, the other building blocks in your playbook will be based on your product’s functionality.
During the business case phase, you likely identified areas of alignment and gaps between your product and local customer expectations. E-commerce is a common area where companies need to adapt. In addition to pricing and currency, this encompasses payment types. While credit cards are common in the United States, for example, their share of payments is minuscule in many other countries.
Platform is another consideration. Of course, mobile usage has grown globally, but some emerging markets have outpaced the United States. In 2018, mobile internet traffic as a percentage of total web traffic was 61% in Asia compared to 39% in North America. Device preference (iOS vs. Android) also varies. If your product has dependencies on external services (for instance, Google or Facebook sign-in), it’s important to confirm that these apply in your target market. Similarly, if email communications are important, there may be different rules that you’ll be required to follow.
The final step is product management marketing. Your playbook should include the strategies for each marketing and acquisition channel. These may be different from your home market. For example, while Google dominates search advertising in the US, the company has low market share in Japan. If you experienced viral growth through social, you’ll need to confirm that the same platforms have similar adoption and usage in the new locale.
Whether you are localizing an existing product or launching with a wholly new offering, addressing the technical, design, functional, and marketing components of your product is critical. A well-defined playbook can be an essential product management resource and will give your product the best chance for global success.