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Five Localisation Missteps Your Business Could be Making

in Blog, Retail and Ecommerce

Anyone who claims it’s a small world clearly hasn’t worked in marketing. Even within the UK, there’s a diverse array of cultures, from Gaelic-speaking crofters in the Scottish Highlands to London’s multicultural melting pot. Add in historic grievances, political variations, and contrasting demographic patterns, and it’s easy to see how a neophyte might fail to appreciate cultural sensitivities in specific parts of the UK.

Localisation mistakes are equally common when British firms attempt to conquer overseas markets. The nuances of different languages pose a significant barrier in isolation – even before considering whether Catalans consider themselves Spanish, or why Greek Cypriots resent seeing the Turkish flag flying in the TRNC. A company that fails to respect the specific characteristics of foreign target markets will almost certainly fail to establish itself there.

Below, we consider five examples of localisation mistakes that could occur without a company even realising.

Ignoring changing demographics

Some things seem so obvious that we don’t question them. Yet the truth can often be surprising.

For instance, the erroneous assumption that Americans all speak English clearly ignores the huge Hispanic population in southern states. Immigration from Central America has seen Spanish become the dominant language in Puerto Rico, and over 37 million American adults choose to speak Spanish at home. Is English-only text really sufficient for American website copy, product descriptions, and, perhaps most significantly, social media content?

One size doesn’t always fit all. And even if it used to, evolving demographics can affect the viability of marketing campaigns. Look at the growing revulsion in the UK towards plastic, conferring pariah status on plastic straws and single-use carrier bags. Other countries don’t yet share the UK’s newfound antipathy towards plastic, which is perhaps why an active, 400,000-strong Change.org petition to abolish McDonalds Happy Meals has elicited no definitive action from the American fast food chain.

Localising for the wrong platforms

Another common assumption is that the technological platforms we regard as ubiquitous in our own locales are equally popular around the world. Optimising a website for Google ignores the fact Baidu is the leading search platform in China. Similarly, although WhatsApp is hugely popular in the west, Chinese audiences much prefer the indigenous WeChat platform.

Social media content must be communicated using the correct platforms in each country, or messages will fail to achieve their full potential. Only a translation service rooted in your destination country’s local culture can accurately determine which platforms could achieve optimal engagement.

Inconsistencies in translation

Consistency is pivotal to the success of any marketing or advertising campaign, and many companies have established a distinctive brand voice. To use the domestic drinks industry as an example, Irn Bru is irreverent, Innocent is playful, and Guinness majors on its heritage.

These themes could easily be lost if a company employed multiple translation partners. Not only do different translation services have varying standards, there will be a lack of consistency in consumer-facing content. And in today’s mature marketplace, audiences treat inconsistency as a red flag.

Attempting word-for-word translation

If you’ve ever run foreign-language text through Google’s Translate app, you’ll understand one significant pitfall of word-for-word translation. Specific words might be translated successfully, but sentences quickly become unstructured and confusing as a result of a range of factors including tenses, verb positioning, and gender assignation.

This is where transcreation comes in, retaining core messages yet changing the words and sentence structure to authentically convey key messages in a foreign tongue. It requires extensive knowledge of two languages, as well as an appreciation of cultural trends and social norms in different nations. And while Language Connect specialises in transcreation, many rival companies translate mere words, instead of wider sentiments.

Failing to localise creative content

If a picture says a thousand words, an imported picture says two – “not interested”. Imagine a British estate agency website featuring a photo of a clapboard house with a “Realtor To Let” sign swinging beside a mailbox. It would suggest the agency knew little about the UK property market, and cared even less. Would you expect them to understand leasehold covenants, or mortgage restrictions on non-standard construction properties? Probably not.

The images and videos accompanying written content may need to be localised too, from accurate captioning to nationally identifiable landmarks/actors/models/signage. Unless your company’s country of origin is a key selling factor (Japanese build quality, British innovation, etc), creative content ought to be localised alongside written content.

How to avoid making localisation mistakes

If any of the above points have raised concerns about your brand’s current or forthcoming activities on foreign shores, don’t despair. Effective localisation services are on hand. Speak to one of Language Connect’s experts today, to discover how to localise your business for any potential target market.



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