"Bite the Wax Tadpole" doesn't exactly roll off the tongue as a memorable moniker for a company. Yet, that's how the brand name for Coca-Cola was interpreted by many when the beverage firm first initiated marketing efforts in China. Worse, Pepsi's former catchphrase, "Pepsi brings you back to life," was translated among the Chinese as "Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave." Corporate giants like the cola kings can survive such embarrassing faux pas, but not every brand has the resilience and resources to recover from a major marketing blunder. Therein lies a hard lesson that every marketer engaging in cross-border promotional endeavors must never forget: branding assets may not literally and figuratively translate properly in other countries, so caution, careful preparation, and content localization need to be followed.
The challenge starts with overcoming language barriers, says Bruno Herrmann, director of globalization for Nielsen in Brussels, Belgium. "Marketers may not speak the language of customers both individually and collectively, and language has to be understood in the broad meaning - not only in the mother tongue of customers but also their tone of voice, cultural background and practices, functional requirements from their ecosystems, and all imperatives tied to the market where they live, work and breathe," Herrmann says. "The first major cause of failures in localizing brands is a lack of understanding who customers actually are, and the second is a lack of localization effectiveness."
And that's where "content localization" comes in. Herrmann defines it as adjusting content to a specific locale and meeting the linguistic, stylistic, cultural, legal, functional and technical requirements of audiences in a defined market. "It involves adapting content for customers effectively enough so that they think it was created just for them. And it can go above and beyond by covering a number of customer groups in the most appropriate granular way in the form of hyperlocalization," he says.
Chris Hall, CEO of Bynder in Rotterdam, Netherlands, says the trick to better understanding the culture of your target audience when drafting brand communications doesn't simply involve hiring skilled translators and foreign consultants - you need to effectively affiliate closely with that country's consumer, too. "Assuming that all regions of the world can be treated as one is a big mistake. For example, you can't market products in the same way in Europe, as there are huge differences between Dutch and German advertising - people can tell when it seems inauthentic. Many of the cultural nuances are subtle in Europe, but they are very real. Consider how in American cities there are differences in culture that are obvious, even from one neighborhood to another," says Hall. "Audiences want to feel like you know them and understand them, so making the extra effort to localize your global message will go a long way."
Whether you're trying to sell widgets, or websites on the other side of the world, it's crucial to do your homework, test your message, and enlist help from native experts.
"First, create and increase awareness on globalization imperatives and agility by bringing stakeholders and leaders together. Convert them to best practices and requirements of global expansion if needed," says Herrmann. Next, "know and understand the markets and customers you want to engage with - avoid assumptions, stereotypes and preferential consideration, and value facts and data over glittering projections."
Hall agrees. "Brands should be sure they understand the market and how business works there to ensure they have a good product-market fit," says Hall. "Take the time to understand the nuances, and pay close attention to dialect and tone of voice in your messages. Also, assess your competition to remain competitive."
You can localize effectively by leveraging the right internal and external talent.
"Be fair, yet selective when identifying the resources you need, ranging from linguists to project managers or language services suppliers," Herrmann adds. "Don't assume that any multilingual person is a linguist...who can translate and localize content accurately and professionally."
Lastly, be sure to capture value and measure effectiveness at each stage of content localization in order to remain agile and adjust as necessary. "Measure what counts for international markets and product, and don't get confused by too many metrics that might dilute the value and results of your efforts in these areas," notes Herrmann.