Localization, Thailand and the global market

Sometimes I stop and think for awhile about my job, and about the long chain of assumptions that lead out into its final goal, which nine times out of ten is that people will purchase (or remain loyal to) a product that did not originate in their own culture. Localization is primarily about making the foreign seem local; by adaptation and translation, and yes, sometimes that means hiring actual local people. I like focusing on that part of it, on the part that says the local people are always the experts, and they get to tell these enormous multinational corporations what to do on some small level. I like that my field is replete with those who understand the power of cultural nuance, of linguistic nuance. There’s something that can feel very magical, very special, about a group of people who care that much about cultural identity and the way it’s expressed. The whole point may be to sell services to those large multinational corporations, who in turn want to sell something to the masses, but it feels more noble than that. It feels like we actually care about everyone in the world.

Sometimes, of course, we really do. I’ve been very proud of the efforts our industry has gone to in providing free services to those who need it most. At times, I think this is the great big missing piece, something that really could change the world for the better if it’s used correctly. Offering knowledge, bridging cultural differences, locales, language, mitigating cultural slights — this can mean peace rather than war, alliance rather than xenophobia. It’s all very P.C. and feel-good, while at the same time it’s excellent for capitalism. Localization is staunchly bipartisan, and often apolitical. We don’t take sides — we interpret.

And yet we do need to pay attention to politics, because politics affect global business and signal shifts within nations and regions. In the case of Thailand, the site of Localization World’s upcoming February conference, the politics are a little complicated and have recently been a source of contention. The New York Times reports that “the most important political decisions in this country of 65 million people have been made from abroad, by a former prime minister who has been in self-imposed exile since 2008 to escape corruption charges,” who rules by proxy using various officials, including his sister, whom he nominated for prime minister in 2011. Many Thais find this situation to be illegitimate, and have taken to the streets in protest in recent weeks, attempting to “shut down” Bangkok’s government. According to most reports on the ground, the protests are peaceful and even fun, as can be see in this video. They are limited to certain areas of Bangkok, and have already waned a bit.

Of course, this isn’t the most stable climate for conducting certain kinds of business deals. But I think that for our business, it’s an important kind of reality to face. Our future lies in markets such as this — the emerging markets, the ones attempting to move in positive directions, the ones that have traditionally been considered less than rock-solid. Thailand is a serious market contender, and is starting to take the place in the global market that China took previously, and that Japan took prior to that. Keeping an eye on its current reality potentially means a step up for anyone seriously considering global industry.

So, from a business perspective, I’m actually very excited to be going to Bangkok in a few short weeks. On a more personal level, there’s nothing quite like feeling the pulse of a place that is trying to better itself through peaceful means.

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