If you’re at all familiar with the concept of content localization, you will know that it’s about more than just translating content from one language to another. While translation plays a major part of any marketing strategy for companies that work on an international scale, localizing has more to do with culture than just a literal translation would offer.
When a joke about how to port a Canadian phone number, for example, is translated via dubbing or subtitling in movies or shows, it won’t be translated word for word. An equivalent joke will be made which makes more sense to the target audience, something that is logical for the language and culture that is being presented with the joke.
With localization, it can go even further than just a good translation. In some cultures, even a joke translated really well could fall flat because of the norms of that society. The actual sense of the joke might be altered by the localization expert to fit the local culture and not cause offence (at worst) or just fall flat (at best).
We can see this very obviously with McDonald’s, the fast-food chain. The menu varies from country to country, as do the adverts. While the iconic brand remains recognizable, in Japan, for example, they offer soy sauce in their recipes.
Image sourced from dailymail.co.uk
Content localization in marketing
The above is an example of localizing the actual product, but you can of course, localize the way a product is marketed. Models in adverts that have been localized for different cultures and countries will look more like the people in those countries. Music popular in that part of the world can be added.
You can also adjust prices, or at least market different price points, according to the local average spending power of the area you are marketing to.
Advantages of good content localization
There are a few important advantages to good content localization. Done well, the benefits are the following:
Nothing says “this seller doesn’t understand me or what I need” more than an offensive advert. Whether it’s lacking diversity when advertising to a diverse public, messing up gender norms for a particular society or using music associated with a particular political party, it can be pretty easy to alienate your potential buyers.
Sometimes mistakes can be funny – “Soy Milk” can be read as “I am Milk” in Spanish – and even turned into cross-cultural jokes. But one important benefit of hiring a professional localization expert is that you can avoid the bad types of funny mistakes.
Attract more buyers
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Representation tends to be pretty important to most potential buyers as well as for marketing benchmarks. If your audience sees a model who looks a bit like them, they are likely to feel that this product is intended for people like them. This is why you wouldn’t see shampoo for people with fair and straight hair being advertised to people with dark and curly hair.
Even if the product doesn’t directly correlate with the person’s appearance, showing people who look like the target audience using that product is likely to be more successful and should be integral to any content marketing plan. It sends the unconscious and conscious message that “This product is for you”.
Localizing your marketing is a very practical thing to do. Something as simple as formatting your adverts so that text can easily be inserted in both directions can help you localize your products to Arabic-speaking nations and, for example, the US.
Since Arabic is written right-to-left, and English left-to-right, making your marketing material adaptable for both these styles from the get-go can save you time, so you don’t have to recreate each piece of material.
How to do it
While it might be tempting to copy-paste everything from your marketing plan into Google Translate and be done with the whole thing, there are two things to note. Firstly, machine translation isn’t very reliable yet, especially regarding small snippets of text with little context. Secondly, language is also culture – beyond the right words, you need to understand the needs and mentality of your target audience to capture your audience’s attention.
So, here are a few steps you can take to localize like a pro:
1. Learn all about your target audience’s culture and location
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It might be tempting just to think of countries as single, homogenous entities, but you might want to dig a little deeper to experience greater success with your localization. As well as different languages, you might have dialects, for example. Regional slang and idiomatic differences are not uncommon.
The north of France, for example, is both geographically and culturally distinct from the south, and what might go over well with people at one end might fall flat with audiences at the other. The same goes for cities versus rural areas, mainland versus islands, and mountains vs seaside locations.
2. Talk with someone who knows the target area well
Often, one of the best ways to learn about a location and the local culture is to buy a really good travel book, but that will only get you so far. You can’t ask a book additional questions. Another option is to talk to someone, or better yet, a group of people.
They won’t just be able to tell you what words to use, which phrases to avoid, and which values to appeal to. They will also be able to point you in the right direction when it comes to things that are harder to define, little bits of je-ne-sais-quoi. It can often be hard to articulate why something does or doesn’t feel right, so being able to discuss it is much more effective than a list of Dos and Don’ts.
3. Decide exactly what you would like to localize
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You likely have a lot of content that you could potentially localize to your new target audience, but you don’t necessarily have to go through all of it. You should first focus on which posts and marketing material you most want to share. Focus on the main messages you want to put across, and then localize the rest if you need to later on.
Next, you should look at which materials are likely to perform the best in your new area as it is. In other words, which content clusters need the least amount of work to succeed in front of a new audience.
You can figure this out by looking at common denominators, such as universal values that are cross-cultural and shared by all humans. While there will certainly be differences in how these values are expressed, the core will likely be the same.
You can also look at how your competitors are faring in your new region – both competitors from the area, and competitors who have expanded to those regions. By looking at the former, you can get an idea of what people like, and by looking at the latter, you can observe the techniques other companies have used when localizing their content and get an idea about the strategies they used.
A test run can be performed where you look at which items seem to be performing the best in your new region and hone in on those going forward. You don’t necessarily have to include every single item in your shop for your new region – focus on what sells.
4. Visual aspects
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As we touched upon earlier, you should keep in mind the visual components of your adverts. That means considering which models you use, including details such as how you dress your models, what kind of makeup they wear, and their hairstyles.
Photographs should match the vibe of the local region you are targeting with your ads. If you’re based in a seaside area in Canada, but your new target audience is in a mountainous part of Brazil, your ads should focus on incorporating the local flavor. This is unless of course, what you’re selling is Canadian aesthetics.
Some people like to shop for the place they want to be rather than where they currently are. Even this, however, can be localized, by showing, for example, a Brazilian person using your Canadian product.
A little goes a long way
With localization, you don’t need to completely rebrand your business from head to toe. You just want to make it more accessible to your target audience, both practically, by making your marketing material easier to read on your content mediums, and emotionally, by appealing to their values, using their catchphrases, and including people who look like them.
When you think of localization, perhaps you think of advertising to a culture far removed from your own, but this is a technique you can apply within your own country, depending on which city or state you’re marketing to. Your international calling from Canada service ads can vary greatly from east to west! So, sally forth and hop-to! It’s as easy as apple pie.