Once you’ve mastered the basics of finding expansion-worthy markets and learning how to “run” in them, it may be time to take your translated to the next level by providing an even more resonant UX for customers. Let’s learn more.
When it comes to giving international customers a great cross-channel online experience, savvy marketers must find the best way to engage them in their preferred languages. But marketers must also accomplish this without weakening their overall brand messaging.
On the one hand, it’s economical and practical to maintain a completely standardized approach to global marketing—meaning, the customer experience remains the same no matter which market is being served.
On the other hand, businesses that fail to appropriately customize their efforts for different markets can drive away customers with tone-deaf content and products.
It’s a balancing act—and a tricky one at that. Fortunately, there are ways to successfully walk the tightrope between content standardization and customization.
Website Translation Standardization
There are many attractive reasons to standardize branding and products across global markets, such as:
- It empowers a company to globalize while leveraging economies of scale
- It eases efforts in content creation and management by ensuring the same content is delivered across all channels
- Customers see the same images, product descriptions and more—no matter where they are—which creates global product and brand unity
Customers like being treated the same by your brand, no matter where they live.
This one-size-fits-all approach focuses on volume, cost management and efficiency. But there are downsides. The administrative costs of coordinating worldwide efforts can be significant, and it interferes with capitalizing on local market trends.
Website Translation Customization
An alternative is decentralized operations with strongly localized, multinational approaches. Here, local teams may manage separate content libraries and oversee different marketing efforts. Customizing products and brands for local markets also has benefits:
- Marketing efforts more naturally incorporate the needs of customers in different markets
- Companies deliver a more relevant customer experience, which generates positive in-market brand credibility. It boosts conversion rates, too
- Buyers in different markets have different UX expectations. Using market-specific images, product descriptions, payment methods and more helps make them comfortable
- Customers appreciate brands that “get” their culture. Customization adds a personal touch
However, this approach isn’t scalable or efficient.
Balanced, Transnational Strategies
These days, savvy companies have adopted a more balanced, transnational strategy that mixes global and multinational practices. Decision-making and content management are globalized, while in-market teams have the freedom to adopt marketing strategies that fit their local customers’ needs.
This leverages both the economies of scale and flexibility to drive bottom-line growth. It’s the balance between standardization and customization.
The question isn’t if companies should serve global customers in their native languages. It’s how to do it with the right mix of standardized and customized content so every customer enjoys a culturally relevant experience. This must also be accomplished in ways that don’t overburden internal resources or budgets.
This is more complicated than it seems. Companies can run the risk of over-standardizing their content and offerings for global markets, which largely ignores local customers’ needs. You can also over-localize, which can either come off as too “try hard” by local customers or can’t be sustained by your internal teams without generating significant effort and expense.
The secret is compromise.
Same Language, Different Customers
The standardization / customization conundrum comes into play when a company serves several countries that share a common language—as seen in Latin America, or when companies want to reach the U.S., UK and Canada. Due to the shared languages, standardizing content for these markets may seem like a straightforward decision … but you must consider the business and cultural nuances.
- Can one digital customer experience—often led with a website—published in the common language effectively serve all of those markets?
- Or does each market require its own website and experience?
- Are there subtle, but crucial, linguistic differences between markets that can impact the customer experience? (The use of word apartment in the U.S. versus the term flat in the UK is a great example of this, as is pants versus trousers.)
And what about region-specific languages? Or legal requirements? A Spanish-language website may be acceptable to customers in Madrid and Mexico City, but it would alienate Spaniards who speak Catalan or Basque. And in some Canadian regions, brand messaging must be available in French as well as English. It’s the law.
Consideration for these and other factors will help you determine what content should be standardized, and what should be customized for specific global markets.
A Delicate Balance for Website Translation
While it’s tempting for companies to dramatically shift their global marketing and product approaches in the direction of standardized or customized messaging, 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 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?
Standardization vs. Customization: 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.
Choosing the Right Balance for Website Translation
As you move forward in determining how to present your content in the different markets you serve, keep these best practices in mind:
Country-level differentiation involves a high level of customization for your website and omnichannel content. It’s most appropriate when you’re offering wholly different products, pricing or campaigns for each country. This is full-fledged customization.
This means your content will be different from market to market, and your company will likely have a unique marketing strategy for each site. You might have different campaigns or blog posts with completely different key takeaways, for instance.
In this scenario, you must be able—at least up to a point—to make customizations based on local needs, such as local festivities, holidays and more. You’ll need a website localization solution that can simplify this complex process for you.
Language-level differentiation requires you to account for your customers’ languages and understand if their dialects are different. If they are, then you might need differentiated content—though you won’t need to create wholly different websites for each market.
Unlike full customization, this process requires subtle changes. For instance, in Spain, the verb for “refuse” is negar, but in Latin America, the preferred verb is rehusar. If your websites don’t account for these localization needs, customers will notice and either feel confused or offended.
More important, these linguistic changes should serve your SEO needs. You—or your website translation partner—must conduct market-specific keyword research that can be implemented to drive organic traffic. The site’s metadata—which is content often neglected by traditional translation services—should also be localized to improve your site’s search rankings.
Expertly localizing this hidden content doesn’t just help search engines locate and display your localized website. It also works within the unique pixel and character limits of regional search engines, so that the localized site “plays by the local rules” to further improve its ranking.
Beyond using linguistic localizations from country to country, you should also consider whether there are regional linguistic differences within a country worth customizing for.
Every language has unique wording or jargon that is based on regional dialects. These language nuances are more common in certain industries where specific products sold on-site might have different names, or their names might have different connotations, based on local lingo.
In these scenarios, you shouldn’t translate your content again and again for each dialect. Doing so takes more time, money, effort and expertise than you probably have in-house.
Instead, find a solution that can dramatically lower cost by easily repurposing translated content from online markets you’re already serving for your new same-language markets—and can accommodate the unique linguistic needs of each market.
Additional benefits often include rapid website launches (measured in days, not weeks or months), increased regional search rank and conversions, and reduced translation costs by at least 40%.
Website Translation Tagging for Search Engines
When you are offering a site in a different language, it is always helpful to have search engine-friendly tagging. This means translating metadata that tells regional engines what language the site is published in. (For instance, Castilian Spanish versus Latin American Spanish.)
It’s also a best practice to implement a sitemap for your multilingual websites using hreflang tagging. This ensures that your localized website’s URLs are organized and automatically associated with URLs from your origin website. This provides a signal to Google that a better user experience exists for customers who speak a certain language, live in a particular location, or both.
These are tedious tasks to do initially and on an ongoing basis, but solutions exist that can do it easily and automatically.
Keeping a balance between standardizing and customizing your online and offline marketing content is achievable. Smart brands consider their needs and their target markets carefully and thoroughly, to find what’s right for their specific situations.
But even smarter brands find ways to do this that minimizes the need to increase team size and budgets and keeps things simple for themselves to implement changes.
It’s wise to use an experienced translation services that knows the ins and outs of helping companies strike the right balance for their online and offline marketing content in different markets. Look for a robust, simple to implement, turn-key technology solution. The best solutions make it easy to leverage additional strategies and nuances for getting this balance right.
Read more about website translation in our ultimate guide to website translation.
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