6 brand localization tips from experienced brand marketers
Entering a new market means myriad opportunities to grow your brand. But setting up shop in a different country can also include challenges that have the potential to ruin years of careful brand building. To help marketers overcome any localization obstacles, we asked six experts for their tips on bringing brands to life in new markets.
Domino’s Pizza launched in Italy in 2015 but never had more than 23 stores in the country before closing the last ones in the summer of 2022. The chain tried to sell US-style pizzas to a saturated market where customers had very strong preferences regarding their pizza. Unfortunately, Domino’s Pizza made few attempts to adapt to those preferences and, as a result, never really managed to get a foothold in the market.
So, as you can see, entering a new market is a challenge for any business. But it’s especially tough for marketers who need to handle all the communications and bring the brand to life in the new market. So, we got six experienced marketers to share their top tips for localizing your brand to help you know what to prioritize.
1. Do your market research
Market research helps you understand if your product and brand are a good fit for your target market. Doing thorough research up front will help you avoid costly or time-consuming mistakes.
When considering new markets, look for the best opportunities for the lowest risk. Digge Zetterberg, Head of Communications at Frontify explained, “We did a lot of research into the suitability of new markets before choosing where to expand.” They added, “This helped us to select markets with maximal opportunity and lower risk profiles.”
While you can read through lots of market reports and data, nothing beats talking to people with real, firsthand experience of the market you’re moving into. “Conduct a brand analysis and interview key stakeholders in the community,” recommended Jessalynn Jones, former senior marketing strategist at Fifth Color. “There’s so much nuance to be found in their experience of interacting with a brand with all five senses. So, talk to people in person if you can — or over Zoom if you can’t.”
Include competitor analysis in your market research. Content marketer Sean Kivi has worked with companies localizing their brand for the US, UK, and China. “We started by reviewing big brands in the target market and interviewing people with a set of questions about what compels them to buy a service like ours.” He added, “Next, we looked for negative reviews of businesses in our target locale, which allowed us to identify gaps in the market.”
Former senior marketing strategist at Fifth Color
2. Familiarize yourself with your target audience
While you may have a similar target customer in your new market, you shouldn’t assume the people or companies buy in the same way. People may have different motivations and buying behaviors than in your home market.
Getting to know your new target audience will help you work out your brand positioning and core marketing messaging for your new market. The better you understand your target audience — what motivates them, what they value, and what they don’t — the better you’ll be able to connect with them through your marketing.
Sean said, “You can’t sell a product or service if you don’t understand the local customs of the people you’re selling to.” He added, “Interview people in the target market to understand the business culture and buying psychology. It will help you understand what motivates and stops them from making a purchase.”
Don’t rely only on online research to learn about your target audience. The more people you can speak to, the better, as that will help you build up a more detailed understanding of the audience you’re marketing to.
JustCall historically worked in English-speaking markets but is testing multiple global regions, including Germany, Japan, France, and Poland. Their marketing director, Deepan Siddhu, shared how they’ve familiarized themselves with their new audience. “We run interviews with our customers in these regions. This helps us understand the cultural context better.” He added, “We also interview lookalike customers to test out our messaging.”
3. Understand cultural preferences and differences
Part of understanding your target audience and market is coming to grips with the cultural preferences and values that differ from your home market. The style, tone, and messaging that work in your existing market may not work in the new one.
Consider the cultural nuances in the way you communicate your brand. This includes your brand colors, icons, and images. Sean said,” It’s essential you understand how things like colors and numbers are viewed in the target culture." For example, in Western cultures, the color white is often associated with purity and innocence; in Eastern cultures, white can be associated with death and mourning.
There may be other religious and cultural sensitivities you need to be aware of. For example, if you’re moving into a market where a high percentage of the population is vegetarian, you wouldn’t want to include images of burgers or steaks in your advertising. These would alienate your target audience and make them feel your products aren’t for them.
And it’s not just the visual representation of your brand you need to think about. The tone of voice for your marketing content may also need to change to suit local preferences. For example, Netflix commissions original content for local markets, such as the highly acclaimed series Sacred Games, for its Indian market. The series is set in Mumbai and was originally produced in Hindi (though you can watch it with subtitles in other languages.) Using the local language and setting makes Sacred Gamed more relevant to the target audience.
Katrina Balmaceda is a former accounts director who worked for a Singapore-based e-commerce fulfillment company that was expanding into the Philippines. They struggled to find the desired tone that connected with the local market.
She explained, “In the Philippines, people often prefer a light-hearted tone. So, we infused the articles with humor related to recent local trends and events, as well as expressions in the local language.”
4. Invest in translation
Communicating with your target audience in their native language can help you build an authentic connection with them. But it can also cause a disconnect — especially if you rely only on online tools like Google Translate.
If you truly want to connect with your new market, you need to think of the process as “transcreation” rather than translation. By adapting the content, rather than translating it verbatim, you capture the cultural nuance, get the tone right, and recreate the emotion evoked by your original content. For Alex Kracov, CEO and co-founder at Dock, translation was a challenge. He explained, “A difficult part of localizing marketing campaigns is making sure that your ads and content are translated properly. Of course, you can hire a translation agency. But the hard part is around proofreading and the style of the translation.”
“My recommendation is to find friends or colleagues in local markets who can review the translation agency’s work,” he added. “We’d ask multiple colleagues to look at the same translation to make sure we got it right.” Working with people who speak the language will help you achieve the desired tone and feel with your translated content.
“Work with local content creators,” recommends Katrina. “If you can’t do that, at least have someone local to go over your content and act as a ‘cultural translator’ for you. Get them to point out things that don’t work, things that are obvious to the local audience but not to you, like if the tone is too stiff and formal. These things are hard to spot if you’re not a native speaker.”
CEO and co-founder at Dock
5. Create localized marketing content
Localized content will help you connect with your target audience and position your brand as a reputable company in the market. In addition, you build trust and authority in your brand by demonstrating relevance to your target customers and showing you understand their motivations and priorities.
Digge found that “localized content worked really well. We created guides that were tailored to each country.” They explained, “This helped position our brand as a local authority. We frequently had rich snippets appearing in Google search results for that market, which helped generate a lot of relevant organic traffic and leads.”
Localized content helps to increase brand reputation and relevance in your target market. Some ways to localize your content include:
- Translating your content into the local language
- Considering cultural holidays and celebrations for your marketing campaigns
- Adding visuals and images that resonate with your new market
- Including examples from local brands, celebrities, or experts in your content
Katrina found that localizing their content helped strengthen their position in the Philippine market. She said, “We considered Philippine holidays when talking about e-commerce promos. And for articles about how to create a blog for your e-commerce business, we used examples of blogs created by Philippine e-commerce companies. This supported our advice with relevant, contextual examples that demonstrated our understanding of the market.”
6. Know what to keep and what to change
You’re not creating a new, separate brand when localizing a brand. You still need to represent your global brand’s core values and identity. Understanding where your brand can adapt to suit the preferences and values of your new market will be critical.
Jessalynn explained, “Our biggest challenge was creating a cohesive, yet localized, messaging, branding, and marketing plan. We also needed an action plan for phasing out old versions of the localized brand that didn’t properly relate to our global brand. But we needed to do that in a way that wouldn’t damage brand recognition or affect our reputation in the local market.”
Creating a successful, localized brand requires an in-depth understanding of your brand identity. First, you need to define the core aspects of that identity. That will help you work out the elements that need to stay the same to maintain and increase brand recognition.
Katrina said, “Decide in advance the non-negotiables for your brand. These might be the tone, standards, visual style, values, or other marketing components. Whatever they are — these must remain consistent across all your localized content in different countries.”
Then, work out the elements that have a degree of flexibility. These are the elements that can change to fit in with cultural differences and preferences. For example, Takeaway.com uses different brand names in local markets but keeps its vibrant orange color palette and knife-and-fork logo.
A strong localized brand requires effective brand governance
Managing a global brand with localized elements gets more complex over time. You add more markets, each with its own subtle variations on your global brand. And as you expand in your new markets, you’ll learn more about what does and doesn’t resonate with customers and refine your positioning for that audience.
So, it’s essential that brand marketers document changes and localized aspects in their brand guidelines. Guidelines are an important tool for effective brand governance: Effective brand governance helps ensure creative consistency and integrity across a brand’s assets on a global scale.
Learn more about effective brand governance. Download our in-depth report to learn about governing global brands co-created with WARC.