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Localisation and how to avoid cultural blunders when expanding your business abroad

When branching out into new overseas markets there’s lots of things to consider, especially when it comes to navigating different languages and cultures.

Getting your message across isn’t always as simple as you might initially think. The last thing you want is to look stupid or cause offense.

That’s why you need to consider translation and localisation as part of your business strategy for expanding abroad.

Translation and localisation is important if expanding your business abroad
Consider the cultural values of your market

What is localisation?

It’s been said that translation is converting your key messages from one language to another, while localisation is about converting the customer experience from one culture to another.

Localisation is the process of adapting a product or service to meet the linguistic, cultural, and technical requirements of a specific target market. This includes translating the content into the target language and adapting it to the local culture, customs, and preferences.

This is done to make sure the content is well-received by the target audience.

Localisation can include things like:

  • Changing number and date formats, colours, layouts and images to avoid causing offense, or removing content that could have a cultural or political connotation in another country

  • Adapting product names and packaging to be culturally appropriate

  • Ensuring that the product meets local safety and regulatory standards

  • Adapting marketing materials and advertising campaigns to reflect local cultural norms and values – this includes content found in images, videos, emojis

  • Testing the product with local users to ensure that it meets their specific needs and preferences

By localising your content, you can establish a strong foothold in a new market, improve brand perception, and increase sales and revenue.

Why is localisation important for your success?

While it may seem like an added expense or inconvenience, localisation is an important factor for success in global markets.

Here are a few reasons why:

1. Increased market penetration

When a product or service is translated and adapted to a local culture, it’s more likely to resonate with potential customers in that market.

For instance, a product name that has no particular meaning in English might be an offensive term in the language of the target market. You should be especially careful with made-up names for products.

By localising a product or service you improve its chances of gaining market share in the target market.

2. Enhanced customer experience

Localisation involves adapting a product or service to meet the specific needs of the local market. This includes things like adjusting product specifications, packaging, and even marketing materials to reflect local preferences and cultural norms.

This allows you to provide a more personalised and relevant customer experience, which can help to build brand loyalty and trust.

3. Improved brand perception

Localisation is critical for building a positive brand perception in a foreign market.

When a company takes the time to localise its products or services, it demonstrates a commitment to understanding and serving the needs of the local market.

This is another positive way to build trust and credibility with potential customers, which results in increased sales and market share.

4. Increased revenue

If a product or service is tailored to meet the specific needs and preferences of a local market, it’s more likely to be successful.

This can lead to increased sales and revenue, which can help to offset the costs of localisation.

Companies that invest in localisation typically see a healthy return on investment because they quickly segment into the local market and don’t stand out as ‘foreign’ products, something that might be viewed with a little more caution that domestic brands.

5. Competitive advantage

Finally, localisation can give you the competitive advantage in foreign markets.

It helps companies differentiate themselves from competitors who may not have taken the time to localise their products or services, often with the incorrect idea that ‘everyone speaks English’.

This helps establish a strong foothold in a new market and can be especially important in highly competitive industries.

Localisation can be like a road map helping you navigate your expansion overseas
Localisation can help you navigate the obstacles of expanding overseas

Common pitfalls to avoid

It’s important to be aware of the common pitfalls that you need to avoid when localising your content.

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Relying on machine translation

One of the most significant mistakes companies make is relying solely on machine translation for localisation.

While machine translation tools like Google Translate have improved significantly in recent years, they are still not as accurate or dependable as human translators.

Machine translation can result in awkward phrasing, mistranslations, and cultural faux pas, which can negatively impact a company's brand perception in a foreign market.

To avoid this, it's important to work with professional translators who are native speakers of the target language and have a deep understanding of the local culture.

Failing to consider local cultural norms

What may be acceptable or even desirable in one country may not be the case in another.

For instance, colours that are considered lucky in one culture may be associated with mourning or negativity in another.

Even with countries that share the same language, like Spanish, words or phrases that means one thing in country A can be offensive in country B

Companies must research and understand the local cultural norms and customs before localising their content. This includes everything from product names and packaging to marketing materials and advertising campaigns.

Ignoring local legal and regulatory requirements

You also need to be aware of local legal and regulatory requirements when localising your content.

This includes things like product labelling, safety standards, and data privacy laws.

Failure to comply with local laws and regulations can result in fines, legal action, and damage to your company's reputation.

Again, it's important to work with local experts and legal advisors to ensure that all content is compliant with local requirements.

Failing to test localised content

Testing localised content is essential to ensure that it resonates with the target audience and meets their specific needs and preferences.

You should conduct user testing with local consumers to ensure that the localised content is effective and appropriate. This includes testing everything from product names and packaging to website layout and functionality.

Testing can help to identify any issues or areas for improvement, and ensure that the final product or service is well-received by the target audience.

Overlooking regional differences

Finally, it's important to be aware of regional differences within a target market. Even within the same country, there may be regional dialects, cultural differences, and preferences that need to be taken into account when localising content.

Companies should work with local experts and conduct research to understand the nuances of the target market and ensure that the localised content is appropriate for all regions within that market.

In summary, localisation is essential for success in foreign markets, but it's important to avoid common pitfalls that can negatively impact a company's brand perception and sales. Even some of the world’s largest companies have got it wrong at times!

You should work with professional translators, consider local cultural norms and legal requirements, test localised content, and be aware of regional differences within the target market.

By doing so, you can ensure that your localised content is well-received by the target audience and helps to establish a strong foothold in your new market.

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