High-quality localization and how it can help you increase global sales

International business and global markets

A survey has shown that 76%* of global consumers prefer to buy in their own language. Food for thought because, when it comes to developing your overseas markets, you need to consider localization.

We have seen a dramatic acceleration towards digitalisation since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s affected our shopping habits, and businesses around the world have experienced a surge in global e-commerce sales. But if you are considering capitalising on this trend and want to increase your appeal to overseas buyers, your efforts are more likely to be successful if you address your target audience in their own language. This is a key aspect of an effective localization strategy.

*CSA Research survey dated July 2020 found that 76% of online shoppers prefer to buy products with information in their native language.

It’s all about engagement and relationship building

Marketing communication is, by its nature, a form of dialogue. You are engaging with your target audience and then building a relationship to encourage them to buy your products or services. Meaning is key, but perception is at least as important. You can design and successfully run the same marketing campaigns in multiple territories and overseas markets. But remember that cultural differences and language nuances can trip up even the most experienced marketing teams. The impact of these « faux pas » can be far reaching and avoided by considering localization early in the process.

What kind of marketing strategy should I use and where do I start?

From the outset it’s sensible to acknowledge that communication goals and messaging will probably differ from country to country. When starting out with localization you might start off with a standardised approach with a few local adaptations for each of your overseas markets. But some elements will need a location-specific strategy.

Key aspects to consider when planning an international marketing strategy:

Overseas business-strategy-digital-marketing-international
Overseas business-strategy-digital-marketing-international

 1. Know your global audience

Start localization by defining and understanding your global audience and overseas markets. Then assess the peculiarities and cultural differences of audiences in each territory that you will need to consider. For example, English is the official language in both the USA and the UK. But your overall marketing approach for each country may be very different. You may be more direct in the USA. In the UK you may find that the art of subtle persuasion is more effective. Is Germany your primary market? Then your approach will need to be informative, allowing people to make their own decisions.

Consider the following.

  • Will aspects such as music, design or colour resonate differently across your target markets?
  • Are provocative images or gender issues going to cause you problems in some countries?
  • Is the stage of your product category’s life cycle the same across all markets?
  • Will your audience engage more readily with formal or more colloquial language? Is humour relevant, and to what extent will it resonate with your oversea target audiences?

2. Understand your USP

Work out what your Unique Selling Proposition ( USP) is and apply it to each culture when you do your planning. Complete the end of the following phrase: “Customers will buy my products or services because my business is the only one that … “. It’s an important exercise because you may find that you need to change your USP for different countries and regions when localizing your products or services.

3. Establish your marketing communications mix

What does your marketing communications mix currently look like? Is it the same in every country or will you need to tweak it for each of your overseas markets? Where can you standardise it across multiple territories with social media platforms like Facebook or Instagram? Where will your media choices need to be more targeted? Think of WeChat or Sina Weibo in China, for example?

4. What about your brand?

Consider your brand and think about the elements that support it. Does your brand reflect the values of the cultures you want to sell to? Do you need to make any tweaks? It may be as fundamental as changing a product name to something which resonates more deeply with the local market.

5. Think about your message and the culture of your target audience

You should consider your message in the context of the culture of your target audience very carefully. This is where a localization expert’s input is invaluable. Their knowledge of the local language and their marketing background will help you ensure the suitability of your message. Categories like food, hygiene products or alcohol can present many differences and challenges depending on where you are marketing them.

6. Measure your success

Based on your choices, you should define and evaluate what success looks like in each country or territory. The criteria may vary wildly and need to be factored into your overall localization strategy. But by analysing and measuring the results, you will see whether any changes are needed for any of your target overseas markets.

Choose your international marketing channels

Overseas markets-social-media-giants
Overseas markets-social-media-giants

It is important that you choose your channel mix carefully. Advertising is the most high-profile route to market. And the best if you want or need a more standardised thematic approach. But there are of course other major channels. Think of sales promotions, PR, direct marketing (offline and email), sponsorship and promotion, plus shows and events. All these channels will need a tailored approach for the markets they are targeting.

Localize your website

Your website is of huge importance. Think of it as your global shopfront for your overseas markets. To gain greater appeal with your different audiences you may need to localize it and any associated apps.

Your website’s address will most probably feature on all channels and media you choose. Even if it doesn’t, then consumers can type your brand name into a search engine and find their way to you. If they decide on a category search in their native language, then to benefit you need to have your local search engine marketing (SEM) and SEO in order. For example, bathroom mirrors, Badspiegel, badeværelsesspejle, miroirs salle de bain or specchi per bagno.

International video marketing


Video is on the rise globally and YouTube is now the second largest search engine after Google. So, a well-shot film can do wonders for your brand and products in multiple overseas markets. However, it tends to pay in both time and money to plan your marketing video. Treat it as a global piece from the outset, rather than trying to complete numerous edits later. For the best results, script your video in several languages. Consider the cultural norms in each country and then shoot the video in one go.

Why foreign language skills alone aren’t always enough

You may well be part of a multinational organisation. If so, you may be able to draw on native speakers in offices around the globe for advice. But make sure you ask yourself, do those people have the necessary marketing skills or cross-cultural and linguistic expertise? Localization is essential to ensure that the communications you create resonate as they should with your audience. By using a localization professional, you will avoid unintended blunders and other errors as you develop your overseas markets.

It may be more sensible to centralise your linguistic requirements and planning of your international marketing campaigns.  Then you can retain control of all the outputs. A translation or localization company with a proven track record can support you with end-to-end project management. You would have a single point of contact who would be engaged at the planning stage.  They can save you time and effort further down the track.

Messaging strategy – keep it simple!

Keep your messaging as simple as possible from the outset when planning an international marketing campaign. The more nuanced and « clever » it is in your own language, the harder it will be to convey that subtlety in other languages.

Identify key topics and terminology and discuss them with your chosen translation or localization partner. They can draw on extensive in-country expertise. They will also identify opportunities and pitfalls, enabling you to make informed strategic decisions.

Risk vs reward

Marketing and trading internationally can bring huge rewards. To truly benefit think it through, plan it well and take the time to understand your target overseas markets.

But remember this is a dialogue, not a sales pitch! So, your marketing communications strategy needs to make room for cultural and linguistic differences.

Bite the wax tadpole


Despite the overall professionalism and expertise of marketers around the world, mistakes do still happen.

HSBC famously had to rebrand its whole global banking operation.  It was after its “Assume Nothing” campaign was mistranslated as “Do Nothing” in many parts of the world. The exercise cost them $10 million. But they did end up with a far more translation-friendly tagline as a result, “The World’s Private Bank”.

Ford used the slogan “Every car has a high-quality body” when they launched an advertising campaign in Belgium. Only to find the mistranslation suggested “Every car has a high-quality corpse”. The campaign died.

Pepsodent tried to sell the teeth-whitening benefits of their toothpaste in Asian countries. However in these countries the locals prefer the blackened molars attributable to chewing betel nuts. They didn’t sell much at all.

More recently Facebook, the social media giant, decided to change its corporate name to Meta. In their statement, they said that “the name, logo, and wordmark were all created internally.” Their intention was to link the company and its branding with the virtual reality space known as “metaverse”. However, it caused a stir in Israel where the word sounds like the Hebrew for “dead”.

And if you wondered about the tadpole-related sub-heading above and haven’t heard the story here it is! It’s the translation into a Chinese dialect of the brand name Coca Cola. A mistake not spotted until thousands of advertising signs had been printed and distributed for their launch.

Get it right

Your brand is one of your greatest assets – it’s precious, and a strong brand identity takes years to build. A campaign may need a great deal of work and re-work in your native language before you consider launching it internationally. It will help you to achieve your goal though! Planning for all these different markets is vital. It should be a defined part of your overall marketing communications process and budget to avoid the pitfalls. But as the examples in this article have shown, even large, multinational corporations get it wrong sometimes.

About the author

Geoff Duncan is the Managing Director of Planet Languages, an ISO 9001-certified translation company. He established Planet Languages over 25 years ago with a sharp focus on integrity, high quality, competitive rates, and first-class service. Geoff served as a member of the ATC council for many years and remains passionate about upholding the highest degree of professionalism in the language services industry.