Business Tips

Why Localization Can Make or Break a Brand?

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When we think of big, international companies with a presence in multiple countries across the world, we might assume that global expansion is merely a money matter and presumably a smooth process for these successful corporations. You may be surprised, therefore, to learn that even giant brands have suffered through expensive mishaps and painful blunders in failing to adequately prepare and adapt their product to a new market. To take for granted that a product which performs well in one country will perform just as well in the next is dangerous, as evidenced by some high profile ‘localization fails’. When even the biggest brands on the globe can struggle to prepare their product for a new market, it’s clear to see the importance of properly localizing your own business.


What is localization?

In business and marketing, ‘localization’ refers to the process of making a product or service more specific or appropriate ‘locally’ in a particular market. Depending on the culture and country of the new market for which the product or service is being localized, this could range from design to translation to marketing and branding. At times, good localization could mean changing the user interface of a product to be more in line with what is expected by users in a new market, so that they can use the product more intuitively without having to refer to instructions. Additionally, it could mean changing the package design, so that the packaging reflects colours your new target market more commonly associated with certain concepts and feelings. One good example here is the crisp brand Walkers.

In the UK, the brand has green packaging for its salt and vinegar crisps. In the US, the same company is rebranded as Lay’s and packages its salt and vinegar crisps in a blue bag. Why? It’s possible that not even the company knows why the latter design drives sales better in the US, but is shown to be less effective in the UK. In any case it will have been market research – and subsequent localization based on this research – that helped the company find success with the same product in two separate markets.

What happens when localization goes wrong?

There are countless examples of when localization goes terribly wrong. Take the global furniture brand IKEA, who are known for giving Swedish names to their products, but one blunder amazingly slipped past when they named a portable desk ‘fartfull’. The word can roughly be translated to ‘full of speed’, but the Swedish word obviously doesn’t sound quite as appealing in English. Even major coffee shop chain Starbucks experienced a localization mishap when it had to shut down its stores in Israel because of failing to appreciate the unique coffee culture in the country, and because they were unable to rival the already well established Israeli coffee shop brands that offered – what locals seemed to consider – better value for money. Then of course there’s the shocking incident of crayon brand Crayola naming their peachy coloured crayon ‘flesh’, thereby insensitively failing to account for the wide variety of skin colours in the world.

Localizing your product

Some companies go so far as to rebrand in the name of localization. While you hopefully won’t have to go that far to gain success in new markets, there might be a case for re-thinking your product’s appeal in a new location. Do the main pros of your product still hold true for audiences in other markets? For example, if your business sells jeans, you might want to consider how sizing should be different depending on your market. The average length in the Netherlands is 1.83m, while the average length of individuals in the Philippines is 1.58m.

The US consumes more sugar than any other nation. Imagine that you want to bring your product; a refreshing beverage popular in Switzerland (touted as one of the most healthy countries) to the states. You may determine that your formula needs revisiting, perhaps by adding extra sugar, to ensure success in a country which expects and likes soda drinks to be very sweet. 

Localizing your language 

The aforementioned expansion blunders are, as mentioned, only a few of countless examples in which even major brands have failed to integrate their product in new markets because of poor preparation. When hearing ‘localization’, many people think of translations, and there’s no doubt that a ‘culturally sensitive’ translation is a big part of successful localization. Even if your marketing is in English because it’s tailored toward a UK audience, the same slogans which work so well amidst your original target market could fail in other English-speaking nations like Australia or Malta.

But literal or poor translations can also sabotage marketing efforts from a technical perspective. “I’ve encountered many basic localization mistakes in my time as a web manager, often from literal translations of keywords, which doesn’t reflect what your market is actually searching for online.  In Swedish, for example, ‘nätcasino’ is the correct translation for online casinos, but search trends will show that most Swedes will search for the English term regardless,” says Lucy Jacobs, marketer at slot site LabSlots. “So even simple one-word translations could mean the difference between thousands of page hits. Doing thorough research will allow you to optimize for the search terms that are most effective in any given market, irrespective of what the ‘technically correct translation’ might be.”

Localizing your marketing

If you’re familiar with The Troubles of Ireland and Northern Ireland, you might be aware that the Protestant movement is associated with the color orange because of its so-called Orange Order. A political protest parade that takes place across Northern Ireland is even known as the Orange Parade. Due to the sensitive nature of the tension between Irish Catholics and Protestant, and the prevailing unrest between the divided communities, it’s understandable that telecom company Orange came under fire when they launched their marketing campaign in Northern Ireland with the slogan ‘The future is bright…the future is Orange’. An innocent mistake, perhaps; but one with devastating consequences, and which should have been avoided through proper localization.

If your product uses a scantily clad woman for advertising, it’s probably not going to go down well in more conservative or religious countries. Similarly, marketing intended to appeal to either men or women through the use of stereotypes or traditional gender role expectations might raise eyebrows in more egalitarian countries where women aren’t the only ones buying cleaning products, and men aren’t the only ones buying cars. Do your research, understand your market, and only then are you in a position to launch a marketing campaign which will succeed.

how localization impacts brand

How to localize

Research, research, research. Who are your competitors in your new market? What do consumers like about those competitors – and do cultural preference for those things put your brand at a disadvantage? Besides competitor research, you should be doing target market research. What are the needs, perceptions, lifestyle and budgets of those whom your business targets? You can never assume the same group of people – be it young mothers or active pensioners – will have the same values and interests in every market. Additionally, there is such a thing as ‘legal localization’, which involves ensuring all your paperwork is in order in preparation for expansion, so that you may integrate your company into a new country without problems arising from failure to adhere to relevant regulations and rules. A process that was straight-forward in your original market, could present a bureaucratic nightmare in the next.. Ideally, you should consult expertise specialized in helping business set-up in the country in question. You should also seek to bring on market natives as employees to your project, marketing and product owner teams. They will bring invaluable local insight that will prevent miscommunications; small mistakes that might easily go overlooked by a non-native. Localization, unsurprisingly, is best done by a local.

By taking localization into account you can avoid marketing blunders and product failures from lack of preparation. Adapting your brand for the market in which you want to expand is the most important thing you can do in ensuring you grow successfully and maximise your product’s appeal abroad.

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