When Words Matter: Phrase Helps what3words Address the World in Any Language
what3words launched in 2013 to make it easier for people to find places and get help particularly when in an emergency. Many places in the world, such as rural areas and parks, lack a conventional street address. So what3words divided the world into 3-meter squares and assigned each square its own unique three-word identifier to help people find and share precise locations.
People and businesses around the world now use what3words for deliveries and logistics, emergency services, and outdoor activities. The London-based company has scaled from four languages to 60 as it expanded quickly. what3words now operates across the globe in almost every continent.
“Right from the very beginning, one of the main ambitions of the company was that we wanted to become the global standard for addressing,” said Jamie Brown, Chief Languages Services Officer at what3words. “Given our product literally involves words, translations aren’t only to help people to use the product; it is literally the product itself.”
The company now employs nearly 160 people, with a language team that has three full-time employees and close relationships with nearly 100 freelance translators, including roughly 15 lead linguists in key languages.
what3words’ journey from manual localization to seamless global expansion
When what3words launched in the UK, it operated primarily in English as it built out its product. When the company began to expand to other countries and languages, its languages team oversaw all linguistic research for product development, and its localization needs were restricted to the marketing department and outsourced to an agency.
As the company launched additional languages and developed new technologies such as speech and optical character recognition, it needed to localize all supporting assets. This included consumer acquisition marketing assets, press releases, product user interfaces for the app, customer support FAQs, email templates, and marketing materials. The languages team took over localization and built the function from scratch.
It was all pretty manual for a while. And then, the bigger the volume, the more languages we got, the more time-consuming it was, from an administrative point of view, to update our app.
Chief Languages Services Officer
what3words knew it wanted to move away from a translation agency model, as well as its reliance on Google Sheets and, Google Docs. It needed a solution that could efficiently support and accelerate the growing company’s localization processes as it continues expansion into new markets and languages.
How Phrase became what3words’ game-changer in global localization
what3words chose Phrase Strings as its localization management platform for its product localization. The company transitioned from using Google Sheets and Google Docs which it was using for most of its marketing needs when it was pretty low volume. “As the volume and languages increased we brought marketing content into Phrase, which is working well,” Jamie said.
The what3words team uses the collaborative design tool Figma as part of its product design process. The Figma plugin with Phrase Strings allows translators to easily preview designs and understand the user journey, ensuring the translated content works in context for a more efficient and seamless end-to-end process.
The measurable impact of Phrase on what3word’s business
what3words was on a mission to find the ideal platform to manage translations and localization for over 60 languages—a task that, if done manually, could easily turn chaotic.
“Attempting to manually handle the translation and localization of so many languages would be a recipe for disaster,” remarked Jamie. “Without Phrase, we would have found ourselves allocating a significant chunk of our budget just on administration—endlessly copying and pasting. With such a vast number of languages, streamlining this administrative aspect becomes critical.”
Before settling on Phrase, what3words evaluated several localization technologies to help scale its localization function.
We explored multiple localization solutions, but Phrase emerged as the indisputable frontrunner.
Chief Languages Services Officer
Jamie reflected on this, stating, “Phrase was tailor-made for our specific needs, especially concerning product translation app strings, which was our primary administrative challenge.”
“In terms of launching a new language version in the app, this now takes roughly five to six weeks to complete a ‘launch pack’ with 1,000 strings for each new language” stated Jamie, “The newly-onboarded translator benefits from both context screenshots and being able to view previous questions from translators/replies from the what3words languages/product teams on the content in each string. This really helps speed up the process and ensures it runs smoothly and efficiently.”
- Faster time to market: “By leveraging Phrase Strings, what3words enjoys significant time savings. This is estimated to be around 10 hours of administrative time per app – by eliminating the manual nature of its localization processes and automating the workflow,” Jamie advised. The Figma integration has significantly improved collaboration by providing more context in the briefs and communication between product teams and translators, leading to quicker product updates and the ability to launch in multiple languages simultaneously.
- Increased market penetration: Phrase allows the product teams to provide thorough localization briefs with more context either through commentary and screenshots to translation strings through a Figma integration. Translators can also link to projects via Figma for crucial visibility into the user journey. This ensures higher translation accuracy and relevance. As a result, products and services resonate better with local audiences, leading to increased adoption rates in new markets and regions and boosting market share.
- Cost savings: what3words estimates each app update done through Phrase saves around 1-2 days of internal administrative costs.
- Consistent global branding: Phrase helps to maintain linguistic consistency across languages enhancing global brand perception, creating a trustworthy and cohesive image that resonates with customers worldwide.
- Data-driven business decisions: Phrase provides the ability to quickly scan and compare translations particularly languages with more than one UI translation, such as UK and US English and European and Brazilian Portuguese. This offers insights into how different markets might perceive the product and can help inform broader business strategies, from marketing campaigns to product development.
- Reduced customer support costs: With clearer and more culturally apt translations, users of what3words face fewer challenges in understanding and navigating the app. This improves the customer experience and satisfaction and reduces the burden on customer support teams.
- Enhanced cross-functional collaboration: By improving communication between product teams and translators, other departments within what3words can also gain insights and align their strategies accordingly. This cohesive approach can lead to better cross-selling, upselling, and marketing campaign success in different regions.
From local to global: How Phrase supported what3words’ ambition to be every translator’s first choice!
Phrase enabled what3words’ languages team to scale its localization function, slash administrative time and costs, and improve the user experience for its portfolio of freelance translators. This in turn helped speed up its global expansion plans while delivering a superior customer experience.
That last piece is key. “We’re always striving to be our freelance translators’ ‘favorite client,’” Jamie said.
That means supporting translators as best as the company can, by giving them what they need to do their jobs effectively: great communication and critical context. Besides a superior user experience, Phrase also offers a minimal learning curve, since many translators already work with the tool, leading to faster onboarding times for new what3words translators.
“It works both ways, because if you’re your freelancer’s favorite client, they’re more likely to drop something else to help you out at the last minute if you have an urgent request,” Jamie said. “Phrase is part of being our translators’ favorite client.”
Thanks to Phrase we have more control over our timelines. The languages team turns around a localization request in about a week, and this is never in doubt.