Localisation, Not Translation, is the Key to International Marketing Success

by Tom Montague, Head of Content Oban International

The terms ‘translation’ and ‘localisation’ are often used interchangeably but in reality, they mean very different things. So, what’s the difference and why should you care?

  • Translation is the straightforward process of substituting words from one language to another in a piece of written content
  • Localisation is the more specialised process of adapting your content so it suits the needs of a local audience. It goes beyond mere written words on a page, and includes things like colours, imagery, formatting and broader cultural preferences – which may be completely divergent from the original source market

It’s a subtle distinction but an important one, because translated content which misses important local nuances runs the risk of undermining trust and familiarity. And without trust and familiarity, brands will struggle to make an impact in their chosen markets.

Simple everyday examples of pitfalls to avoid include:

  • Colours mean different things in different countries. Take the colour red for example – in the West, it has both positive connotations – think romance and passion – but also negatives ones – think danger signs and stop signals. In China, red is the colour of new year and money in red envelopes, symbolising good luck and prosperity and new beginnings.
  • Weights and measures are metric in some markets and imperial in others – as anyone who’s ever Googled a recipe can testify.
  • Address fields are expressed differently in different markets – in the UK, the correct order for addresses is house number and street, town, county, and postcode. In other markets, the order is different. Having a one-size-fits-all address form on your website won’t work in some countries.
  • Similarly in some countries, dates are expressed using dots – for example, 11.10.19 – whilst in others, slashes are used – 11/10/19. In the UK, the day comes first whilst in the US, the month is first.

These may seem trivial but cumulatively, if your website or other content is full of small cues which tell people ‘we’re not from around here’, then they will act as a barrier to conversion and your impact will suffer as a result. And that’s before you consider more substantive issues, like:

  • Imagery – which has the power to cause offence if not used sensitively across cultures.
  • Humour – which notoriously varies around the world. Your funny joke in one language either becomes unfunny or simply odd and inexplicable in another.
  • Customer expectations around things like delivery, privacy, and security.

Occasionally, straightforward translation for some types of content in some contexts in some markets may be suitable. But for more complex content, and certainly anything which involves a creative campaign idea, the most successful global brands take localisation seriously.

This needn’t be expensive. The best way to get a local lens on your content is by speaking to a local in-market expert. They will be able to advise you on things like:

  • How your product is perceived in the target market.
  • The search intentions for your product at each stage of the buying cycle in the target market.
  • The local nuances with respect to colour, imagery, humour, and so on.
  • Any regulatory issues to be aware of.
  • The small but important website cues that shape conversion rates.
  • Identifying mistakes (which can often be costly) to avoid.

They can also help you identify the biggest opportunities – opportunities which may be missed by simply relying on translation alone.

Oban International works with a network of 450 LIMEs (Local In-Market Experts) to bring about true localisation to help our clients achieve international marketing success.

Want to learn more? Oban International will be attending our Summit on the 24th of October.

Or get in touch to find out how Oban International can help you achieve localisation success:
W: https://obaninternational.com/contact/
E: getintouch@obaninternational.com
T: +44 (0)1273 613 400