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Products, services and content need to be adapted to meet the needs and expectations of specific markets. This is a process called localization and it’s a vital part of your approach when you’re seeking new audiences for your brand.
Localization helps your brand to connect with audiences at a deeper level. But brands still aren’t fully understanding localization – what it is, why it matters and how to approach a localization project properly.
For starters, many brands mistakenly lump translation and localization in together. Translation is just one facet of the localization process. A good localization project will see marketing teams considering all aspects of a brand’s offering, from the human models used to promote it to the level of advertising aggression used.
Customers not only need to be approached in their own language, but they need to have their cultural, social and aesthetic expectations taken into account as well.
Localization also encompasses practicalities such as how the brand uses date formats, clothing measurements and currency. Get these small details wrong and it puts a major barrier between you and your customer.
If you don’t localize properly, your brand can look extremely gauche in its new market. More importantly, it won’t engage with customers in a way that’s relevant to them.
Brands that get localization right
It’s not a coincidence that the brands what get localization right are the ones that enjoy the greatest international success. Brands that are effective at adapting their message and offering, as well as practicalities such as date format and units of measurement, are setting themselves up for success in new markets.
Fried chicken chain, KFC, has enjoyed success in China and Japan – both markets that are often considered hard for Western brands to penetrate.
KFC has achieved a strong presence in Asia by adapting its offering to meet local expectations for food retail. Naturally, this included adapting the menu to better suit local tastes. But KFC’s success in China is generally seen as a crowning example of how to do your market research effectively.
After researching China’s market, KFC’s conclusions were that their style of grab-and-go dining just wouldn’t fit into local expectations.
In other more Westernized markets such as Australia, the restaurants tend to be sited at busy road interchanges where drivers can grab fast food meals on the move. KFC’s conclusion was that Chinese diners would expect a more leisurely and social experience.
That’s why KFCs in China are located in busy shopping malls and on major shopping streets; venues where people linger. The brand is sold more as an aspirational dining experience rather than a quick and tasty meal solution, as it would be in KFC’s home market.
KFC stores in China have a higher staff to customer ratio, with special hostesses to greet parties and keep children entertained. Its menu is also far more varied in China and the menu changes more often compared to in its home market. Restaurants in China are also laid out differently, with bigger table areas to accommodate larger parties and families.
KFC even recognizes that regional tastes vary across China, offering spicier dishes in some areas to accommodate local preferences. The brand has totally reinvented itself to meet the expectations and preferences of the local market.
The localization challenge
If localization was easy, all brands would be doing it. It’s tough for brands to understand new audiences and even tougher for them to reinvent themselves flawlessly in every new market.
Mistakes get made all the time – the worst of which can have a nasty tendency to damage the brand at home. Coffeehouse chain, Starbucks, faced an angry backlash in other markets when it tried to gender-segregate its Middle Eastern stores to meet local expectations there. This move angered western audiences, who have expectations of gender equality.
Managing international brand and marketing teams is a major challenge and it’s hard to find local partners that can help you adapt your offering effectively into the target market.
Central marketing teams need to strike the right balance between giving local teams freedom to adapt the offering and still maintaining a single global identity. All campaigns need to be checked before they go out and by the right people.
It’s important that local teams are supervised but their activities need to be appreciated within their cultural context.
Multinational teams also face a lot of practical challenges when they’re trying to manage brand localization projects. For example, it’s pretty much essential to have a robust technology infrastructure in place that can quickly and efficiently share collateral with local audiences to enable them to adapt the campaign messaging.
Teams need to be using platforms that work effectively together to prevent practical problems.
A common challenge that marketing teams often encounter is that a campaign message that’s brief in its original language needs to have far more characters when expressed in another language.
Often this makes translated copy difficult to fit into advertising creative. Flexibility is the key – but it’s hard to achieve this and still be consistent.