What is localisation and why does your company need it? If you sell goods or services online, a good localisation strategy will help you a) build an international brand, b) get found online, and c) convert more visitors. It requires some planning and resources, but it’s well worth the effort!
A great many ingredients go into a successful localisation strategy, so this is just an introduction. Things you’ll need to consider are texts, SEO elements, URLs, numbers, dates, measurements and sizes, currencies and imagery, to name a few.
There are now lots of tools online to help with localisation – you can either manage the process manually or use online platforms to automate the entire thing – although cheaper, this second method is less accurate. You can also opt for a mix of both approaches.
Is localisation really important?
Absolutely! Even in your local market, your marketing strategy would have carefully considered issues such as client personas, the buying journey, brand voice, brand message, keywords, calls to action… if you don’t match these to the other markets you go into, you’ll never maximise your sales.
Localisation will help you expand into global markets. Here are a few key insights to convince you:
Learn from the mistakes of others
A poorly executed localisation strategy could make you look incompetent or foolish, or worse could permanently damage your brand, if you fail to take into consideration the cultural nuances of another market. It’s not just markets with different languages that demand localisation. The US and the UK are two countries separated by a common language, not just in spelling but in phrasing and style. And what works in Ireland may not be appropriate in the US market.
After all, you don’t want to make the mistake KFC did, when instead of communicating their “Fingerlickin’ good” slogan, they told their Chinese audience to eat off their own fingers! Or Electrolux, who took their “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux” slogan to the US, apparently unaware of the negative connotations the word ‘sucks’ would convey about their product’s performance.
There’s an Uber-style cab company called Lyft, who are currently only based in the US. But imagine if they break into the Irish market… they may need to rework the hero slogans on their website if they don’t want people to think they’re a new take on Tinder 😉
Including localisation in your content strategy
With some 3 billion potential consumers now online, localising your digital content can no longer be an afterthought. Targeting local markets is a process that requires more than simply translating content into local languages, and even the process of translation needs careful consideration. Remember the fun we all had with google translate when it first came out? – and how often the results were unexpected and laughable as it wrestled Italian into Hungarian.
A localisation strategy begins with the following questions
- Which of your target markets need localisation, and what form should that localisation take?
- Is it enough to simply translate content, or does that content need to be reworked locally to take into account cultural idiosyncrasies?
- How do you make sure that the integrity of the brand remains consistent when instigating a localisation strategy?
- Will it be possible to use a local agency to deliver localised content?
- Consider your budget, your goals and the cost of localisation. Will the increased sales give you a return on your investment?
How will you localise your content?
Global brands increasingly use local agencies to produce the vast majority of their localised content, because those agencies have the experience and familiarity to shape content to their specific audience. But using local agencies increases budgets significantly, so small and medium businesses may initially rely on only translating content into the local language. Consider these three options for you localisation strategy:
Get the team to produce localised content. They know the culture of the brand better than anyone, and they are already costed into budgets. However, they aren’t professional translators and it’s pot-luck which languages they speak.
- Partly outsourced
The team manage the strategy, but outsource to freelancers/agencies for mother tongue translations or voiceovers.
- Fully outsourced
Work with an agency partner to deliver all your localised content.
Translation v transcreation
If your in-house team does not have the level of skill required for the task, but you have decided that localised content will be a great advantage to your business strategy, then go forward with the expertise of a professional.
The golden rule for translation jobs is to work with someone who is translating INTO their mother tongue. No matter how fluent the person is in the target language, a native speaker has an edge on someone who has learnt a language outside of the culture you are targeting.
They are able to express the thrust of the message, not simply translate word for word. They’ll translate idioms correctly and add turns of phrase that make your texts more natural and emotive. I speak from experience here, having translated from French into English for many years.
Deciding whether you need translation, or transcreation
Translation tries to stay as close to the original text as it can, but in a different language. Transcreation reinterprets the original text to deliver a version that fits culturally in the target language. It’s a creative process, in which the writer tries to achieve the same end result but might end up taking a different route to get there!
The end result should carry the same essence, implications and emotions as the original text, and it helps if your transcreator has a good understanding of marketing. In my mind, there is no comparison… if conversions and sales is your goal, you should find a good transcreator.
Other local considerations
I mentioned before that even when the target market speaks English, you’ll need to consider the other elements of a localisation strategy carefully. Here’s where you can take a lead from international brands and really get into the details. Even though these multinationals have huge marketing departments full of highly skilled people, they check every campaign before they roll it out in a particular market.
Check relevance and suitability
To give you an (anonymised) example, I consulted recently on an OOH (out-of-home) campaign for a global tech company. Even though their campaign had been conceived in English, they had extensive checks to carry out before their brought their campaign to Ireland – and they would have done this for every country it was used in.
I needed to look at the following issues for the various concepts proposed:
For the images
- If there were certain ethnicities that should feature, or certain ones that weren’t representative of the target audience.
- How the market felt about gender ratio and how that should be portrayed in the visuals.
- How the expressions of the people in the images would be perceived.
- Clothing restrictions and typical workwear of the target market. I also needed to consider things such as bare shoulders, ‘ethnic’ clothing, jewellery, etc.
For the slogans and taglines
- I needed to explore the relevance of the texts, whether their meaning was the same in Irish culture, whether their secondary meaning was understood, and if there were other – unintended – meanings.
- I had to look at whether the texts were properly mirrored in the visuals.
This isn’t meant to put you off starting a localisation strategy, but to illustrate just how far you can go to make sure your target audience feels represented and ‘at home’ when encountering your brand online. They say that people buy from people… it’s also true that people buy from people like them.
Nothing beats local knowledge
A good local agency will pick up pertinent legal issues or subtle style factors that apply to their jurisdiction. For example, in the US it’s perfectly acceptable to criticise your competitors, whereas in Japan that would be considered distasteful.
Another good example of transcreation would be when TV production companies sell their formats abroad. In circumstances such as this, often a comprehensive format guide is given to the new hosts but there is no expectation of an identical programme. It is noticeable how the X-factor or Big Brother both shapeshift in myriad ways according to country, but remain essentially the same.
Localised video content
When it comes to video content, the same rules apply. Can you simply subtitle your videos (the low-cost option), or is it advisable to produce localised videos to make them effective across different regions? Consider the cross-market appeal of your video material at the beginning of the production stage to save time and money later. Ask the following questions when choosing whether to localise your video content:
- How is it possible to cater effectively for other cultures in video?
- Is it enough to just add subtitles?
- Dubbing can look cheap, so are you prepared to pay for good quality synchronized dubbing?
- Is your video content maintaining the same impact across other markets without localising?
Whether you dub, add subtitles or produce localised video content, videos that strike a familiar tone with a local audience are bound to elicit a greater response. Music is also something to bear in mind and may be worth replacing according to specific local markets in order to achieve the same mood.
Over to you
In the end, being able to effectively localise your content if you do not have the necessary skills in-house is a question of budget. But if your product or service has export potential, then it is well worth investing in a comprehensive localisation strategy. However, like any marketing strategy, it isn’t a case of switch it on and walk away, you’ll need to continually manage and improve it.
Stats above compiled by Transifex