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Localisation of your global brand: Why it’s important to get it right


Localisation of your global brand: Why it’s important to get it right

Organisations spend millions beautifully crafting global campaigns only to find that their new slogan translates into something offensive in some obscure Far Eastern country. If organisations put in place a localisation strategy that identifies the cultural differences of target markets, they can boost brand value and even save money.

We are all familiar with global brands such as Nike and McDonald’s. Brands that have one set of values to communicate. One vision. One logo. Wherever we travel in the world, their identity is instantly recognisable. But these companies don’t just wade into foreign territory without thinking about their impact on the local culture. And the impact of the local culture on them. In order to maintain their strong branding, they adopt a localisation strategy to ensure they communicate effectively with their local markets. The Globalisation and Localisation Association (Gala) state that “localisation is the process of adapting a product or content to a specific locale. The goal is to provide a product with the look and feel of having been created for the target market to eliminate or minimise local sensitivities”.

Research by the California State University details the widespread acknowledgement amongst global companies of the need to expand into foreign markets, with “74% of multinational enterprises believing it is most important to achieve increased revenues from global operations”. To do this organisations require a strategic approach to their localised content, be it on marketing collateral, PR campaigns, advertising or packaging. Although this is something that can be difficult to manage, the statistics indicate how successful a localised campaign can be. Figures from Gala state:

  • It would take 83 languages to reach 80% of all people in the world, and over 7,000 languages to reach everyone.
  • 56.2% of consumers say the ability to obtain information in their own language is more important than price.
  • 95% of Chinese online consumers indicate a greater comfort level with websites in their language; only one per cent of US-based online retailers offer sites specific to China.

Global brands and their local offering

But it’s not just about translation, though this is obviously a large part of getting your message across. It’s also about preparing your product for a new location, culture and audience. Take McDonald’s for example, they have mastered the subtle art of localisation with the creation of regional menu items for their international markets. Pop into a McDonald’s in New Zealand and you can get a Kiwi burger. In India, you’ll find Chicken Maharaja-Macs on the menu. These products are individual to the local market, but they remain true to the brand promise, illustrating, as Idealog describe, how localisation “can actually boost the brand by making it relevant to a local market”.

Perhaps one of the best examples of a localisation strategy which governs the entire ethos of a company comes in the financial sector. HSBC has long been known as the global bank with an understanding of local cultures. This has been conveyed consistently through TV, printed and in-house communications. Their strapline ‘the world’s local bank’ is the external representation of their business strategy, that of maintaining a consistent, trustworthy and informed brand right across the globe.

It is, however, important to remember that localisation can go wrong. By even considering creating a local offering you are dangling perilously close to a media backlash or somewhat humorous miscalculation which manages to offend an entire country in one fell swoop. Only recently Rosie Baker of Marketing Week highlighted an embarrassing error made by Kraft when promoting Oreo in Russia. I’m sure you’ve read about it. The new name they marketed in Russia translated as ‘oral sex’. Not the kind of image you want to promote! And as Baker points out, “the name shows that Kraft hasn’t carried out proper due diligence to make sure that it finds a brand name appropriate for all international markets”.

There are even some brands that deliberately sidestep localisation. James Bickford of Idealog cites Gucci as one such luxury brand, claiming that “internationalism is the very essence of its glamour which is why Gucci avoids diluting it with localisation”. The Gucci brand thus maintains its aspirational, even unattainable, image. But this example is an exception rather than the norm.

Implementing a successful localisation strategy

Spending the time and money to localise your marketing activity should be a priority for any organisation. If not, you take the risk of losing the money you spend on your global campaign – and to repair your image, you’ve got to add public relations spend to your budget.

One of the most important things to remember is that getting localisation right doesn’t have to involve a big change to have a big effect. The impact achieved by simply taking the time to consider local sensitivities and adapting your brand appropriately can be huge. Premier Inn have managed this perfectly with their international hotels, specifically those in the Middle-East. The external branding on these hotels still strictly adheres to the UK-conceived brand guidelines, with the same logo and colourways, the same ‘guest-obsessed’ brand values, but with one addition – the hotel name in Arabic sits above the main brand marque, conveying the name to both international and local customers. This doesn’t dilute the brand, but does tell the local customer that they are important enough to be acknowledged in Premier Inn’s corporate image. The local message is continued inside the hotel too with the inclusion of a Qibla in each bedroom – essential for guests and an example of how a small change can have a big impact.

So the lesson is, when you take your beautifully crafted product or campaign to a new market, it is vital you first understand the cultural, religious and political impact it will have, and tailor your offer accordingly. A localisation strategy cannot guarantee success, but without one it will all but guarantee failure.


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