Localisation in a globalized world: what it means for businesses
Globalisation is happening, and it’s here to stay. Astounding advances in transportation, digital communication, and other technologies have created an amazingly interconnected world. Today, consumer brands can easily reach audiences across the world using readily available localisation technology. From the snowy prairies of Canada to the heart of Africa, the global population is more connected than ever.
As multinational companies extend their international reach, there’s a perhaps surprising factor that determines their success: localisation. It may sound counterintuitive, but to succeed globally, you have to think locally.
Different regions of the world have their own languages, cultures, and values. To engage with them, global businesses have to tailor their marketing and products to unique regional needs and tastes. Localisation is more than just translating content into different languages; it’s about understanding and catering to populations in radically different parts of the world.
Many international companies have been successful in reaching regional markets. Some of these case studies below might surprise you, but they all have one thing in common. Every single one of these companies localised their products and content to genuinely appeal to foreign audiences.
Learn from the best: 5 companies that nailed localisation
First up is KitKat. In the West, everyone knows about them. You’ve all seen their clever commercials, and you can probably tell me what colour their signature wrappers are. You may have even grabbed one of their famous crispy chocolate bars last time you went to the grocery shop. But, did you know that KitKat is absolutely huge in Japan?
KitKat’s efforts to cater to Japanese audiences have been a resounding success. It’s not exclusively a matter of marketing, either. The product itself has been modified to suit regional tastes. Along with changing their slogan to “Kittu Katsu” – Japanese for “Surely Win” – the product itself is unique in Japan. In other regions, KitKat is available in milk chocolate, dark chocolate, and white chocolate. However, in Japan, KitKat has introduced a huge selection of flavors – some of which probably sound rather strange to a Western palette.
Japanese cuisine and food culture is distinctive, and KitKat took that into account when plotting their approach. People’s tastes lean toward savory flavours, in contrast to America’s love of sweetness and sugar. Along with sweet flavours like ice cream and chocobanana, Japanese KitKat bars come in flavours like matcha green tea, soybean, and wasabi. By modifying both their marketing and their product to suit local tastes, KitKat successfully established themselves as a popular brand in Japan.
Apple is, undisputably, one of the world’s most popular brands. In the West, they’ve done a truly impressive job of establishing their products as fashionable, high-end, and very desirable. Remember those “I’m a Mac I’m a PC” commercials? Laid-back yet style-conscious, their world-class branding has revitalized the once-struggling company.
The “Mac versus PC” commercials were a hit in North America, but in Japan, they probably wouldn’t have done so well. That’s because, in Japanese culture, it’s considered rather déclassé to directly criticize a rival. The whole marketing campaign would have been seen as tacky and distasteful.
Instead of making a dig at Microsoft, Apple’s Japanese ads used two actors from a successful comedy troupe called Rahmens. Instead of directly saying “PCs are for stodgy corporate suits, and no one wants to be that guy”, they took a less derogatory approach. Their ads framed PCs as something suitable for professional and office use, while portraying Mac computers as something which could also be used for fun.
The Japanese commercials were, of course, a hit. If Apple had simply translated its Western ad campaign, the results could have been disastrous. This example completely underscores the importance of actually understanding other cultures and ensuring that content is tailored toward these differences.
Although they’re successful in North America and Europe, Samsung is actually a South Korean company. They’re incredibly popular in France, in particular. The company has fully understood the French market and targeted campaigns specifically in order to succeed there. To appeal to French audiences, they catered to the nation’s appreciation for artistry, design, and cultural sophistication. To promote their high definition 3D televisions, Samsung hosted an exhibition at the Petit Palais, one of Paris’s foremost art museums. Each TV displayed a masterpiece of fine art. This was a resounding success as the advertising was specifically curated for the the French people, based on detailed research and understanding of the market.
Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) is headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky. The city is famously nicknamed the “Gateway to the South.” Despite its origins in the distinctive cuisine of Southern US culture, KFC has been wildly successful in an unexpected market: China.
When their first Chinese store opened in 1987, KFC was a novelty for Chinese consumers. Previously, during the Mao era, American fast food was unknown in China. Initially, the food itself wasn’t very popular with Chinese palettes. But to win over the nation’s people, KFC’s Chinese managers took a different approach.
Instead of using the same model that works in the US, KFC, of course, did something different. In America, KFC is a franchise, and the focus is on fast service rather than food quality or dining experience. In China, food is at the heart of the local culture. To succeed, KFC needed to cultivate an entirely different ambiance. Instead of simply selling the same American-style food, they altered their menu to suit local tastes. These changes resulted in a huge success, and the chain remains immensely popular in China.
Ask any Generation Xer who grew up in the 1980s: Nintendo was the king of home entertainment. If you were alive back then, you probably remember that the ‘80s were the Reagan era. This was a relatively conservative time in the United States’ history with a societal focus on traditional values. Japan, at this time, was quite a bit more progressive. This meant that many Japanese versions of Nintendo games would have been downright scandalous to the pearl-clutching American mindset.
Nintendo censored quite a bit of material to better appeal to American ideas about what was or was not appropriate for children and teenagers. Things like sexual references, profanity, and death were largely removed. By removing elements that were embraced in Japan, but that would have been considered offensive in America, Nintendo dominated the video game market throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
What happens when localisation goes wrong?
You might ask ‘what happens when a company doesn’t get it right?’ Well, not every business has been as successful as KitKat and KFC. Take stationery company Parker Pens for example. Their slogan, “it won’t leak from your pocket and embarrass you.” was used when they expanded their market to Mexico. However, they translated “embarrass” as “embarazar”, which proved to be a fatal error. “Embarazar” is a false cognate that often tricks up beginners of Spanish – it actually means “pregnant.” This ‘translation fail’ underscores the importance of using skilled translators who speak the language fluently.
Why is localisation important for global businesses?
Localization is a key consideration for any business which has global ambition. For a company to be successful in regional markets, it needs to think on a local level. It’s important for businesses to understand the differences in language, culture and values of people in different regions and ensure that both its product and marketing content are tailored towards specific local audiences.
To conclude, some companies succeed with localization, while others inevitably fail. Accurate, meaningful translation is only the beginning. To capture the hearts and minds of overseas markets, companies must also truly understand the local culture. By targeting specific regions differently, like the 5 examples above, businesses will likely find that their messaging is easier for locals to relate to. This will, in turn, have a considerable impact on the success of their business overseas.
How Volcano City can help
Decided it’s time to take a localized approach to globalization? Your video content is a great place to start. Make your customers feel valued through animated videos in a language they actually understand.
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