10 Best Practices for Global Launches and Localization

A friend of mine recently told me a story about her time working at a museum in Austria years ago. Now a radiologist, she was working as a docent in the galleries at the museum. Invariably, tourists from every nation would enter the galleries with large bags in tow, and she would have to ask them (politely) to check their bags.

“With Americans, it was easy,” she said. “You’d ask them to check their bags, and explain that the art was uncovered. They wouldn’t care. But then you’d say, ‘It would really help me out,’ and they’d immediately agree.”

The French were trickier, she explained. They didn’t respond to appeals of the friendly sort. (“It’s not my concern what would help you!”) Instead, my friend got them to check their large bags by explaining that they could, absolument, keep their small purses and wallets with them.

The Germans didn’t go for either of these pleas. After trying even more tactics – explaining that the bag check was free, that large bags were an inconvenience to other viewers – my friend, exasperated, said, “You can’t have a large bag. It’s a rule.”

“Well, why didn’t you say so?” the Germans would reply.

The lesson was clear: Americans like to help, the French want to secure their personal property, and Germans respect authority.

My friend learned how to succeed through trial and error. Like any good marketer, she appealed to the sentiments of her audience, varied as they were.

Her story got me thinking about localization, and how, in an increasingly global marketplace, we must localize our messages – or risk that they fall flat.

Here are 10 tips to help ensure your global campaigns go local.

1. Translate Sentiments, Not Words

As any good interpreter will tell you, translation is about more than just words – it’s about meaning. Idioms and tone differ by region (even here in the U.S.!), so have a local review your copy before you go live. From Transperfect to oDesk, trustworthy, affordable local talent is often only a few clicks away.

2. Start With the Core Market

I have worked with many companies gearing up for global product launches. In an effort to be inclusive, some will invite all regions to be part of developing the product’s core message. In my experience, this is a mistake, and leads to watered-down messaging that fails to resonate with any audience. Start with the core region and nail your approach there. Then build in time to let other regions “make it their own” – the result will be a smoother, more effective launch.

3. Be Mindful of Colors

Designers will have to do double duty for global campaigns. After all, in the U.S., red signifies passion, love, danger, and anger. But in China, red signifies good luck. Similarly, here in the States, blue is a trusted, masculine color, while abroad it is considered feminine. Orange and yellow are sacred colors in some cultures. Pick the tone you’re trying to achieve and check to make sure your colors back it up.

4. Double-Check Your Symbols, Spelling, and Syntax

Euros, dollar signs, yen… whilst or while, color or colour. There’s nothing worse than receiving a piece of marketing collateral that was clearly written for a different geography.

5. Sound It Out

While the classic Chevy Nova example isn’t actually true, be careful to ensure the names of your products can be pronounced in the markets where you’re launching. In some cases, you may need to revise spelling or secure additional trademarks.

6. Find Out What Drives Them

Tide is exemplary in this, conducting in-depth ethnographic studies on-site with local consumers. These “immersion studies” let marketers see how their products are used, and discover cultural idiosyncrasies and pain points that can lead to future innovation. For brands with smaller budgets, focus groups and surveys are the next best thing. No budget at all? Start by reading the local news, as headlines will give you a sense of the region’s mood. Follow the Twitter accounts of top cultural icons in the region (this is where Google Translate comes in handy!) and read travel blogs or host Skype calls with locals to gain cultural context.

7. Pick Your Platforms

Once the product naming and messaging are set, you’ll need to choose which media channels to use to deliver your message. Find out where your audience spends its time: Watching TV? Listening to radio? Online via a shared desktop or individual laptop? On mobile devices? If so, are they smartphones (which would make mobile display or rich media a good bet), or are they mostly using SMS? Social networks vary greatly in popularity abroad, as we all know, so you’ll need to build pages for the relevant platforms in each region. Tools like Buffer are a good place to start, but you’ll likely need to supplement your efforts if social is a large part of your launch strategy.

8. Ready Your Website

This is no small task, and is worthy of a post of its own. At a high level, you’ll need to decide whether you will link all regional sites to your global site, or host each separately, and determine which pages need to be localized. While of course you can set pages and sites to default to the country of the user’s IP address, give users the ability to self-select how they’d like to encounter your message. Burberry does an elegant job of this.

9. Think Through Customer Support

As you launch in new regions, questions and concerns are bound to arise. Get ahead of known issues with localized FAQs (include questions that are region-specific, like pricing, legal issues, etc.) and create distinct process flows for inquiries that come from each region. A simple drop-down tab on your “Contact Us” form can do the trick – but you’ll need people in-house to help resolve these issues (quickly!) once they come in.

10. Track Everything

You’ll need to track results so you can measure your campaign’s success and optimize for the future. Set clear adoption, revenue, and engagement goals for each region, and create distinct tags for every piece of creative that goes out the door. Ensuring your analytics system is set up this way will help you know if your messages resonated or fell flat, so you can tweak them next time.

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