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Why the Best Global Marketing Relies on Localization

Global marketing

Find out why designing a global marketing strategy around localization leads to more successful campaigns and gives you a distinctive edge over your competitors.

We live in the era of information technology, which has shrunk the world in an unprecedented way. Globalization has made it common for companies to conduct international operations, with global marketing topping the agenda of business executives across the globe.

With a crucial emphasis on international marketing efforts, figuring out how to make an impact in multiple markets and languages simultaneously can make a huge difference for any business that seeks to thrive in today’s competitive marketplace.

Keep reading to delve into how localization can strengthen your global marketing strategy and give you a leg up in the international market.

What is global marketing?

Global marketing is the set of processes and activities that lead to identifying, satisfying, and attracting customers from all over the world. It involves a comprehensive approach for conducting business in different countries as part of an overall strategy to meet or exceed organizational objectives and achieve sustainable global growth.

When expanding your business globally, some aspects that may change for each market you enter include:

  • The product portfolio: It may require the creation of custom products and services that meet customer needs in a given region or market.
  • The messaging: It’s important to adapt the content of your materials to the local preferences of each market, the economic climate, social trends and customs, and more.
  • The channels: How you use to reach your customers, such as the different social media, as well as the local partnerships you may need to form in order to distribute or sell your products or services.
  • The pricing structure: Global product pricing being an art in itself.
  • The business model: It’s likely going to be affected by local regulations and tax structures in each local market, among other things.

Some brands even adapt their names to meet language or cultural preferences. The US-based Lay’s potato chips, for example, are sold across the globe as “Walkers”, “Sabritas”, “Smiths”, or “Margarita”. What’s also interesting, Lay’s flavors vary not only from region to region in the US but also around the world to reflect popular foods in different countries.

How do you define a global marketing strategy?

A global marketing strategy is a solid plan for positioning a company’s brand in the international marketplace. It includes all of the ways in which your organization will compete in global markets.

To define a successful global marketing strategy, you need the input of every department of your company as well as a detail-oriented approach that considers the following aspects in each market you penetrate:

  • The value proposition: What makes the brand unique? Why should consumers care about it and choose to purchase your products or services instead of your competitors’?
  • The target audience: Which customers are you going to go after? Who makes up your ideal target customer segment? How will you stand out from local and global competitors for this particular group?
  • Success factors: What has to happen so that consumers in a given market will connect with your brand, identify with it, and choose it over the competition?
  • The business model: What are the most effective ways to build your brand in each market? How are you going to drive revenue in different markets since local regulations and financial conditions are likely to vary from one region to another?
  • The products and services: What are the primary offerings you’re going to promote in each market? How will you adapt them to local needs and culture?
  • The marketing mix: What are the most effective tactics for reaching your target customers, communicating with them, and closing a sale? What are the campaigns and activities you plan to undertake and their estimated costs? How are you going to position your brand in the minds of consumers?
  • The resources: What kind of investments, financial and human, are needed in order to execute the global marketing strategy? What kind of organizational structure, processes, and technology are you going to use to strengthen your brand globally?
  • The local factor: What are the cultural, economic, and political factors in each region that are likely to affect your brand’s success? How will you adapt your strategy to the local environment in each region? What are the messages and themes that are likely to resonate locally?

One of the most important factors that impact a company’s success in international marketing is the ability to design and deploy campaigns that sound and feel local to the different regions or markets. This is known as international marketing localization.

What is localization in global marketing and why is it important?

Localization is the process of adapting all elements of your global marketing campaign to your target markets, so it can reflect the needs, interests, and context of customers in that specific area.

In order for a localization strategy to support global marketing initiatives, you need far more than just translating campaigns into the native language of each country. You need to understand variations from one market to another in terms of social values, economy, social trends, technology, legislation, and more.

When you show this kind of commitment to your customers upon entering a new market, they are more likely to respond positively to your brand, and several studies prove it.

The 2021 Hispanic Digital Fact Pack, for example, is a post-pandemic in-depth analysis focusing on Hispanic consumers in the United States. It provides insights into the nuances, attitudes, and habits of this growing market segment following a turbulent year of severe economic slowdown.

The report reveals that if a company takes the time to understand what really matters to Hispanic consumers and to include elements of their specific culture in their communications, 71% of them will think more positively about the brand or purchase its products.

Where do I start with my global marketing localization?

Ideally, you would want to localize all elements of your global marketing plan, from the website and landing pages you design for international audiences, to your global communication campaigns and product offerings. Even the physical environment in which you hold a launch event or present an ad campaign matters.

As a first step, though, it’s helpful to identify those aspects of your global marketing plan that are likely to be most impactful with consumers in different regions. What are the specific elements that can make a difference and drive growth in various markets?

A good starting point is the marketing mix—also known as the 4 Ps of marketing—the set of elements you use to market and sell your products or services and build a brand:

  • Product: Localizing your product offering means adapting the product to local conditions. For example, a company in the electronics industry wanting to sell a digital camera in the Caribbean might consider customizing it with additional features such as underwater modes to make it particularly relevant for consumers there.
  • Price: When it comes to pricing, localization can be purely cosmetic—changing the currency symbol—or structural, e.g., raising the price in a market where you have higher costs or lowering it in a market where consumers find it harder to afford your product or service.
  • Place: Global marketing managers need to consider factors including distribution channels, retail locations, and web presence in each region. For example, a beauty product company might choose to work with partners in different regions to sell products through salon chains or online marketplaces that are most relevant for each area.
  • Promotion: You should aim to localize your marketing communications across channels—traditional and online. These include your website, social media presence, advertising campaigns, public relations efforts, and more. Localization can be as simple as changing the language of an advertisement, or it could involve actions such as tailoring the timing of a campaign to a regional event.

What about transcreation?

If you’ve been reading about international marketing lately, you may have come across the term “transcreation”. Let’s dissect it to understand what transcreation is, how it differs from localization, and why it can make a difference in your global marketing efforts.

We’ve established that localization goes much further than language and content (i.e., you can localize anything from your visuals to your UX to your pricing strategy).

Transcreation, on the other hand, is different—it’s all about the content. A hybrid between “translation” and “creation”, transcreation involves rewriting a text to adapt it to a specific culture or target audience.

Transcreators usually come into the picture when you need to adapt the most creative elements of a piece of content. For example, they might customize slogans, taglines, jokes, symbols, storytelling, and even emojis to be culturally relevant in each local market.

For example, in Japan, parents don’t use the story of a stork delivering babies to explain how their child arrived. Instead, they tend to explain that a baby came from a giant floating peach.

A diaper company from the UK aiming to increase sales in Japan would benefit from adapting its marketing to take advantage of this local myth (after all, most wouldn’t understand what the stork is all about!). A transcreator could serve up a new, Japanese-specific version of the ad campaign based on the peach story.

Global marketing examples that made history—the good and the bad

When looking for inspiration from global marketing examples, it’s useful to analyze not only global marketing campaigns that were successful and localization-aware, but also those that failed. Let’s look at a few examples of each.

Good: Mercedes-Benz

Originally Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG), this car manufacturing company was renamed Daimler-Benz in 1926 when Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz (from Benz & Cie.) signed the agreement for the merger of the two oldest automobile manufacturers in the world.

Both men had been designing and selling cars since the 1880s, with Emil Jellinek, an entrepreneur and racing enthusiast, as their largest dealer for DMG vehicles.

After Gottlieb Daimler passed away, Jellinek went on to help create the Mercedes 35hp in 1900. Jellinek named the new cars after his daughter, Mercédès Jellinek.

The company registered the wordmark “Mercedes-Benz” as a trademark in 1925. While the company continued to trade as Daimler-Benz, the car line began to carry the Mercedes-Benz name. Jellinek suspected that the German-sounding “Daimler” would not sell well in foreign markets—a strong localization example that we can still learn from almost a century later.

Bad: BMW

In 2016, BMW had to pull an ad from the United Arab Emirates after local complaints about the use of the country’s national anthem in the commercial.

The commercial opened with players of a local football team signing the UAE’s national anthem but stopping halfway to rush out of the stadium into a fleet of BMWs.

Locally, the ad sparked complaints that it was disrespectful to the national anthem because it implied that the cars were more important than the anthem.

BMW subsequently decided to stop airing the commercial locally until they could re-edit it with a different soundtrack.

Had BWM been more aware of the local context, they might have avoided faux pas and chosen a different, culturally respectful way to advertise their product. They would have also saved themselves considerable costs from having to reshoot the commercial.

Good: Coca Cola

oca Cola’s 2011 “Share a Coke” campaign was arguably an unprecedented success in the global marketing business.

The disruptive yet simple idea of showing people’s names on Coke bottles and cans started in the United States. It was an emotional campaign that focused on connecting with consumers through their names.

The campaign’s emotional appeal was such that Coca Cola built massive awareness and engagement with consumers around the world while simultaneously skyrocketing sales. That summer, Coke sold more than 250 million named bottles and cans in a country of 23 million people.

When it came to taking the idea globally to more than 70 countries, marketing teams from each market were allowed to put their own creative spin on the concept, while preserving the core idea of personalized Coca-Cola bottles and cans. They had to localize the names that would be displayed so that people across the globe could relate to them.

These localized versions not only increased local relevance but also provided an opportunity for deepened engagement with consumers. The campaign was a huge success in all markets, from big cities to small towns, without ever losing its local feel or core message.

Without a proper localization strategy in place to support such a massive global marketing endeavour, Coca Cola could have wasted millions of dollars on a failed campaign.

Bad: Dolce & Gabbana

In 2018, Dolce & Gabbana faced enormous backlash after a series of short ads was released in China stereotyping Chinese people.

The controversial ads featured a Chinese model dressed in a lavish Dolce & Gabbana dress trying to eat pizza with chopsticks while a male voiceover condescendingly gives her instructions to be able to eat.

The ads were met with outrage by some members of the Chinese community. A Weibo (Chinese social network) user commented “That’s explicit racism.” There were even calls to boycott the brand.

With Chinese consumers making up a third of the global luxury market, Dolce & Gabbana seems to have completely missed the mark with these ads. A localization strategy that took cultural sensitivities into account would have helped them avoid this pitfall!

Good: Absolut

Let’s now look at the #SexResponsibly campaign from Absolut Vodka—a global brand renowned for its position at the cultural vanguard—in the United States. It addressed the fact that an American is sexually assaulted every 68 seconds (as reported by the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) with perpetrators often using alcohol as both a tool and an excuse to commit their crimes.

On Valentine’s Day 2020, Absolut and Pernod Ricard USA launched the campaign “Drink Responsibly. #SexResponsibly” in an effort to drive real change in the way people perceive the connection between responsible drinking and consensual sex.

What made this campaign so successful in the United States was that it focused on a local issue. If Absolut hadn’t localized this campaign to the US at the right time, when conversations around sexual assault were dominating national media, it probably wouldn’t have generated so much awareness for its brand and would have likely failed to create an impact in a key market.

All these examples make it clear that it’s all about making marketing messages relevant to each local context while still maintaining the brand identity and core values of the global company. The result is more positive awareness of the brand, increased sales, and higher levels of engagement with customers in each market.

Why some global marketing projects fall flat

As you may have concluded from the above selection of global marketing examples, the reasons for failed global marketing projects can generally be attributed to one of the following:

Lack of local research

One of the most common reasons for failed global marketing efforts is that the campaign creators don’t build in enough time to conduct thorough research and analysis before creating a global campaign.

Campaign creators sometimes neglect to incorporate consumer opinion gathering into the planning phase of their projects. They often fail to spend enough time determining how to localize their message for each global market.

The lack of analysis and consumer market immersion can hamper marketers’ ability to fully understand local consumers’ motivations and needs, which in turn translates into a lackluster, culturally irrelevant global marketing campaign.

Hype over substance

Companies sometimes fall prey to the “hype factor” and choose to run a global marketing campaign to generate buzz, rather than acting because it’s actually the right strategy for their business. Their product lacks the right attributes to appeal to a global audience, and the company does not have sufficient resources or time to localize the campaign.

This hype or “PR push” can end up costing companies millions of dollars and ultimately nothing more than a temporary spike in sales. Truly successful global marketing projects that yield lasting results are the result of a clear strategy implemented diligently over time.

No clear objective

As with any other marketing effort, global campaigns are only successful if there’s a clear goal behind them as well as a plan for achieving it.

For instance, a company might launch a global marketing campaign simply to increase brand awareness in multiple markets. But if the campaign doesn’t offer anything unique or compelling to captivate prospects so that brand awareness translates into an increase in market share, it will be “marketing for the sake of marketing” instead of a focused initiative designed to have a real impact on the company’s bottom line.

Misaligned tools and processes

In order for a global marketing campaign to be truly successful, marketers need to ensure that the tools and resources they plan to use are aligned with their objectives.

Working on international marketing campaigns is one of the most complex tasks handled by any global enterprise, so marketers need to make sure they have the right technology, infrastructure, and processes in place to ensure success.

For example, the manual translation of global marketing materials (think excel spreadsheets and countless email back-and-forths) often results in slow, low-quality work, causing the company to needlessly spend time and money on costly rework. A greater focus on localization best practices can help streamline the process and put an end to inefficiency.

Local misunderstanding of the brief and brand strategy

In some instances, a lack of understanding, at a local level, of the campaign’s objectives and the global brand strategy plays a role in a failed global marketing effort.

For example, if the global brand strategy focuses on the product’s ease of use, and regional managers believe their local market consumers are more interested in the product’s affordability, a lack of alignment between the two could result in a misguided campaign that misses its mark.

To avoid this, marketers must ensure that the brand strategy is clearly communicated at multiple levels.

Even when marketers do an excellent job of conducting analysis and research, creating the right message, and mapping out a roadmap for execution, they must clearly communicate the strategy to each local team in a way that ensures alignment.

How to best implement a localization-aware global marketing plan

Marketers have an opportunity to positively impact consumers across the world by making localization the central focus of their plan. The following steps can serve as a guide to undertake this process:

Educate your teams

Take time to make sure every team in your company understands the importance of localization and how it connects with the company’s overall objectives.

Develop a global localization plan

Devise a sound plan that covers all aspects of the campaign: from the translation of key documents (marketing materials, landing pages, web copy, etc.) to the management of translators; and from the technical requirements for tools to the development and maintenance of your website in multiple languages.

Centralize localization efforts

It’s a good idea to have a single team or person responsible for managing the global localization process that reports directly to the CMO (or another senior executive who’s directly involved in the global marketing process). From planning to execution to post-campaign evaluation, this will ensure a cohesive approach across the various involved teams.

Create “fitness” scorecards

For each global marketing campaign you launch, create a “fitness” scorecard around each individual campaign component that assesses its localization fit. Involve your localization department to ensure the scorecard is accurate and results are meaningful.

Evaluate and gather feedback

Make sure you’re getting the most out of your localization efforts in all markets by conducting regular customer interviews and using the feedback to adjust campaign components. Carry out regular post-campaign evaluations of what worked and what didn’t, so you can apply your learnings to future campaigns.

Invest in technology

Finally, take full advantage of technology. From localization tools and processes to solid infrastructure, technology can help you streamline the process, and ultimately save you time, effort, and money.

Consider using a translation management system (TMS) to manage the localization process end to end. A TMS will enable you to centralize and standardize all of your processes, manage the creation and use of glossaries, control costs by adopting an efficient workflow, monitor performance with comprehensive reporting capabilities, and take advantage of a range of other features that are useful in managing a localization project.

Technology is becoming an increasing part of the global marketing mix, with translation management systems playing an integral role in effective localization strategies. With technology firmly in place to support it, a localization-aware global marketing strategy is nigh on unbeatable as a competitive advantage for any company seeking to succeed globally.

A successful global marketing strategy rests on localization

Global marketing is, above anything, local. With a clear commitment to localization from day one, the best global marketing strategy connects the right people with the right processes by leveraging the right technology.

This solid basis can help global marketers effectively launch campaigns that resonate with customers worldwide and motivate them to buy your product. The final result? An even greater global revenue growth in the long run.

Is your global market strategy localization-aware? Learn best practices to make the most of it with the following guides:

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