Website Translation

Standardization vs. Customization: Striking the Right Balance (Part 2)

Learn how to strategically leverage these digital marketing approaches to smartly engage global customers.

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Chris Hutchins

October 21, 2020

4 MIN READ

In the first installment of this blog series, we introduced the concepts of standardized and customized approaches to translating marketing and product content for global customers. We also covered why both are necessary for a balanced transnational strategy.

Standardization and customization have different upsides for growing businesses. A “one size fits all” standardized approach to global marketing may ensure efficient, but might not resonate with local customers. By contrast, customization can greatly enhance the customer experience and engagement by catering to local customers’ tastes, but can be challenging to scale.

In this second installment, we’ll explore the importance of strategically leveraging standardization and customization, and ways to help you strike an effective balance between both approaches.

A Delicate Balance

While it’s tempting for companies to dramatically shift their global marketing and product approaches in the direction of standardization or customization, the pendulum shouldn’t swing too far either way.

Consider the case of a popular travel brand. It had only one marketing manager in its home market, yet the company attempted to maintain fully customized, translated websites for nearly 40 global markets. These over-localized efforts led to misaligned marketing messaging that weakened the brand’s reputation—resulting in lost sales.

The company then overcompensated by switching to a near-total standardized approach. This made messaging much simpler for in-house content creation and management. But the lack of localized content meant those international websites performed poorly in search engines and didn’t meet local customers’ UX expectations.

On one side of the spectrum, some companies opt for the most standardized approach possible. Coca-Cola is a perfect example of this approach, historically maintaining a universal product line with little to no localization.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are companies like Proctor & Gamble that highly customize their products, online content and marketing for different markets.

Somewhere in the middle are businesses like McDonald’s that choose a balance between the two. McDonald’s is a well-known example of this hybrid approach. It offers a mostly global menu that can be found anywhere. But McDonald’s also incorporates local products to cater to local tastes—such as vegetarian options in India, burbur ayam in Malaysia, and gazpacho in Spain.

Choosing the best hybrid standardization/customization approach takes a mix of hard data, well-planned strategy and understanding your global customers.

But how do you choose how much to shift toward one end of the spectrum or the other?

Questions to Ask

When it comes to offering the right blend of relevant content, products and services, these questions can point you in the right direction:

How many websites do you need?

Consider how many markets your company currently serves, as well as its expansion plans into new markets. Ask yourself:

  • How much do these markets differ from one another? How much do they have in common?
  • How large (or small) is each individual market? Small markets can often be serviced by your company’s origin (domestic) website
  • Do customers in global markets expect customized content—such as French Canadians, who require a French version of websites?
  • Is there special localized content that warrants a separate website or portion of the website, such as localized shopping carts?

Keep in mind that markets may have more differences than you’d expect at first glance.

What products and services are you offering to different markets?

Companies that offer identical products in every market are less likely to need highly customized content. However:

  • Even when there’s a significant overlap in offerings, it often makes sense to differentiate content when markets have significant cultural differences
  • Your website should reflect those cultural differences
  • Some companies may offer different prices for the same goods in different countries, depending on local marketing strategies, governmental regulations and other factors

What content marketing strategies are you using in local markets?

Products and services aren’t the only things that can differ from market to market. Consider the following:

  • Ad campaigns, cultural references in marketing assets, and other content may also be unique to each market
  • The more you customize marketing content for each market, the more sense it makes to provide a similar level of customization on your website
  • Because content can come in many forms—blogs, social media, product descriptions, mobile apps, dynamic PDFs, audio/video and other channels—you must consider how much localization will be needed in each channel, too

What cultural differences exist in the different markets you serve?

When the cultures and languages of the markets you’re serving are similar, you don’t need to do much customization. However:

  • Remember that many cultures may have pronounced differences. A higher level of customization to fit those markets can be useful
  • Base your content decisions on firm, recent data and in-depth cultural understandings

Otherwise, you risk making serious messaging mistakes that can hurt your brand.

What local legal requirements exist for your offerings?

Legal requirements may be minor from global market to market, but your content will likely still require some customization. For instance:

  • Copyright, trademarks and other legal notices may differ in format and information, depending on the country you’re in
  • Other legal requirements may be more in-depth
  • In Canada, for example, companies that serve customers in French-dominant regions are legally required to provide a full French translation for their marketing materials, websites and signage
  • Research how local laws may impact your marketing. There may even be requirements related to your industry

All of these requirements may lead to a need for greater customization of your online content. Implement new content changes in every market you’re in.

To Be Concluded…

In the next post, we’ll cover additional strategies and nuances that will help create a balanced standardization/customization hybrid approach that benefits your SEO and engagement, fully complements the customer journey, and more.

Last updated on October 21, 2020
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About Chris Hutchins

Chris Hutchins is a versatile, deadline-driven content director, editor and writer with 15+ years of corporate go-to-market, creative agency and journalism experience. In his off hours, Chris crafts award-winning marketing experiences, screenplays & novels for TV shows, movies and game companies.

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