It Pays to Globalize: Why Marketers Must Embrace Localization

It Pays to Globalize: Why Marketers Must Embrace Localization

Driving demand, engagement and loyalty with customers around the world is more complex than ever. One thing is simple: speaking a customer’s language is the most fundamental and effective element of personalized communication. How can marketers overcome language barriers to excel at delivering all the right content, to all their audiences, in all the languages they speak?

It pays to localize. Fortune 500 companies that stepped up translation budgets were 1.5 times more likely than their peers to report revenue growth. They were also twice as likely to show increased profits and 127 percent more likely to raise earnings per share.

Localization done well produces success because it is fundamentally customer-centric. A customer’s locale is as core to their identity as their name, making localized content is inherently more relevant. Localized content also reinforces to consumers that your company is stable and committed to their market.

You need intimate knowledge of your brand’s audience in every country you serve. You must have local insight – even if you don’t have a team on the ground – gained by leveraging partners, research, and even site visits. As Kodak’s former CMO Jeffrey Hayzlett says, “Just because someone likes Chinese food, it doesn’t make them an expert in that market.”

Localization of marketing isn’t just a nice-to-have for well-to-do Fortune 500 companies any more. Localization offers a clear path to fulfilling many of today’s most compelling business needs:

  • Growing Revenue: There is a lot of opportunity beyond borders. 40-50 percent of revenue for large companies comes from outside U.S. – it may vary for you, but the opportunity is there.
  • Going Mobile: Mobile revenue is even more non US-centric: According to Distimo, 64 percent of total app revenue comes from outside North America
  • Embracing Social: Social networks have expanded to every corner of the globe, including some home-grown ones like China’s Weibo. Local country Facebook pages have 50 percent higher engagement rates.
  • eCommerce Selling: 55 percent of global consumers will only buy from eCommerce providers that speak their own language.
  • Driving Traffic: In 2014, 86 percent of Top 10 Global Websites’ users were outside U.S.

Even though 50 percent of CMOs in a CMO Council Survey said their global marketing was underperforming, marketers can still point to lots of reasons to avoid getting involved in localization. Frankly, the localization process has traditionally been difficult and inefficient. Campaign content to be localized and deployed in other markets is copied out of one system, then emailed to a translator. Then individual managers must ping reviewers to stop their day jobs and take a look to see if the translation is accurate. It’s time consuming, it’s poor use of time, you lose control of your message, it’s expensive and you’re not doing all the campaigns you need to in local language to support all the markets.

Beyond process, there are lots other reasons localization is hard to do well:

  • It’s costly. Companies spend an average of 1 percent of revenue on translation. According to a CMO Council survey, 41 percent of marketing leaders said they devote more than 30 percent of marketing budget to localization.
  • It’s time consuming. Rolling out localized campaigns and content can take months. One marketer recently told me her company spent eight months and $80,000 localizing one very large technical document into one language.
  • It can go horribly wrong. Poorly executed translation is embarrassing; the “Turn it Loose” slogan from Coors Brewing Company, for example, was very unfortunately translated into Spanish as “Suffer from diarrhea”). It can even lead to lawsuits, like an imported cardiac bypass machine in the UK with incorrectly-labeled buttons.

This presents the worst of all worlds for marketers. They are leaving money on the table in other countries (in other currencies!), spending too much to get there and taking too long to do it. What can global marketers do to offer deeper personalization through better localization?

Here are suggestions for breaking down silos across geographies, across business units, and across marketing teams and channels:

  • Collaborate From A Central Plan – Plan and collaborate around all elements of a campaign – all geos, all tactics, all content; then execute against the globalization. It’s helpful to have a global marketing council that meets regularly and holds everybody accountable for global marketing success. It will function as a central source of truth for where the global marketing plan resides and how it is progressing.
  • Be A Stickler – Align everyone on company strategy, stick to brand guidelines, be maniacally consistent in messaging, create uniform customer experiences, etc.
  • Beware The Rogue – Regional teams are charged first and foremost with delivering the numbers. Get their input early into what works or what won’t in their regions is key.
  • Embrace The World – Balance the priorities and goals of both corporate content creators and local in-market teams. Both have important perspectives that need to be considered. Make it policy that great campaigns and content can originate anywhere. Your marketer in Singapore may be the one who comes up with that killer piece of content that helps you and your colleagues drive more leads.
  • Know Where The Finish Line Is – Make sure you have a great review process. Depending on the company, this can be simple – one market-knowledgeable person checks it all – or very complex , in which the local marketing, legal, and the graphics team, and the corporate marketing team all get an approval cycle.

Personalization is vital to effective marketing, and localization is critical to effective marketing across borders. And that’s because localization IS the ultimate personalization. No matter how otherwise targeted and personalized your marketing is, if it’s not in someone’s native tongue, it will not have the same impact. With such a huge opportunity waiting for your brand across the globe, marketers have a chance to be heroes by building and integrating their company’s organizational capability to rule the world.


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