Why you need to localise your marketing content

5 min read

Effective global communication in sales is important for three reasons:

  1. Naturally, as many businesses truly leverage the digital opportunity, website visitors and customer growth can come from across the world.
  2. But there’s more. In the next decade, we will see the rise of the borderless consumer. Lizzie Penny, co-founder of The Hoxby Collective of nomadic freelancers says “Our current nine-to-five model was conceived 200 years ago, as a great improvement on the 15 hour working days of the Industrial Revolution. With ‘presenteeism’, you don’t get the best person for the job.” Today’s digital professionals are working and living anywhere, tearing down concepts not just of work but citizenship and belonging – making the world a more homogenous community of opportunity for business.
  3. And before we hold hands and sing ‘Kum-ba-yah’, there’s cold hard cash to consider, too. Face-to-face sales demands long-term relationship building (nobody likes cold calls!) and the only alternative is digital. So whatever the channel (traditional website, apps, bots, messenger tools, webinars and presentations etc.) we now live in a world where zero or low-touch sales is the norm. In the words of SaaS sales guru Jacco van der Kooij of Winning by Design, “There’s no room for the guy with the big tie and the big numbers. It’s either relationship selling or selling with no people at all.” And selling with no people at all needs localisation.

But it’s hard. It takes time and money that every business can find another use for. Luckily, in a spectacular blog for Intercom, Tom Newton, their manager of Lifecycle Marketing, explains the value of marketing localisation:

  • Most companies of any maturity will have visitors from a surprising number of territories
  • It’s up to you to use campaigns to validate whether those visitors convert to sales
  • If they do, it will cost less to capture them with localised content
  • And traffic in localised funnels converts at similar rates to English traffic

The problem with localisation

But is localisation what we actually need? We think of it as tackling a linguistic challenge – which is of course true – but it doesn’t truly express what customers actually want. Yes, they like communication in their own language, but that’s only the manifestation of a larger underlying concern. Customers are in fact looking for a certain type of confidence: the confidence of buying “from someone like me”; and “just like other people like me”.

Every SaaS business, for example, leverages the credibility of its prestige clients. Here’s the homepage for Chargebee, proudly promoting its 6000 customers, by using their logos:

Customer logos on Chargebee's website

Here’s Calendly – even more overtly explaining that you’re not alone, and in the company of brands you trust:

Customer logos on Calendly's website

Localisation is, to a degree, about being understood in a customer’s native language, but it is far more about a customer experience which inspires confidence. Dmitry Davydov, Marketing Director of Bitrix24 gives a particularly telling explanation: “We used to be inundated with requests from people who wanted to know who else in their country was using our service”, he says.

“That’s a problem: first, we’d have to find out, and second, we’d need to get their permission. That’s a very complex and unscalable way for a SaaS business to build sales. But we realised that what people really want is comfort and confidence. So we simply placed a real-time world map of Bitrix24 accounts at the bottom of our home page. Prospective clients can see instantly how many other companies in the same area are using our services”.

When you can talk the same language as your customers, bill in the same currency, and show that you can provide FAQs and support in their mother tongue, it gives them confidence: not just that you are committed to their success, but that you’re just like they are.

Codifying cultural linguistic divergence

To identify how complex translations can get us closer to the customer, Rahel-Anne Bailie, Content Strategist and Chief Knowledge Officer at Scroll offers a taxonomy for linguistic divergence:

Graphic of taxonomy for localisation divergence between English and Thai

In this lovely example, 12 is raw data. It has the same intrinsic meaning in Thailand as in Europe. December is a direct translation – indeed the month is the same concept to a Thai as to a German, and raw translation would do a perfect job.

But from here, we diverge dramatically, both in meaning and implied cultural knowledge – think of all that is wrapped up in our concept of Christmas, from time off and seeing families through to travel chaos and irritating advertising.

And yet, it’s in a shared perception of those divergent concepts that I know I’m buying from, and with, ‘people like me’. (For the same reason, back in the outsourcing boom of the early 2000s, Indian call centre workers were made to watch British TV shows, so that they would have relevant and current cultural touchpoints. It was a dismal failure, but the thinking is sound…)

You can see Rahel walk through the above example in her video presentation on best practices for localisation.

She says, “You can’t really even translate from English to English”. There’s a great Canadian phrase, ‘off like a dirty shirt’ (meaning to leave quickly) – which has absolutely no traction in British English. Or for a more practical example, in the UK we have ‘postage and packing’. In the US, we would say ‘shipping and handling’ and in Australia it would be ‘postage and handling’. None would be mistranslations, yet all would be jarring if they were missed in a localisation process.

“And that’s why translation isn’t enough. Even localisation isn’t enough. There’s a lesser-known word that accounts for cultural values and norms — transcreation — and that’s the aim of the best communicators”.

Because it’s the shared experiences of a culture that creates sales environments which give customers the comforts they really want.

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