Selling Africa Style

Selling Africa Style


Ian Henderson, CTO of Rubric South Africa, says consumers are more likely to buy a product with information in their own language.

Why local language matters

According to research from Common Sense Advisory:

  • 72.4% of consumers are more likely to buy a product with information in their own language
  • English is spoken as a first language by less than 5% of the world’s population
  • English is spoken as a second language by only 470 million to 1 billion
  • In South Africa, English is the official language that predominates, and yet it is spoken as a first language by only 9.6% of people, compared to isiZulu (22.7%), isiXhosa (16%) and Afrikaans (13.5%).

Language lessons learnt

Already, leading South African companies are immersing themselves in the real Africa – including Business Connection, Vodacom, MTN, Checkers and Nandos. These front-runners are learning hard-won language lessons.

Gear up for greater effort. Translators in Europe and the Far East have it relatively easy. Terms like ‘IP address’ or ‘software’ have been thrashed out, codified and are available with the minimum of Internet-based research.

Not so in Africa. A huge amount of grind is needed to unearth local language translations for many modern concepts. Many African languages have not even been committed to books.

The way to get around this is to partner with a language services provider that understands local conditions and has built up and trained an extensive network of translators, skilled in using modern translation technology.

Take care of quality. Community translation initiatives and projects such as those under the auspices of the African Network for Localisation do fantastic work at heeding commercial and language preservation goals.

Make sure your localisation partner has the skills to test and ensure the quality of translations to avoid missing the mark or, even worse, causing offence.

Develop for – and by – Africans. Localisation isn’t only about adapting to the language and cultural sensitivity of a specific country, but also about the value of a local footprint to tap into unique local thinking.

Pay-as-you-go originated in a country with a very different world view from developed markets – South Africa. And M-PESA was developed by Kenyans, for Kenyans living and working abroad, as well as for other African diaspora.

Start small, but plan to scale. It’s good to start small, but look to the future. 20 years ago, Toshiba started its multinational ambitions with translations in three languages. Today, with competitive pressure from HP and Dell, the company translates into 24.

Localisation: It’s not just manuals
A few rudimentary checks before you get started:

  • When entering a new market, consider more than your literature – how will you deal with local-language support calls?
  • Consider your customer segment – do you serve businesses or consumers? For the former, English may suffice.
  • Plan long-term – for now, the bilingual person in your office may be enough, but for your next software release, translation automation by way of a database of phrases is the way to overcome this.
  • Get clean – experience has taught us that fragmentation is bad when multiple translations are under way. Quality assurance of the master document will flow through to every subsequent translation in the same format. Before embarking on translations, clean up the English document first.
  • Ensure compliance with local regulations that have an impact on the text – such as business approval, foreign exchange, electric Type Approval etc.
Alison Job
Alison Job holds a BA English, Communications and has extensive experience in writing that spans news broadcasting, public relations and corporate and consumer publishing. Find her at Google+.