Attention Marketers: Before You Go Global, Get Local!

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If your company is marketing anywhere outside of the United States, it’s essential that you take the time to customize your content and marketing messages for local audiences.

content localization

Although we live in an increasingly globalized world where English has become the lingua franca and the international barriers that once existed are falling, that doesn’t mean that your content and marketing messages that resonate so well at home will be effective overseas. In fact, no matter how global of a world we live in, there are still important details and nuances that you have to understand when marketing to a foreign audience.

While it should go without saying that you should be marketing to people in their native language (rather than trying to force them to use your own), it’s surprising how few companies make that effort. Sure there is a cost associated with translation, but it’s money well spent if it will help ensure that you are able to communicate with your audience more effectively.

The reality, however, is that creating content for an international audience goes beyond just translation. In addition to offering that content in your target audience’s native language, you also need to ensure that it is appropriately localized so that it actually resonates with the audience. Put another way, one-to-one translations don’t always work and you can save yourself a lot of embarrassment and potentially even harm if you take the time to really understand how your messages and content are going to be perceived abroad.

There are quite a few instances in the history of marketing that illustrate what can happen when this step is overlooked. The classic example is the Chevy Nova. “Nova” is remarkably similar to “no va” in Spanish, which translates into “it doesn’t go,” a name that surely led to more chuckles than sales in Spanish speaking markets. Similarly, P&G dodged a bullet when it scrapped its decision to name one of its cleaning products “Dreck,” which is the German word for “crap” or “human waste.” Likewise, Tiz, a brand of razors, wouldn’t have sold very well in Qatar, where the name means “passing wind.”

The point, of course, is that you need to pay real attention to the unintended implications that your content may have when it’s exposed to a global audience. Something seemingly innocuous in one country could potentially be your downfall in another.

So What’s the Takeaway?

If you’re about to start creating content for a foreign market, do yourself a huge favor and find someone you trust within that market who can review your marketing materials for you before they go out. For relatively little money, that person (or agency) can send up the red flags anytime they see something that could potentially reflect badly on your company. It’s an extra step, but in today’s online world where things can quickly go viral, it’s a worthwhile investment.

The bottom line is that you can’t let globalization fool you into thinking that we all think the same way or that we will all interpret things in the same manner. The most important rule of marketing is understanding your audience, and when that audience is global, you’ve got an extra layer of complexity that you have to consider.