Global And Local: Getting It Right


As a global company, Microsoft respects and complies with the requirements for language, geography, and culture.  The Global Readiness team helps ensure that all of our customers, regardless of their cultures, customs, beliefs, languages, or locations, experience Microsoft devices, services, and communications as globally appropriate, and locally relevant.

When I started at Microsoft over 20 years ago, one of my first jobs was to act as a liaison between corporate headquarters and our subsidiaries in Africa, India, and the Middle East.  I helped employees in those countries or regions set up Microsoft offices with a distinctly local presence.

A perk of the job was traveling to the locale of the new office and immersing myself in the culture to ensure an authentic experience for our customers.  For example, when Microsoft Hellas was established in 1992, we wanted the office to look, feel, and represent the way business is done in Greece, including the culture, norms, and sensibilities.  I remember learning about the importance of greeting visitors to the office; of taking the time to properly welcome someone with a coffee and a chat; and the emphasis on building rapport and trust, before getting to business.  This role was the start of my journey; balancing Microsoft as a global and local company.

I carried these experiences into my next job, taking worldwide.  The challenge was to translate our English website into 30 local sites while ensuring accuracy for each market yet retaining the corporate brand.  We were learning how to balance global and local – from globalization and translation into localization and marketization.

These early experiences localizing content and services informed the standards and best practices for how to do this work in a scalable way across the company.  Respect for cultural, linguistic and market expectations formed the foundation of our current Global Readiness program.

Today’s world of online services and mobile devices requires changes to the traditional localization model, which was created for packaged products.  We used to localize specifically for each market where we were offered a product, but the environment has become much more complex.

Now, services are borderless and devices travel.  It means you need to figure out how to offer an experience that is globally appropriate, while locally relevant, factoring in that this relevancy may include multi-lingual scenarios, across multi-geographic renderings.  A customer might have a country of origin and a different country of current residence, while also traveling for work and for pleasure.  Customers take their devices with them, and they consume services from wherever they are, regardless of the language or languages, of preference.


Herein lies our delicate balancing act – considering the global context, while planning for the flexibility of numerous international user scenarios.  My team provides our marketing and engineering groups with tools and information to help them strike a balance of a good global experience, with the right local relevance.

Here are some of the topics we consider, both individually and together, to create the best possible customer experience.

Global Experience

The world is a diverse place.  While much of the customer experience is local, we know that people and information can easily cross borders.  A billboard might be stationary, but a cellphone photo of it can travel the world.  So we try to make sure that content in one market won’t be offensive elsewhere.

Local Relevance

In Global Readiness, we bring together standards from inside and outside of Microsoft, so that our engineering and marketing teams have the information they need to make good decisions and great products.  We try to understand the needs of each market, so that we can customize for each in a consistent way.

Getting It Right


Product naming is an art, but one with research behind it.  When a Microsoft team is considering names for a new product or major feature, we do extensive research in English and in target languages and markets to assess whether the name will be good and acceptable, or confusing, misunderstood, and even potentially offensive.  Linguists in target markets give us feedback that might include things like, “This acronym may be problematic in Italy,” or “This term would not be well-understood, and in fact has a different meaning in Japanese,” etc.  Our English-language researcher also looks at homonyms, abbreviations, colloquialisms, and so forth.  Product marketing teams review the feedback and factor it into their decisions.

Language, Locale
Language is a fundamental element of the branded experience.  In some places there are requirements, but in others it’s simply the market expectation for languages offered.  There are also multi-lingual scenarios to consider.  Other critical world-readiness requirements include locale-related things like the formatting of dates and times, calendar systems, time-zones and so forth.  And all of this affects the experience of customers in a market.

Offensive Words
We have a published policy against use of offensive words, but, they occasionally creep in.  It may be a lack of awareness, for example, that there are legal reasons to avoid certain terms in some markets.  To prevent prohibited words from going into the public sphere, we have a scanning procedure, in over 100 languages that our engineering teams must use before finalizing releases.  This helps minimize a potential negative impact on the Microsoft brand, either globally or locally.

Some maps can, quite literally, be wrong — for example, the ones that make Britain and Ireland look like a big glob attached to Europe.  We do our best to avoid mistakes like that, and we have a cartography expert on staff who reviews maps for Microsoft teams and provides guidance on how to make maps render properly.

One of the biggest challenges with mapping is that there is no such thing as a one-world view.  In other words, the key to success with maps is to recognize how local expectations in one location may differ from those in another.  The naming of a geographic feature, the location of a border, and other cartographic elements need to be carefully considered in both global and local contexts.  A customized map may be the best solution for some customers or geographies or regions.

Our guidelines for images relate to elements such as photographs, graphics, and symbols.  While many images are globally viewable worldwide, in certain cases, local versions make for a more appropriate market experience.

Consider the Bing home pages on November 11, 2013.  (November 11 is a holiday of remembrance in some locations.) The homepage image was changed to reflect local sensibilities in different markets.

Bing UKBing UK, where poppies are a symbol of remembrance.

Bing France

Bing France, where cornflowers (Bleuets de France) are a symbol of remembrance.

Bing Canada

Bing Canada (English) also used poppies.


In many locations, the Bing home page featured this image of nature.

Ultimately, to engage our customers, we must take the time to understand and respect the dynamics at play when trying to land both the best global experience and the right local one.

This is no small order to fill, and we must acknowledge the challenges and opportunities in front of us, which keep our work vital and exciting.  For my team, and our colleagues across the company who work on these challenges daily, the biggest compliment a customer can give, wherever they are in the world, is “Microsoft knows me.”