There are numerous benefits to increasing your business or nonprofit’s international reach. However, going global means more than just translating your branding or marketing materials from one language to another. If you really want to connect with your new audience on an emotional level, you’ll need to tailor the way you communicate with them to their wants and needs.
Content localization is an essential part of any international marketing strategy that helps build audience engagement based on their regional or cultural preferences and way of life. It can help you build trust in your business and increase the reach of your organization overseas or with multilingual audiences in your own region.
In this post, I’ll explain the basics of content localization, why it’s important for your business or organization’s marketing strategy, and what kinds of content you should consider adapting to different markets.
What Is Content Localization?
Content localization means adapting content created for one audience (generally a company’s or nonprofit’s primary market) for another culture or language in a target market.
Let’s say you’re a UK-based company who wants to get new clients in the US: You’ll need to create materials that “speak” to customers in a way that’s not only easy to understand linguistically, but that’s also culturally relevant to US audiences. That means you’ll need to use American English spelling (elevator and truck instead of lift or lorry) in addition to using images and discussing your goods or services in ways that make sense in the United States (driving on the right side of the road, for example).
You may not even need to cross borders in order to need content localization: many companies and organizations located in international cities need to speak to both their primary and target audiences simultaneously. In Berlin, for example, there are many instances where English is used in advertisements and public displays despite the fact that the national language is German. German museum exhibitions, for example, are often written in both German and English.
Localization is not the same as translation, although translating may be part of the process. In order to do it right, you’ll need to be aware of the cultural context of your new audience and tailor your materials so that it’s not only in their language but also is relevant to their daily lives. You want to speak to them in their native language in ways that they can easily understand, using current terminology and relevant cultural references.
Importantly, localization is more than just text—it also includes images, videos, text formatting, currency, and other factors that might influence how a user might interact with your content differently, such as means of payment or specificities about the way of life in another country.
Why Is Content Localization Important?
Plain and simple: when your audience understands your message and is engaged with your content, the more likely they’ll be to become customers or benefit from your organization’s mission. By implementing a localization strategy from the beginning, you’ll be able to increase conversion and grow your business into new markets.
If you’re only translating text from one language to another using an app like Google Translate, you might make an embarrassing mistake. We’ve all seen classic examples of this in poorly translated advertisements or didactic texts that were never checked by a native speaker.
However, in overlooking localization you might also commit a fatal faux pas. You’ve likely heard the marketing legend of the Chevrolet Nova, which supposedly didn’t sell as well in Spanish-speaking countries because the name translates to “doesn’t go” in Spanish. While this story has been debunked, its message is clear: do your research before disaster strikes!
Proctor & Gamble did theirs when they introduced Vicks VapoRub, the popular menthol ointment used for common colds, to German markets. They changed the product’s name from “Vicks” to “Wick” because the original name had vulgar connotations when pronounced in German (their w sounds like an f in English, so the original name was a homonym for the f-word).
Poor translations can lead not only to misunderstandings, but also to unnatural or awkward phrasing, embarrassing grammar mistakes, and even loss of sales and legal repercussions. This can result in delays and financial costs if the error needs to be corrected.
What kinds of content needs to be localized?
Any content or asset that’s designed to be seen by your audience should be scrutinized by a team of localization specialists. This means not only advertising in traditional outlets (billboards, public transportation, television, magazines, etc.) but also on social media and on the web, including text and images. You should invest time and money into generating compelling marketing materials that have a consistent message and are tailored to your target audience.
If your company or organization has an app, you should customize it to the location of users. In addition to the language you use, you’ll also need to think about any particularities regarding how people might use it differently than in your primary market, which might involve collaborations among different teams, including those that design the user interface (UI) and user experience (UX).
From your landing pages to your menu, your website should also be localized or, at least, tailored to a more international audience. Consider not only your pages that promote your brand (About Us, Mission), but also those pages that are used for marketing purposes, such as selling products or educating your audience. You’ll want to make sure that your content speaks to an international audience by losing the regional jargon considering what matters to them.
Content Marketing and Blogs
You might choose to tailor blogs you’ve already written or write new ones that are customized to your new audience—not everything may need to be localized! See what’s worked best for your primary market and do your research on what competitors or similar organizations are doing to prioritize what needs to be changed.
Emails are an important way of connecting 1:1 with people. Make sure your evites, newsletters, and personal notes are all taken into consideration when you formulate your localization strategy.
How to Implement Localization into Your Marketing Strategy
Define the location of your target audience
The first step toward engaging an international audience is deciding where you plan to expand. Is it a specific country or city, or a general area or continent? Then do your research on the language, customs, and cultural specificities of your target audience.
Get advice from language experts
In order to implement a successful localization strategy, you’ll also need to consult with an expert who’s familiar with the language and culture where you’re expanding. Whether they’re localization consultants or editors, these specialists will give you advice on how to improve your strategy and point out any mistakes you may be making.
It’s an ongoing process
Remember that localization is more than just plugging in content you already have into an AI program or translation app. It’s an ongoing process that requires consideration and strategy.
The more you consider the needs of your audience, the more effectively you’ll be able to connect with them.
If you need assistance with localization in US-American English, Flatpage offers editing services at an hourly rate. We have offices in the US and in Germany.
About the author
Cara Jordan is chief editor and president at Flatpage. She has spent her career editing academic and artists' writings, primarily as a developmental editor and copyeditor. She received her PhD in art history from the Graduate Center, CUNY.