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Data isn’t enough, international marketing requires expert local knowledge

(Image credit: Image Credit: Pitney Bowes Software)

The borderless nature of the internet has empowered businesses to expand internationally, reducing much of the bureaucracy and set-up costs typically associated with overseas expansion.

What’s more, in digital marketing specifically, technological innovations have enabled businesses to run marketing activity in multiple geographical markets simultaneously, thus supporting business growth and driving sales across regions more easily.

At present, international companies are often relying solely on central hub teams based in a single location to run marketing campaigns across multiple markets. However, this set-up brings with it risks and limitations due to the inability to tailor campaigns with local flavour and insight.

In fact, our own research (opens in new tab), which was conducted with 250 UK marketers, revealed that 58 per cent of marketers don’t have local support in every market in which they operate. This applies across channels - from PPC to content and beyond.

The problem remains then, that it just simply isn’t possible for campaigns to be built on the basis of local behaviours and cultural nuances without boots on the ground in that location. This happens far too frequently across a multitude of sectors, including the likes of retail, financial services and manufacturing.

Why translation tools don’t cut the mustard

For international marketing campaigns to run successfully, teams have a huge choice of tools, partners and technology at their disposal to help get the job done. SaaS platforms, heritage partners and agencies have all innovated in this area to support in-house teams in tech-first and flexible ways.

Yet today, marketers often continue to rely on the most basic of translation tools in an attempt to make content suitable for local markets. Our research also revealed that as many as 1 in 4 marketers still rely on Google Translate for translating marketing content.

This quick-fix solution simply does not translate into effective digital marketing across multiple markets and, by not properly taking culture nuances into consideration, there is a real risk that brands will get into serious hot water in local regions.

In fact, language barriers and a lack of local market knowledge are the two biggest challenges contemporary marketers face. Though the marketing industry innately understands the value of localisation, few marketers are actually altering their approach to reflect local demands.

The right tech will only get you so far

Technology can now be used to tailor campaigns across regions; however, data and tech alone isn’t always enough. In order to produce marketing content that resonates with a particular audience, localisation is required. Local market experts who can accurately translate and localise based on market understanding, cultural nuances, beliefs, sensitivities and colloquialisms are nothing short of essential.

Marketers should be localising content, not just translating it. Context and cultural awareness are both paramount to success and failing to use local expertise could have a long-term negative impact on the marketing success in that region and an even bigger impact on an organisation’s reputation.

A recent example where local market insight hadn’t been used correctly, was when Coca Cola tried to combine te reo Māori and English, the two main languages spoken in New Zealand. Its attempt backfired as the company had unknowingly written “hello, death” on vending machines filled with its products. Earlier in 2018, Gap too encountered significant problems and it was forced to apologise for selling a t-shirt that had an incorrect map of China on it.

Car manufacturers have fallen foul of localisation problems over the years too, with the Kia Besta van having performed poorly in Brazil after it transpired that ‘besta’ can mean beast in Brazilian Portuguese, which can also be used as a derogatory term for an idiot. Ford had a similar experience when its Pinto model failed to sell in Brazil due to the word ‘pinto’ being the Brazilian Portuguese slang word for small male genitalia.

Localisation matters. Having a team member or partner with local market knowledge is as important as having high brand awareness when it comes to delivering a successful international campaign. It’s risky to dismiss local expertise purely on the basis of cost. Not having them in place is almost certain to cost you more in the long run.

The innovation is here, now let’s get the basics right

Tech innovation and a global workforce mean there are now more efficient ways for brands to manage international campaigns and access local expertise. Partners that have local experts available on demand can be a cost-effective solution. Dialling up or down the volume of work helps increase efficiency and results whilst reducing risks.

Failure to take into account local insights is risky and can significantly impact an organisation’s bottom line. A further example of this comes from Pampers. After some analysis into why its launch in Japan hadn’t been successful, Pampers realised the ‘stork carrying a baby’ design on the product was confusing parents as that folklore wasn’t known in Japan. In Japan the story goes that giant floating peaches bring babies to their parents. An on-demand network of local experts helps to safeguard against this in an efficient way.

Marketers are well aware of the importance of local market expertise to deliver a successful international campaign; but they aren’t sure on how to make this happen. Today this remains the biggest challenge faced by the majority of marketers and our industry needs to find a way to better use talent and technology to overcome it.

Luke Smith, Co-Founder and CEO, Croud (opens in new tab)
Image Credit:
Pitney Bowes Software (opens in new tab)

Luke Smith is Co-Founder and CEO of global digital marketing agency Croud. The agency is built on the world’s first crowd-sourced network of digital marketers and delivers performance marketing programmes for some of the world’s leading brands. It has offices in London, New York, Sydney and Shrewsbury.