Updated: Sep 8
A localized marketing strategy can help you boost the growth and reach of your organization, products and services. In this post, we explore the foundation of localization and discuss how incorporating it into your marketing endeavours can bring real benefits to your organization. We also discuss some common pitfalls to avoid.
What is localization – and how is it different from translation?
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) defines localization as:
The adaptation of a product, application or document content to meet the language, cultural and other requirements of a specific target market.
It can be considered an umbrella term for the various steps to launch your product or service internationally. Translation is but one key element of localization’s multifaceted make-up. It refers simply to translating your source language into your target language.
By translating the content of your product, service, website, or social media posts, you open the door to a global audience.
65% of people prefer content in their own language, 73% want to read product reviews in their language, and 40% will not buy in other languages.
SOURCE: CSA Research, April 2022
Clearly, these numbers are missed opportunities for marketing potential.
However, solely translating your content does not guarantee a wide international reach. As marketers, our goal is to connect and resonate with our customers. We do this by segmenting and customizing our content to our target audience. This is simpler when targeting a domestic audience, but a marketing strategy that succeeds in one country will not necessarily work in another. That is where localization comes in.
In their 2021 Hispanic Digital Fact Pack, H Code revealed that 71% of Hispanics are more likely to think favourably about a brand or purchase products if efforts are made to include elements of their particular culture.
So what steps can we as marketers take to ensure we meet today’s consumers' needs?
Examples of how it went wrong
We have found some great examples of where the intended message does not quite work and more local knowledge would improve connection and resonance...for the right reasons!
KFC in China mistranslated their “Finger Lickin’ Good” slogan as:
“Eat your fingers off”
In addition, culturally, people in China also tend to eat most meals with chopsticks and use rubber gloves for messier food.
To note, KFC also halted the slogan's use during the COVID-19 pandemic.
When marketing a ballpoint pen in Mexico, Parker’s advertising copy was designed to say:
“It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you”
but it was translated incorrectly to:
“It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant”.
H&M received backlash after releasing a promotional image featuring a black boy modelling a green hoodie with the words
"COOLEST MONKEY IN THE JUNGLE"
written on it.
After apologizing, H&M appointed its first-ever global leader for diversity and inclusiveness, Annie Wu.
In 2021 Facebook announced a name change to:
...which means "dead" in Hebrew.
This created a bit of a Twitter storm for all the wrong reasons (#FacebookDead)
Sports brand adidas sent out an email campaign in 2017 with the subject header:
"Congrats, you survived the Boston Marathon!"
Though after a 2013 bomb attack, this was probably not the best message to send.
Where do you start with building a localized marketing strategy?
Firstly, decide whether or not you actually need or want to localize your content. Perhaps your organization’s objective is to stay domestic. But if you have examined your online data, whether that be global social media reach, website traffic, or another metric, and have noticed trends in certain countries or regions, then consider whether you would like to pursue those markets.
English was the most common language used on the internet as of 2020 (25.9%), but the other top nine languages (Chinese, Spanish, Arabic, Indonesian/Malaysian, Portuguese, French, Japanese, Russian, and German) make up for 51% of internet users worldwide. That’s half of the global population marketers could be tapping into.
If entering a new international market is part of your plan, why not consider:
conducting thorough market research into your target region
identifying potential language and cultural sensitivities for translating or creating promotional content
examining what local businesses and international competitors are doing in their marketing efforts within your target region
improving your website and social media discoverability with international or local SEO
catering your marketing content so that is not simply a replication of your domestic strategy
Six tips for creating a localized marketing strategy
The aim of localization is to position a product or service in a way that the customer believes it was developed for them. You may have translated your content, but there are other important factors to consider:
ensure your translations are localized – include promotional slang, slogans, or catchphrases that are local to your target country, rather than translating literally, to build a relatable connection with customers
use the correct formats for writing dates, times, and numbers as these differ around the world
check whether the colours you have chosen to use in your promotional material, e.g. images and website design, have the same meaning in your target country
consider creating localized social media pages rather than promoting on one page
cater your social media schedule to local time zones
include hashtags that are relevant within your target country
This is just a handful of the many points to think about when marketing internationally. By conducting proper market research into your target country, you will be able to adapt your content to the needs of your international audience. This will capture their attention, build trust, and generate greater leads.
Thinking about marketing to China? Check out our conversation with Andrew Smith, The Charlesworth Group about marketing in China.