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Localisation : Why You Should NOT Do Whatever It Takes To Fit In

LocalisationIf you frequently surf the international content waters on the web, you’ll have noticed the plethora of articles which state that ‘going global has never been easier’ and that ‘the potential has never been bigger’. While I won’t quibble with those assertions, the sheer abundance of articles treating internationalisation as if it was an easy feat might lead some business leaders to believe that the world is indeed flat, and that no particular effort is needed to pull off a stellar performance on foreign shores.

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s a similarly endless stream of articles treating localisation along the lines of ‘do whatever it takes to fit in’. This, in turn, could lead decision makers to believe that their company must become an exact replica of the local competition in order to be successful.

In my opinion, none of the above is likely to reap the best, most profitable results for international organisations. Here’s why:

Going global is no easy feat; it takes tremendous time, effort, and investments if you really want it to work – and more importantly perhaps, the right mindset. Launching your business in foreign territory with an ethnocentric mindset will be just about as financially rewarding as flushing money down the drain – although the latter will probably be more fun and require less work.

Conversely, by aiming to become as local as they come, you might not only overload yourself with work, but also severely compromise your own brand values and eliminate the uniqueness of your proposition that sets you apart from the local competition.

And just so we’re clear, I’m NOT saying that you shouldn’t:

  • Translate your website into the local language(s) of the countries you’re targeting;
  • Adapt your website, content and messaging to make it culturally relevant;
  • Use local domains;
  • Undertake local keyword research;
  • Display prices in local currency and account for local payment methods;
  • Use local search engines and social networking sites in markets where these exist and have a prominent presence;
  • Etc. etc. etc.

…because you should do all of these!!

What I am alluding to though, is that you inherently have something unique to offer because of the simple fact that you weren’t born and bred in the market(s) you’re now targeting. And if you’ve made it all the way into international, you must have a story to tell. An interesting one, I bet.

Think about traveling for a second! What is it about traveling that exhilarates so many of us? While there’s no scientific answer to the best of my knowledge, I suppose at the root of it is a profound interest in exploring and learning from the unknown – even if that need only surfaces occasionally. So if this interpretation holds just somewhat true, why would you go to great lengths to obscure your roots when these might be the very thing which draws people in?


There’s still no place like home

It’s vital to bear in mind, however, that for the vast majority of people there’s no place like home. The magic thus occurs when you take the comfort of what people already know and trust and add that extra ingredient of yours to trigger local curiosity and differentiate yourself from the local competition. So when in Rome, please do act like the Romans – just remember that interpreting it too literally could mean sacrificing brand consistency, integrity, economies of scale and ultimately blending in to such an extent that could see you becoming a fly on the wall.


It’s all for the taking for those who get it right

Most markets these days, if not all, are significantly more competitive than they were just a decade ago. Consumers are well aware that they’re spoiled with choice and have become increasingly savvy as a result. Earning their attention and trust therefore requires not only hard work, but also a thorough understanding of the local marketplace and how your company can fit in in a way that is adapted, yet still coherent with your overall tone of voice.

So while going global certainly has never been easier, getting there is only the first step of the journey; gaining a foothold and succeeding are entirely different matters. Most companies which fail abroad do so because they don’t do enough, but some actually do too much, in effect creating a bunch of separate entities which lack the necessary coherency that is so vital for a global brand. Balancing this line of global scale and local appeal is a difficult one to tread, but the jackpot of getting it right is simply too big to not give it a go.

Image source: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/344488

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Immanuel Simonsen

Research Manager at Webcertain
As the Research Manager of multilingual web marketing agency Webcertain, Immanuel heads up the company’s global market research activities and large content marketing projects. He is the author of several reports and guides, including ‘The Essential Guide to Rel-Alternate-Hreflang’ and ‘The Webcertain Global Search and Social Report 2013’. Apart from being a tutor at the International Marketing School -- teaching online marketing professionals on business opportunities around the globe -- Immanuel is a regular speaker at the International Search Summit, a leading event series dedicated to multilingual search and social media marketing.

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