The top 5 marketing localisation challenges and how to overcome them

Posted: 29 Feb 2024

We’re just going to come right out and say it: marketing localisation is now essential to the growth of global business.

And how can we make such a bold claim?

Because we’re armed with the cold, hard (and very helpful) facts.

FACT #1 A whopping 76% of online customers prefer product information in their own language.

FACT #2 40% of internet visitors NEVER buy from non-localised sites; and if you flip that stat around, it shows localised websites can increase sales by up to 60%.

FACT #3 Localised apps generate a 10-fold increase in downloads as reported by Appmasters via Venturebeat, 2023.

FACT #4 Paid media that’s had the translation touch results in nearly DOUBLE the clicks.

And we’ve saved the best till last:

FACT #5 Academic study shows that investing in language capabilities delivers UK SMEs an export sales boost of 30%.

However, regardless of the evident business benefits of localisation (see our article for more stats and facts) and the almost endless reach of the internet, most of the online world is still not localised.

Unbelievable, but true; more than half of the world’s websites are presented solely in English, which is a massive missed opportunity when just 5% of the planet speaks English as a first language.

It begs the question of why more businesses aren’t adding a localisation strategy to their international marketing plans and reaping the rewards it so evidently brings?

Well, perhaps it’s because operationally, it’s perceived to be much easier to deliver standardised content to every corner of the world – despite its negative impact on sales and reach – than to provide tailor-made material that suits the needs of diverse global audiences.

While many brands do indeed feel the pull to produce multilingual, cross-cultural marketing, they’re often daunted by the challenges it brings.

But the numbers don’t lie; and by not including marketing localisation in your business plan, you’re missing out on a huge chunk of global purchasing power.

So, let’s find out what the top 5 challenges of marketing localisation actually are, and how to overcome them:

#1 The cultural nuance challenge

Brands regularly take a simple word-for-word translation approach to global growth; translating into customers’ native languages and crossing their fingers that messages make the desired impact.

Unfortunately, cultural differences in behaviours, customs, and the understanding and interpretation of language often throw a spanner in the works and leave audiences unmoved, nonplussed, or even offended by this one-size-fits all marketing method.

Imagine an English wet-weather clothing manufacturer using the idiom, “It’s raining cats and dogs,” in a global marketing campaign. It might go down a storm at home, but in Japan, India or even France and Spain, it’s unlikely to make much of a splash!

Brands and marketers have to understand their customers and know how to market to other cultures to achieve global success.

This is where marketing localisation that addresses cultural adaptations is a real game changer.

Carried out by highly skilled translators, localisation goes beyond words. It takes content originating in one language and adapts it to make sense, and resonate, with new target markets, regardless of location, culture, language, or presentation preferences.

As Sandra Simoes, a wonderful Portuguese linguist who we love to work with says, “Cultural context is inseparable from language work, as even the slightest nuances can significantly impact the accuracy and effectiveness of a translation.”

In a similar vein, Rebecca Schneiders, a professional German linguist explains “Cultural context is absolutely essential. I cannot translate a text without considering for whom I translate, and what the social and cultural background is. It’s also about having awareness of the people the texts are about. How do they identify themselves; how do they refer to themselves, what words are a no-go?” 

Find out more about our exceptional linguists, and the art of localisation in “Crafting meaning: The creative genius of translators”.

Here are some of the key strategies businesses can implement to address these cultural challenges:

  • Understanding your target audience – it’s crucial to know who you’re talking to! Market research should be the first priority of any marketing campaign; but it’s even more important when you’re breaking into new and unfamiliar territories.
  • Assembling the right team – bring native language translators on board and collaborate with local experts; you’ll get to the heart of local behaviours, trends and colloquialisms before your competition does.
  • Using consistent terminology – developing a language glossary can help make repeat projects more efficient; we’ve written more about this here.
  • Introducing transcreation – does content need images, colours, symbols, and even humour adaptation to suit local tastes?
  • Checking user interfaces – do your website or app navigation elements, such as buttons and menus, make sense to your target audience? Do they fit the cultural conventions of intended recipients in terms of readability and layout, e.g. Hebrew and Arabic require a different format to western languages.

We’ve written more about marketing localisation strategies and some of the world-famous brands that have excelled in global communication here.

#2 The brand voice and consistency challenge

Brand voice is your brand’s personality; it’s the way customers recognise you no matter where, or how they see you. Without a strong brand voice, companies struggle to establish themselves at home, or away.

For a brand to gain credibility and make meaningful connections, it’s got to remain consistent across all customer communication, i.e. social media, website, blog posts, emails, and advertisements.

The challenge for global marketers is to keep this personality intact and consistent across different languages, cultures, and locations.

How can you ensure a consistent brand voice in your multi-regional marketing?

  • Build a style guide – also known as a brand book, or bible, it’s the go-to document for guidance on brand voice, tone, language, taglines, slogans, brand values, and product names.

As it’s developed, it should include examples of dos and don’ts so that translators and other content creators are aware of any words, phrases and visuals that should be avoided in specific countries.

  • Supply a clear brief – every localisation brief should include details of style and tone of voice. Work with your translation partner to establish a style guide (as above) for each language, and impress upon them the importance of style and tone of voice in translation.
  • Use professional translators – machine translation has its place, but when it comes to localisation, someone who’s fluent in the target language, and also understands the culture they’re writing for will deliver a much better ROI.
  • With appropriate technology – translation management tools and content management systems (CMS) can help streamline the process and manage multilingual content. Translation memory and glossaries can help maintain consistency and efficiency for revisited projects.
  • With an established and trained team – ask your translation partner to build a dedicated team for your account and make sure everyone knows your brand voice inside and out. That way you can maintain a strong brand message and keep consistency across all campaign collateral.

These three brands are among many international names that enjoy huge success through powerful and consistent global branding: 

Apple: with over 2.3 billion iPhones sold around the world, the tech giants at Apple have undoubtedly got their global branding machine well-oiled and working the marketing magic! Across 26 countries, they’ve managed to craft and localise product names, slogans, and messages to engage consumers across a vast range of differing international markets.

Starbucks: with its origins in Seattle, Washington, this coffee colossus has filtered into the lives of millions of people, worldwide, every day of the week. It’s an iconic brand recognised for a consistent voice and customer-centric approach in global markets. Starbucks continuously adapts its coffee-related terminology, brand values, and messaging to reflect local preferences and cultures.

Innocent Drinks: despite being fully owned by Coca Cola, UK business, Innocent is still an instantly recognisable brand in its own right. A B Corp company (like us), and selling into more than 30 countries, it’s known for quirky marketing and planet-friendly products. With every website localised, Innocent’s brand voice remains strong across all its target markets.

#3 The technical jargon and industry-specific language localisation challenge

This is perhaps the trickiest challenge of all. And that’s because producing technical text with a brand’s marketing style is hard enough in one language, let alone in multiple!

There are many industry-specific terms that just don’t have direct equivalents in other languages, and individual companies will have their own internal terms and vocab too. In these instances, rather like they do with idioms, translators need to find creative ways to describe concepts and ensure their original meaning is accurately conveyed.

Here are some tips on how to accurately translate specialist terminology: 

  • Collaboration counts – finding a top-notch translator who’s also an expert in a niche industry, or has an encyclopaedic knowledge of technical, medical, scientific, or financial terms is nigh on impossible and collaboration between linguists, marketers and subject aficionados is key.
  • Develop approved glossaries – essential across all localisation areas so that specialised terminologies can be recorded and retained for consistency. It’s also important to revise these, as new terms and concepts are constantly emerging in these fields. With translation memory software you can build a linguistic database of all the terminology and phrasing used in your texts alongside your preferred translations.
  • Consider culture – some industry-specific jargon may mean different things in different cultures and result in misunderstandings or misinterpretations. Ensuring clarity and relevance for each global audience requires careful analysis of language and context to avoid potentially inappropriate, or even dangerous messaging.

#5: The ‘keeping localised content up-to-date’ challenge

We live in a fast-paced, ever-changing world and when you’re responsible for content in two, three, or even more regions, you’ve got a real challenge on your hands when it comes to updates to your global marketing materials.

The types of issues that you may encounter are:

  • Coordinating changes across markets – you’ll want to make sure that when a change occurs, you’re simultaneously updating all pieces of content; no mean feat when you’re dealing with localisation across multiple languages and cultures.
  • Volume control – with large amounts of content, such as websites or brochures, there’s a tonne of translations to contend with, which is both time consuming and resource-heavy.
  • SEO impact – watching out for the effects of updated content on SEO adds another layer of stress. Changes to localised keywords, meta tags, or URLs may impact search rankings and require adjustments to maintain visibility in different languages and regions.
  • Version management – tracking translation changes and ensuring consistency across multiple versions is difficult, especially when there are several translators and teams involved.

Luckily, there are methods to help with the marketing madness:

By establishing translation memories, you can store previously translated content to make handling updates quicker and easier.

In addition to this, it’s possible to integrate your in-house systems with your translation partner’s through a connector, which allows you to upload and publish translations with just the click of a button.

At Comtec, we use a range of connectors, so whatever system you use, we can either use an off-the-shelf connector or build a bespoke connection through a secure, fully documented translation API.

See our article on integrating your system with your translation partner for an efficient Translation Workflow: The Power of Connectors.

So, we’ve shared FIVE FACTS on what marketing localisation does for global growth, the TOP FIVE challenges it presents, and how to overcome them.

But, if you’re still on the fence and wavering over its worth, perhaps this final stat will help you decide it’s time to embrace localisation and engage with the marketing localisation services we can provide at Comtec:

Research from data demons, Factual, reports that almost 9 in 10 marketers say location-based advertising and marketing resulted in higher sales, followed by growth in their customer base (86%) and higher customer engagement (84%).

We think we’ve made a pretty strong case for global businesses to get on board with a marketing localisation strategy!

If you’d like some help and advice, or to share your localisation experiences (good or bad!), we’d love to hear from you.

As the UK’s first B Corp-certified translation company, we offer a whole range of language services designed to help brands localise and translate for audiences anywhere in the world. 

With 4,000 talented linguists in our network, and 250 languages covered, we’re committed to helping businesses of all shapes and sizes break into new markets and expand global reach.

For a no-obligation, friendly chat about how we could help your brand reach new audiences, get in touch today and see how we can help you take your business global.