a marketing team discussing their AI localization concerns

There’s little room for mistakes when adapting content for new markets. Successful localization requires a deep understanding of a market’s language, culture and current events, among many other aspects.

Given recent advancements in AI, the future of AI in marketing seems promising. But can AI really localize content effectively?

Discover how AI localization benefits marketers—and why some avoid it entirely. 

What is AI localization?

AI video translation has generated quite a buzz. But does it live up to the hype?

Studies show that companies that localize their user experience see a 100-400% increase in sales. Unsurprisingly, international brands invest heavily in localization and incorporate it into their marketing strategy.

Traditionally, localization is done by a professional linguist with the help of software, usually in the form of computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools. When localizing, everything from text to images, emojis, abbreviations and more must be adapted not only for every language but also for every specific market. 

The complexity of localization has led many companies, especially those that are multinational or enterprise-level, to start exploring how AI can optimize localization processes. 

See also: How to use ChatGPT for marketing to a global audience

Here are a few ways to use AI localization:

  • Increased optimization and efficiency: AI tools can process and translate text in seconds—much faster than a human. For companies requiring huge amounts of text to be translated into many languages, AI localization tools will undoubtedly deliver results much faster.  
  • Ensuring accurate translations: Neural machine translators (NMT) are increasingly improving how they convert slang, idioms and expressions into other languages. While NMTs like Google Translate, DeepL or Meta’s new AI translation model are still developing, there’s no doubt these tools are much more refined and accurate than their predecessors. While they can’t replace a professional translator, machine translation tools are a useful part of the marketing translation process. 
  • Increased accessibility and user experience: Translating content into local languages increases consumers’ ability to interact with your brand. Studies show that a vast majority of customers prefer to buy in their own language, whether they speak English or not. With AI localization, consumers and businesses can more readily communicate. For example, an AI-powered chatbot can instantly switch to a user’s preferred language, whether it’s Portuguese, Korean or Swahili. 

“Any white collar business that’s not seeing a way to implement AI into their daily activities, whether that’s enabling a live AI chatbot on their website to answer questions directly or having a serious infrastructure change with what they’re doing, are really going to start feeling it over the next five years or so. How can they not?”

Marty Englander, video content creator
  • Automatic image localization: Meta has been making great strides in AI localization. In 2021, they built an AI tool to match new fonts to images’ original style. Combined with translation, this could save marketers tons of time adapting images for different markets. See an example below:
AI text translated image
  • Video translation: AI tools are even beginning to automatically translate and modulate speakers in videos. VeraContent’s CEO, Shaheen Samavati, tested this in a video showcasing HeyGen’s Video Translate tool. The AI translator not only clones and translates her voice but also edits her lip movements to match the new language. See the AI-translated video below:

Initial results were mostly positive, however, the translations were sometimes awkward, unnatural, inaccurate or even a little rude. Many marketers are questioning if you can really trust AI translations and if not, do they really speed up workflows? 

See also: Can you trust AI video translation? Our linguists put it to the test

Is AI localization as good as human localization?

As exciting as the future looks for AI localization, there’s no replacement for native human linguists. 

Language is complex. At the moment, there’s no tool on the market that could beat a professional linguist’s ability to contextualize and personalize content to their region. 

Localization is a much deeper process than translation; it considers all aspects of the content—not just the text or images, but also when and how it’s posted. 

See also: Translation vs. localization: What’s the difference and why should you care?

For every target market, brands must decide when to post and how often to post, which often means juggling different holidays, pop culture news, current events, or even delicate political or national issues. 

This tricky balancing act came into focus for VeraContent when Turkey was experiencing devastating wildfires in the summer of 2021. As a marketing and localization agency, we run the global English and local Turkish social media pages for our client, LiVU. 

In light of the tragedy, our local community manager immediately suggested we change course from our planned (and lighthearted) content and instead show support for the victims of the disaster. 

The post about the wildfires on the LiveU Turkey Instagram page.
LiVU’s post on their local Turkish page. The text in the image reads: “We are burning inside!” followed by the most affected cities, while the caption says, “Our hearts are with you, Turkey!”

“At VeraContent, we believe examples like these highlight how important it is to work with trusted locals on the ground. We take the time to nurture relationships with all of our collaborators so that not only do they feel comfortable sharing their insights with us, but so that you can also rest easy knowing your brand is in good hands at every turn.”

Jake Fangan, former project manager at VeraContent 

This example gets to the heart of the limitations of AI. As marketers, we must always ensure all content that reaches the audience is timely, accurate, sensitive and culturally appropriate. 

AI localization has a lot of promise, but it doesn’t have that human touch. 

See also: 8 best tools for running an effective multilingual blog 

What are the limitations of using AI for marketing localization?

marketer using AI localization

Along with missing a human element, AI localization has a few major limitations:

  1. Quality control. While the accuracy of NMTs is increasing rapidly, NMT translations still often make awkward or unnatural mistakes. This is especially true when dealing with highly creative content, such as songs, poetry or comedy. NMTs aren’t great at interpreting or translating ambiguity. 
  2. Lacking cultural context. Localization relies on a deep familiarity with a culture’s emotions, morals and values. Even if an AI tool can adapt idioms or slang, it won’t have the surrounding context to make informed adaptations to the content. 
  3. Missing personalized touches. AI isn’t able to tailor messages to segments of different markets or to specific types of users. Imagine you’re trying to target Gen Z audiences in a new market. You can work with a professional translator to ensure the language, images and nuance of your content is personalized for a younger audience, but AI localization doesn’t have that capability.
  1. Unsupported language pairs. Google Translate supports over 133 languages—but that’s hardly all the languages and dialects in the world. Plus, AI localization tools are often trained on English-centric data, so results quickly worsen when English isn’t in the equation (such as when translating Spanish to Dutch or German to Chinese). 

“AI-powered translation tools are particularly unreliable for languages that are considerably different from English or are less comprehensively documented.”

Damian Harris-Hernandez, executive director of the Refugee Translation Project 

See also: Why outsourcing translation services actually saves money

Reasons marketers avoid using AI to localize their marketing content

VeraContent team members working on video translation

Why avoid AI localization altogether? 

The answer mainly has to do with quality control. 

There’s a risk of being overly reliant on AI and your localized content missing key messaging or just falling flat. Even top international brands have made costly mistakes due to faulty translations. And without human translators involved somewhere in the process, awkward or even offensive mistakes will happen. 

For this reason, some brands may decide to rather stay clear of AI altogether. The process of fact-checking and adapting the AI-localized content may not be worth the time it supposedly saves in the first place. 

It also comes down to the linguist’s personal preferences. While some may be comfortable leaning on AI to do the heavy lifting, others may feel it stifles their creativity. 

See also: AI translation: Helpful tool or just plagiarism in disguise?

Human localization still wins

AI localization remains promising, and we at VeraContent are excited to see how AI-powered translation and localization will improve the experiences of both customers and marketers. 

However, the future isn’t here yet. There’s nothing more accurate or personalized than a local expert who knows their market inside and out. That’s why VeraContent partners with linguists who are experts in their language and regional market. 

To learn more about how we can help and see if you qualify for a free consultation, get in touch with us today.