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Four key elements to smart brand and content localisation

on Friday 11 December 2015 Written by David Martin

You’ve just successfully translated and localised your brand’s website and marketing materials, making that difficult first step into a new and exciting foreign market.

That’s awesome, but ask yourself where you want to go from here.

Some brands are happy with their new venture serving as an extension of the original company. There’s nothing wrong that. Even a little bit of outreach coupled with some market research can translate into good business and a very healthy return on investment.

Other firms, however, are eager to get an entire marketing department and account management team set up in their new market – sometimes even too eager. Over-ambition can hinder a constructive common-sense approach.

Establishing a global footprint effectively is a multi-faceted process, spanning from good due diligence processes to finding trustworthy suppliers on the ground. Equally, success often also requires a well thought-out content and marketing campaign that is able to engage the target audience. Brands that grow up to become truly global know that it often is not enough to just translate the original copy. The best marketers base their international marketing efforts off their original copy before rebuilding it from the ground up.

Here we look at four key foundations that underpin a well localised branding and content strategy.

#1 Know what the audience is anticipating

It’s good to stand out, but not in a manner that comes across as bizarre or ridiculous. That is why it is useful to get an understanding of what a good campaign should look like in the target market, whether written or visual, and what the audience is expecting - and not expecting - to see.

Also consider the tone and technicality employed by domestic marketers in your target market. For example, marketers creating content for a UK audience assume a thought-leadership role, while those creating for a German audience tend to highlight a product or service's more immediate features and benefits.

A small portion of your copy can, therefore, make a big difference. A good place to begin is carefully considering how you want to express your call to actions and find out which works better for you - whether it’s ‘buy’ ‘order’ or ‘get’.

Get to know your audience’s voice. Web copy should flow naturally while keeping concise. You are not going to get from a direct translation and certainly not out of a machine either. After mastering the look and feel, the next step is then to focus on context, so…

#2 Focus on what your audience finds interesting, not what you find interesting

They might be interested in what you have to sell, but unless you present it to them in a manner that’s accessible, that interest will be quickly lost.

Context is key in a marketing environment, so find out what your target audience cares about. If you’re telling a story, whether as a case study or part of a larger marketing initiative, set it in their country or region so that it resonates. Good campaigns often centre on holidays, news and events in the target market.

And, lastly, if you are feeling particularly local, tell your story in the appropriate voice, incorporating cultural nuances and phrases. Doing so goes a long way in…

#3 Capturing the audience’s emotions

Campaigns that are clever or funny rarely fail. But exporting humour requires clever localisation and transcreation experts that are able to couple translation with the right balance of creativity.

Know what the audience wants and how they enjoy spending their time. Such insights can be an invaluable asset. Brands put themselves on the right course by looking at what the target audience finds funny – their favourite comedy series or comedians can be useful indicators.

However, it’s easy for humour to not only get lost in translation but also shock and offend. As always, the greatest rewards also carry the greatest risks. But regardless of whether you want your brand to be funny or not, it is essential that you…

#4 Familiarise yourself with the cultural norms and traditions

Every community has its own unique set of conventions and traditions. Brands need to understand and respect these norms. Doing so can potentially reap benefits. Similar to drawing upon pertinent contexts, as discussed above, some of the most successful campaigns play on the memories and superstitions we associate with traditional holidays and conventions.

Get it wrong, however, and you risk not just alienating but insulting your audience. For example, when American clothing line GAP opened its first Chinese flagship store in Shanghai in 2010, it dedicated a large section of its visual branding to its “1969” brand, one of its signature lines and the year of its founding. In China, however, the year signifies the waning days of the Cultural Revolution and is regarded as a tragic chapter in the country’s history.

Western firms, therefore, need to be cautious when marketing in the Far East. Even common Western gestures can be considered crass and rude in the region. We don’t want to outline what they mean on this blog (you can find out elsewhere), but just be sure not to point with your forefinger in Indonesia or cross your fingers as if for good luck in Vietnam.

Language is just one part of building up and localising a brand abroad. Market research, a localisation strategy and a creative approach are also essential. These steps take time to develop since there is a rarely a one-size fits all approach. That's why it's important to never rush and always have a plan; there are many markets to be embraced, but there are also some that may be best avoided altogether. So be patient, stay ambitious and decide which strategies will produce the best return on investment.