International Business Strategies

Cultural Fluency in Global Marketing (Part 1)

Discover how to engage international customers in authentic ways online, in this first installment of our two-part series.

Dominic Dithurbide's avatar
Dominic Dithurbide

May 25, 2016


This is Part 1 in a 2-part series. Find Part 2 here.

As your company enters new markets, a “one size fits all” marketing approach rarely works as intended. It’s not enough for corporate websites in these markets to speak the locally-preferred language through translated content.

To resonantly connect with new global consumers, your organization must embrace transnational thinking—perceiving new markets as something far more than business opportunities. Markets represent complex mashups of cultures, ideas and consumer desires. To engage them authentically, companies and marketers need more than linguistic fluency. They require cultural fluency.

This nuanced, native-friendly approach isn’t easy for most companies to acquire.

For instance, did you know that Japanese companies go to heroic lengths to avoid price increases of their products? One Japanese ice cream manufacturer recently raised prices by only nine cents, after maintaining the same price for 25 years, and launched an apologetic marketing campaign to preempt consumer backlash.

Curiously, many South Koreans believe that leaving a ceiling fan on overnight will kill its owner. (Some believe this certain death comes via suffocation, with the fan somehow sucking the air out of the room.) “It sounds like the plot of an X-Files episode,” a New York Times correspondent recently wrote.

Despite how these customs and beliefs might appear to Westerners, skilled marketers understand they’re not silly at all, when viewed within the context of the markets’ cultures. (America is no stranger to this strangeness: using a large rodent every February to determine the length of winter is a mighty peculiar practice, too!)

We spoke with Omar El Ali, a Global Online Strategist for MotionPoint’s Global Growth team, about the importance of cultural fluency, and how savvy companies can use cultural awareness and resonant translations to boost online engagement and conversions—and increase revenue in global markets.

Localization: Going Beyond Translation

The terms translation and localization are often used synonymously—sometimes on this very blog!—but in fact represent different approaches to translation. Localization transcends the linguistic word-for-word conversion of conventional translation and instead uses terms that resonate within specific markets or subcultures. (Consider the American linguistic regionalisms regarding soft drinks: some consumers call the stuff soda, others call it pop, and still others always call it Coke.) While region-neutral translation is often very effective, the customized approach of localization can be far more resonant to particular global consumers.

“Ultimately, localization goes a long way to helping companies improve brand awareness and trust,” Omar explains, “which often leads to higher engagement and KPI conversions on translated global sties.”

MotionPoint offers a powerful service called Market Management to help companies accomplish this goal. Market Management customizes specific elements of a translated site, such as an on-site promotion or call to action, in ways (and language) that best resonate with certain global shoppers.

We saw great success with this approach when we recently helped a global home furniture retailer enter the Moroccan market. The company opted to launch its brick-and-mortar retail and online presences into this market at the same time. However, its website wasn’t transactional; instead, the company relied on the translated site to drive foot traffic, and sales, to the offline retail store.

“To help maximize this ‘online to offline shopping’ endeavor, we crafted a localized promotion on the translated site,” Omar says. “It congratulated local consumers on the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha, celebrated after the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. It also prompted them to register to receive special offers.”

This move, which leveraged a timely and authentic event in a clever way to drive email opt-ins, generated nearly 25% more conversions than average.

MotionPoint helped a UK-based retailer gain consumer trust in North America when it launched its U.S. e-commerce site. (The lexical differences in UK and U.S. English are significant; companies that ignore these differences often alienate customers with unfamiliar, seemingly-foreign terms.) The UK company was practically unknown in the States. The lack of familiarity was hurting sales.

MotionPoint conducted an A/B test, leveraging localized banners for some of the U.S. shoppers. The banners talked up the company’s robust return and shipping policies, and other key credibility-boosting differentiators. “The goal was to reduce any perceived risk from American shoppers,” Omar explains.

The tactic worked. One week later, this checkout rates rose by nearly 30%, contributing to a monthly incremental revenue of nearly £2,000,000.

E-commerce sites that leverage these market-specific content customizations see a 52% average increase in conversion rates, we’ve found.

Culturally-Relevant Translations

Localizations—aka authentic and relevant translations—move the needle in other ways. While MotionPoint understands the overwhelming value in conventional, region-neutral translations (you can learn more about “Universal Spanish,” which exemplifies this concept, here), region-specific localizations really get readers in those markets to lean in.

“This can apply to different geographic regions within a country,” Omar explains, “where a common language is spoken throughout the nation, but certain important phrases differ in specific regions.”

We addressed this this need for one MotionPoint travel client by localizing a site’s user experience, content and some terminology. One month later, the localized site’s impressions grew by nearly 75%. Its average SERP ranking improved by 11 positions, too.

In another instance for a global airline, we identified ways to improve the translations of high-profile promotions serving its South Korean customers. These translations required a creative nudge—in this case, an addition of detail and words not seen in the airline’s flagship English site.

(Interestingly, native Korean news and airline websites often feature much more text and detail on their own homepage content than sites in other global markets. Korean copywriters don’t operate on the same “less is more” wavelength as their English counterparts. In-depth descriptions of products and services aren’t just tolerated on native Korean homepages. They’re expected!)

After we crafted more resonant localizations for this promotional content, engagement dramatically improved. Click-throughs increased by an average of 15%. Checkouts rose by nearly 45%. One promotion generated a nearly 30% jump in clicks, and a nearly 70% increase in checkouts.

Crafting culturally-resonant, localized content made all the difference.

To Be Continued…

So far, we’ve learned how optimizing translations and on-site elements can improve engagement and consumer loyalty in global markets. But stay tuned: we’ll wide the scope of our conversation to include in-language social media, conversion rate optimization and more, in the second part of this blog series.

Part 2 will drop later this week!

Last updated on May 25, 2016
Dominic Dithurbide's avatar

About Dominic Dithurbide

Dominic Dithurbide is a creative, goal-driven marketing leader that’s dedicated his career to the translation industry. Dominic brings proficiency in global marketing, demand generation, and go-to-market strategies to MotionPoint’s marketing team.

Dominic Dithurbide's avatar
Dominic Dithurbide

Marketing Manager


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