5 Localization Strategies to Win Foreign Markets

It’s really all about content. When a company makes the decision to move into foreign markets, there are lots of tasks – legal issues and other “housekeeping” tasks. Once a company has jumped over these hurdles, it is time to woo customers and get that reputation for providing lots of value to that audience.

And how is this done? Companies must engage those foreign audiences with amazing content that they will love, just as your native audiences love the content you create for them.

You have a new challenge, and it’s called localization.


Translating content for a foreign audience – your website, your blog, and your social media posts – is not an option – it’s a required. But merely getting things translated is not localization. It is just the first step of a process. Localization involves ensuring that those translations, along with the visuals and brand messages, are socially and culturally appropriate for your target audience.

Think about it. If you are going into a largely Muslim audience, would you keep those photos of modern, progressive women, in scant clothing, with a drink in their hands? No, you wouldn’t, of course. It would be offensive, and your brand reputation would be “dirt.”

Many of the “big boys” in their foreign market expansion have made major goofs in localization. Why? Because they did not take the time research language, cultural mores, and behaviors of their target audiences. Their content was terribly wrong, and then they had to spend time “cleaning up” their images.

So, let’s unpack how a company can avoid turning off a foreign audience when they translate and localize their content.

Avoiding the Goofs with Clear, Sound Strategies

  1. Logo and Brand Colors – Keep Them (Unless You Should Not)

There’s a reason why Microsoft, Apple, and Coca-Cola have recognized the world over. Of course, part of it is because they have a huge international presence. But when they first began to expand, they did not change their brand logos or colors. Here is Coca-Cola’s logo in Russian:

Coca-Cola’s logo in Russian

Keep your logo, slogan, and brand colors as they are when you expand. The only exception would be if any of them might be offensive to a foreign audience. Some large companies have made these kinds of mistakes, due to laziness or lack of research.

Speaking of soft drinks, Pepsi has made a few whoppers. When it moved to Southeast Asia, it had success at first. But then it changed its brand colors from a deep blue to a much lighter one on its vending machines, though, things went badly. People there associate Light blue with death and mourning. Another big goof was their initial marketing efforts in China. Their slogan, “Pepsi brings you back to life” translated as “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave.”

Even General Motors has made mistakes. When it launched Chevrolet cars in South America, it took a while for them to figure out that “nova” in Spanish means “it won’t go.” It pulled all of the nameplates off that car and substituted the name “Caribe.”

Your Takeaway? Do your research. Consult with a native of the target audience. You don’t want to offend anyone, and a native can make sure you don’t.

  1. Honor the Culture of any New Audience

Even in the U.S., American companies have had to make changes in product names, as cultural climates have changed. Crayola, for example, once had a crayon named “flesh.” It came to understand that it had to honor all of the different skin colors in this country. The company changed the name “flesh” to “peach” and “Indian Red” to “chestnut.”

Cultural elements go way beyond just words, however. They relate to visuals and other media too.  In some cultures, for example, the owl is a symbol of wisdom; in others, it is a symbol of witchcraft and evil. Women in bikinis will never do in a country that is predominantly Muslim.

Did you know that the color white is a symbol of purity in Western cultures, but is a symbol of death in others?

Game developers have understood cultural elements for years, as they translate and localize their games for foreign audiences. For example, when an American-developed game is localized for a Japanese audience, translators have to be very careful about dialogue between young people and their elders. It must be very respectful of the youth side. And they must change some scenarios, because the type of violence may offend other cultures (as well as dress).

Your takeaway? If you use a lot of visuals and media in your content – website, blog, social media posts, and other marketing materials – you need to have a native consultant take a look. Make sure that all visuals will be acceptable to your foreign audience.

  1. Localizing Your Social Media – It’s Not Always About Facebook

How you use social media for foreign audiences does matter.

Remember what you have done to develop a solid social media presence in your native country:

  • You developed a customer persona – age, socio-economic status, education level, typical employment, urban vs. rural lifestyles, etc.
  • You researched what your audience wanted in terms of information, entertainment, and inspiration.
  • You researched where your audience hangs out online. You then selected those social media platforms that were most popular

The same goes for any foreign audience. You will need to do the same research. This may mean that you contract with a local native who has much more understanding of the audience than you do.

You need to select the social media platforms you will want to use. Facebook is international, of course. But what you may not know is that there are local social media networks that are actually more popular.

In China, for example, We Chat has over a billion users and is especially popular among younger generations. If you are marketing to that demographic, obviously you will need to have a presence there. And in Eastern Europe, especially Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine, the platform Vkontakte is as popular as Facebook in the U.S. In Japan, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook hold the top three positions.

Your Takeaway? As you define your target audience, choose your social media platforms carefully. You may need to set up a new account or two and may need some local help doing so.

  1. Interact

If you have a blog and/or social media presence in your native country, then you are monitoring comments and discussions among your readers and followers. This is how you develop and maintain relationships. You also address questions and issues as soon as they arise. Most businesses or marketing departments use one or more social monitoring tools to alert them when their name is mentioned anywhere online.

You must do the same with your foreign audiences. But how? The language barrier can be an issue. You have two options, but you do not have the option to use either of them:

  1. You can use Google translate. It is getting much better but is certainly not perfect. Still, you will get the idea of what is being said, so that you can respond.
  2. You can employ a human “monitor” who can translate the comments and questions and then translate your responses to that individual.

Your Takeaway? You must remember what “brought you to the dance” and has kept you dancing in your own social media strength. Your following trusts you and believes that you care about their needs and issues. The same goes for anywhere else in the world.

  1. Optimize for Mobile

The infrastructure in many emerging economies is different. Personal desktop computers never were in homes. At the same time, the middle class continues to grow in these countries. People in these countries have gone straight to mobile devices. And they want and need many of the products and services they have been unable to purchase in the past. And they buy these things on their mobile devices.

Almost everything they do online is via mobile. You should be rolling your content out for mobile devices, and smartphone apps, especially in Africa, the Middle East, and many parts of Latin America. In fact, according to Cory Neal, COO at The Word Point translation agency, “Our clients tell us that their conversions in emerging economies double when they develop mobile apps for their audiences in less developed but growing economies.”

Your Takeaway? Go mobile-first, just as Google has done.


Localization is not a simple task. This article has covered the strategies you must adopt, and there is a rather common theme running through them. You need local help, or, at least, a native of the country on staff to ensure that your localization efforts result in success.

We have not covered many technical aspects of translation and localization here – date and time configurations, currency, screen size relative to language, etc. For these, you will need other expertise or some of the great tools out there.

Moving into a global audience is becoming more and more necessary for companies to grow their businesses. Competition within local markets is tough and growing. With the right strategies, people, and tools, you can get this done.

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