What is localization? What brand marketers need to know.

Tag’s Language Services Director, Americas, Lynnie Strother Palancar, talks about the importance of localization in market expansion and addresses the risk of confusing localization with straight translation. In this interview, she serves up some common mistakes brand marketers make while identifying the value of a strong localization strategy as it relates to customer engagement, loyalty and retention.

What is localization?

Here is the issue for many brand marketers: localization is often confused with translation; however, translation is just one element of effective localization. The easiest way to describe it is to say that translation is adapting words. Localization is adapting experience.

Localization is the process of adapting content to a specific language, culture, or market. The ultimate goal of localization is to make your campaign feel tailor made to the specific target, to emphasize the audiences’ culture. And the risk of skipping localization ranges from confusing the target audience to straight-up insulating or alienating them.

This is important: brands must have a culturally sensitive approach to how they do business in foreign countries and with different cultures in domestic markets. Localization takes a step back from the language and looks at the full picture: the content, imagery, font, color choice, music, vocal inflection, and tone.

What happens if I don’t do it?

 A brand cannot risk being tone deaf. With demand for relevant content increasing and timelines for creating content decreasing, the stakes are higher with each campaign. Botched market entries tend to increase as brands accelerate their expansion plans and view localization as simply translation.

For example, one popular U.S. shoe brand innocently put a symbol on a shoe that was meant to be an artsy interpretation of fire and air, not realizing it looked like the symbol for Allah in Arabic, which offended Muslim populations. Another health and wellness brand assumed that that teeth whitening was universally appealing – even to certain cultures that have a historic practice of dying one’s teeth black.

Brands that don’t localize or turn too heavily to direct translation or machine translation solutions, not only risk losing that human element of the brand and its emotional connection to consumers, but can also risk unintentionally changing messaging or meaning. For example, Tiz (a brand of razors) or Pinto (a car model), mean very different and unintentionally risqué things in Arabic and Brazilian Portuguese slang respectively. Both brands underestimated the importance of understanding the culture they were marketing to, and as a result, needed to do a substantial rework.

As we become more globalized, the margin for error is higher. Brands can’t simply translate messaging into 3-5 languages anymore. To be truly relevant and have a strong global presence, you need to adapt content and messaging via localization into upwards of 15-35 languages and cultures.

What is the value of localization?

The value of localization is an increase in brand engagement, customer loyalty and ultimately, sales. Localization is the power a brand has for successful market expansion and engagement. It can empower the brand to speak directly to the target audience, in the right language, tone and cultural sensitivity, while still maintaining brand integrity.

A great example of effective localization is Coca Cola’s “Share a Coke” campaign, which launched in Australia. Instead of just the Coke label, they said “Share a Coke with (insert name).” In order to resonate in other countries, they’d swap names based on popular names in market (i.e. in Ireland, they added Irish names, such as Aoife to resonate). That might seem obvious, but what makes this example really great is that they went the extra mile from a research perspective when adapting the campaign for China. In China, it’s not as respectful to address a person by their first name. In this context, you would typically address the individual with their last name and include honorific titles. So, instead of using names, they chose terms, like “Share a Coke with your close friend/coworker.” This ultimately ensured that the overall message worked in a culturally relevant manner.  What Coca Cola did well, is that they kept the core concept of the idea, but tweaked it in a way that would feel like it was speaking directly to each individual target audience, allowing them to broaden their reach and gain market share in each region.

At Tag, we help brands successfully expand to new international and domestic markets by debunking the myth that a straight word-for-word translation works in all instances, and instead, provide comprehensive localization services, evaluating content, copy and imagery to check and adapt based on cultural relevancy. We work together with brands and agencies to create, adapt and amplify content across region and delivery channels.