Every day you connect with people all around the world via the internet. Whether you’re checking the news, reading recipes, or just watching funny videos, you’re bound to encounter content made by someone in another country. Of course, that works both ways—people around the world can also connect with your brand and content at the touch of a button (or swipe of a finger). But when you expand your market to other regions and cultures, there are a lot of ways that things can go wrong.
Whether your company’s foray into global marketing is a small step (like making your website more accessible to audiences in different countries) or you’re diving in all the way (opening brick-and-mortar locations abroad), we’ll cover aspects of marketing and branding that you should evaluate as you transition to an international market.
Before you even start, it’s a good idea to have people from the target region on your team. Natalie Kelly of the Harvard Business Review says, “One of the most disappointing mistakes that I’ve seen companies make is that they hire highly competent, intelligent local people to serve their overseas markets, but then fail to consider their input when making strategic decisions.”
You can prevent many of the challenges that arise in global marketing by developing your strategy with employees local to the area. This sentiment holds true even for countries or areas that seem relatively similar—slang, humor, and culture can vary widely even between regions within a single country.
But just working with natives from your target region isn’t enough to guarantee success. The most obvious pitfall when it comes to global marketing is translation. When adapting your brand and marketing strategy to a new language, every detail counts. If you’ll be translating your website and other copy for your new audience, hiring a translator is definitely worth it—relying on a native speaker who lacks professional translation expertise can result in mistakes and inconsistencies.
Even with a professional, you should have as many native speakers double-check the copy as possible. This may seem like overkill, but even high profile companies have made major translation mistakes—when Coca-Cola first converted their name into Chinese, it literally translated to “bite the wax tadpole.” Little errors can also drastically change the meaning of your copy. Below, the co-founder of Innocent Drinks shares an example of a minor slip-up during an early attempt at global marketing:
“We were at our first trade show in France, proud to be exporting the Innocent dream. The stand carried our usual mission statement, this time translated into French. It explained Innocent smoothies were 100 per cent natural and contained no colourings, no water, no sugar and no preservatives.
Our stand had certainly made an impression, though not in the way we’d anticipated. Since ‘preservatives’ does not translate directly into French, it turned out that we were advertising ‘condom-free’ fruit drinks.”
Though this humorous learning experience didn’t cause any major damage, it illustrates a vital global marketing takeaway: never assume that anything will be understood the same way abroad as it is at home. In addition to verifying the literal translation of words, it’s a good idea to do some digging to see what cultural and historical references your copy may evoke.
Even seemingly innocuous messages can be disastrous, such as in 2014, when detergent manufacturer Procter & Gamble prompted anger in Germany after displaying “88” on promotional packages for Ariel washing powder. The number was intended to show how many washes consumers could do with one package (5 more than the usual 83), but in Germany, “88” is a neo-Nazi code that stands for “Heil Hitler.” This mistake could have been avoided by a quick Google search or feedback on the packaging from a local.
Though it’s important to thoroughly vet your copy, there are bigger steps that you can take to make a good impression—consider adapting your brand’s identity to the target culture. Consistency is important, but not when it jeopardizes your business. For example, the French cheese brand Kiri changed its name to Kibi in Iran because the original name means “rotten” in Farsi. Changing your design, logo, and other branding aspects may result in more success in a specific region.
Additionally, some companies have found great success by adjusting their product itself to suit new regions—especially when it comes to food. In Russia, Dunkin Donuts has adapted popular local dessert flavors, such as pistachio. McDonald’s goes even further with their menu: in Malaysia, you can try Burbur Ayam McD, a take on a local dish which features chicken, onions, ginger, shallots, and chilies on top of porridge. By learning about what locals already love, these companies can better appeal to consumers.
Moving into the international market means you’ll have to adapt and take risks to find out what works best, but it doesn’t mean that you should go in blind. From double- and triple-checking translations to incorporating the target culture into your branding, knowing what to watch out for will help you stay ahead of the game.
But even if you’re not ready to leap into the global market just yet, these concepts—doing comprehensive research to understand your target audience, getting lots of feedback throughout development, and proofreading meticulously—will step up your marketing game on the home front, too.
Whether you’re looking to attract consumers from near or far, Creative Spot is here to help you with your strategic marketing needs. Creative Spot is a full-service marketing and advertising agency in Columbus, Ohio. If you would like to learn more about how we can help your organization, please contact us.