Localization is NOT just translation. It’s about paying close attention to the places and the people you’re reaching out to.

140416_Content_Marketing_Localization-03You may have great content that works well at home, but take it abroad and there’s a good bet it gets – pardon the cliche – lost in translation. Or worse, cause a major embarrassment.

Language and culture are tricky things. To make sure your message is found on the other side, you need to do a lot more than flip words.

Recognizing the geo-cultural context

Before you begin localizing content for a country or region, pin down what works there.

Take Asia (excluding Australia & New Zealand), for instance. There are three things you might notice about it that are immediately relevant to marketing:

  1. English is not the native language
    English is an official language in some Asian countries, like Singapore, Hong Kong, India and the Philippines, but not native to any.

  1. Mobile devices outnumber desktops – by far
    Mobile internet users are fast overtaking desktop-bound users in countries like India and China, which also happen to have huge markets.

  1. Not the United States of Asia
    Asian countries have unique cultures and markets. And they are not homogeneous like, for instance, the US, which, although a multiracial nation, largely conforms to American cultural standards.

To a marketer, this means:

  1. Visuals dominate
    The more English is not prevalent in a country, the more a video or visual explainer will help tell your story more clearly.

  1. Your content has to be mobile-friendly
    Content not optimized for smartphones and tablets is content few will care about. Keep things short, use responsive design, and prioritize scrolling over paginating, among other things. Bear in mind, a great deal of your audience is seeing your content on a screen that’s only a few inches wide.

  1. There is no one-size-fits-all approach
    To work, content has to be tailored for each country you venture into. This applies to not just language, but also the cultural, demographic and sometimes, even political contexts.

Localization – a story from real life

At GetIT Comms, we found good opportunity to apply ‘what works here’ when CyberSource, the world’s largest e-commerce and security provider (and a Visa subsidiary), was expanding into the Asia Pacific region.

They had lots of good content, so that wasn’t their problem. What they needed was a quick and effective way to convince merchants of the business necessity of fraud management solutions. Our solution was the Pulse Survey.

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CyberSource had been using surveys to understand how firms managed fraud – they’re common tools for deep dive lead generation and lead nurturing in B2B marketing. But to make surveys work here in Asia, we had to make one major change in how we went about it.

A fair number of Asian businesses are not open about disclosing matters deemed as sensitive, like their business practices. To capture their interest, therefore, it was necessary to provide something of value upfront – like letting them see how they compared to their peers.

The Pulse Survey returned instant benchmarking responses and recommendations based on their anonymous responses. After that – and only then – did the survey ask for their contact details so they could receive a personalized compilation of their responses and CyberSource’s recommendations.

This ‘good stuff first’ approach, added to the instant gratification factor of getting useful information at no cost, overcame the trust barrier.

As well, being optimized for tablet displays, the Pulse Survey could be taken easily, anywhere, as opposed to the traditional web-form survey. CyberSource surveyors carried it with them at event booths to boost customer engagement and gain higher-quality leads.

Paying attention to cultural nuances

In addition to accounting for the quirks of the target market, a marketer reaching across borders must also be something of a diplomat and be sensitive to the cultures you market to.

Here are a few considerations:

  1. Avoid idioms, slang, or culturally specific references
    These may not be readily apparent to people in the country you are targeting. Even as natural a phrase as ‘a penny for your thoughts’ may not resonate where folks pay for drinks with sen instead of pennies.

  1. Be mindful when employing metaphors and symbolism
    Like the old joke about the Coca-Cola salesman in Saudi Arabia, nothing is worse than violating cultural norms or taboos. Time spent clarifying the do-nots is never wasted – work with a test audience, or a local expert who can vet your content, to make sure it doesn’t disturb or offend.

  1. Use region-relevant statistics and benchmarks
    Sharing data from your side of the world may be interesting, but irrelevant. People are always affected more by what’s closer to home. Localized research may be costly and time-consuming, but it’s a show of commitment that will serve you well in the long run.

  1. Produce local or regional case studies where possible
    This is crucial to help your audience relate better to your offering. If no local or regional examples are available, de-emphasize context. By focusing on the benefits and outcomes, you eliminate the problem of readers feeling your offering is not for them since ‘this happened elsewhere’.

Ultimately, it comes down to one thing: getting to know the other side. Go beyond mere translation, and reorient your content to fit the target market. Draw on local sources. Minimize global references.

Just like at home, make the people you’re reaching out to feel that you understand them, and you will greatly increase your chances of making meaningful connections.

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