Marketing content localization graphic illustration

The comprehensive plan to marketing localization: build yours in 3 steps

What does it really mean to launch your product in a new market?

We know it’s not a sexy topic outside of the localization industry. Nowadays, companies can do international expansion faster than ever before. But many companies underestimate how hard it is to break into a new market. 

One of the most challenging parts of scaling globally is “getting to know individual cultures, how they work, and how they communicate. It’s tough,” says Nicolas Dessaigne, Founder and CEO of Algolia. There’s quite a lot that goes into getting it right, as each country has its own unique set of quirks and challenges

Here’s everything you need to know to develop better marketing localization strategies. 

So what does marketing localization really mean? 

Martina Russo, CEO at MovingWords, pointed out a common misconception about marketing localization:

“One of the main misconceptions in marketing localization is that you can just drop your content – that took your marketing team weeks or months to come up with – and expect your translation partners to develop it across languages without the same amount of context… and expect the same results. If you want your campaigns to work well in other countries, you need to involve your localization team from the very early stages.”

Martina’s colleague Martina Eco, who’s also a marketing translation specialist for the Italian market, pointed out how companies often underestimate how much research is involved in the process: research into the client’s brand identity and tone of voice, research into the target audience, language, needs and behavior, research into the product or service being sold, and how it meets customer needs in different markets.

Here’s why marketing localization isn’t a sexy topic. Emilia Korczynska, Head of Marketing at Userpilot, shares that to do it right you need to:

  • Do new product discovery to understand what the target audience wants
  • Do market research to understand what’s already there
  • Internationalize and localize both the website and product interface (will that button size still work there if the text is in Mandarin vs. in Armenian? Do users in China have the same expectations of app UX as users in the US? (Cue: nope.)
  • Payment method localization: can you use the same payment gateways/providers as in your current location, or is there a popular local solution you should go with?
  • Marketing strategy localization: can you use the same strategy? Are the channels that work in your current location more or less competitive? (e.g. what’s the average search volume and keyword difficulty for the keywords you need to target in the new market? What’s the cost-per-click? Are there any influencers in this niche you could work with?)
  • No, you can’t just ‘translate your content’. Period.
  • Is your Pricing directly convertible into a foreign currency or do you need to adjust it for local standards (reduce/increase pricing; remove/add plans?)
  • How will you localize your 3rd party user onboarding, chat, knowledge base, Resource Center apps? Do they offer localization at all?
  • Will you need to adapt your legal stuff to the new market? Data processing, privacy policy, terms and conditions? Will some tracking and analytics tools have to go?
  • And finally – what about the sales, support, and success teams?

The benefits of early marketing localization

Some companies go global early and others late. HubSpot went all-in on going global in 2014, growing international revenue from 22% to 44% as they recently crossed $1B ARR. Without marketing localization, growth would have been significantly slower:

According to Nataly Kelly, VP of Localization at HubSpot, the localization team has always lived on the GTM (go-to-market) side of the business. Localization is completely centralized at HubSpot, but marketing makes up the vast majority of their work.

Even at $1B ARR, 60% of customers still come from free channels. Content marketing is a big part of HubSpot’s GTM approach, so marketing localization is huge.

Marketing localization and its challenges

We talked with several marketing localization specialists to map out the top three challenges of marketing localization.

Challenge #1:

Marketing localization has this particularity in that it’s both an exercise in technique and creativity for translators. They have to be able to cram the intended message (the essence of the text) into a few words, and those few words have to be just as impactful to the target audience as they are in the source text. Thus, translating a catchphrase of five words can take literal hours, if not days.

Challenge #2:

Most clients wrongly assume that short texts need less time to be translated, because it’s “only a couple of words.” But those couple of words can make or break a promotional campaign if they aren’t translated properly. Time is critical in translation; there’s never nearly enough of it. Identify your target audience and its cultural sensibilities.

Marketing localization demands a keen sense of adaptation, because what may work in the source language might not in the target language. The translators usually ask themselves a bunch of questions upon reading the source text. For example – should a movie reference be translated as it is? Will the target audience understand the intended pun? Can it be replaced by something else? And if so, by what? Is the writing style too blunt? Should it be smoothed out? What narrative device can be used to achieve this?

Challenge #3:

The creative minds in charge of marketing content do not write their texts thinking that they will be translated into other languages one day. In fact, most of them don’t even know it will. The translators’ job is to make the translation feel organic, to make it look like it was never a translation to begin with.

This is the paradox of invisibility: no one will notice a great translation – yet a bad one will stick out like a sore thumb, especially in marketing. The more “invisible” you are, the better.

Top three approaches to marketing localization

If you’re ready to build your strategy and you want to do it right, the following approaches will help you tie localization into strategic initiatives and create stronger, global customer relationships.

Localization marketing is a strategy and a deliberate decision to invest resources in scaling your marketing efforts through localization.

You might do this in addition to other things, such as creating native content or locally driven campaigns. Or you might lean on localization as your primary method of marketing in other languages.

While “localized marketing” is generally used to refer to any process by which messages are created to resonate in other markets, marketing localization extends beyond messaging—it’s about adapting an entire experience. 

Here’s a breakdown of the processes that fall under “localized marketing”: 

Process PurposeWhat gets adapted
Marketing translationTo have a process wherein a marketing message is created to resonate in other marketsMessage (copy, text)
Marketing localizationTo have a process wherein an experience is created to resonate in other marketsMessage, visuals, UX elements
Localization marketingTo set out a digital marketing strategy that leverages localization in order to achieve growth Systems and processes (in support of the strategy)

The key is to consider your long-term international expansion strategy, company stage, and scale before you invest in localized marketing. 

Here are some useful questions to think about in light of the above:

  1. What stage is your company at?
  2. Are you translating pieces of copy here and there, specific marketing messages, or entire campaigns?
  3. Do you intend to use localization as a strategy within your global growth toolkit?

For most companies, it’s best to start small and test new markets with localized messaging. Work on the microcopy first – slogans, key messages, and CTAs to get started. Do a pilot project to gain some initial traction, and then consider localizing entire experiences based on the data. 

Expert corner: “It was clear that when some startups and scaleups began localizing their product, they saw a big uplift in business in other markets. But when you are a very small startup, you have to choose your battles.” Edward Cooper, Head of Mobile at Revolut.

How to start localizing your marketing content

If all you’re doing is translating your content, it’s not going to perform well online, especially in terms of positive brand awareness and search engine rankings. With localized content, you’re also taking factors like international SEO into consideration to identify what content is most relevant to local audiences. 

In a nutshell, marketing localization is designed to help you create a presence and capture the attention of international audiences as quickly and effectively as possible. 

But where do you start?

To be effective, marketing localization needs to be process driven. Let’s zoom out to see what steps precede the actual process of marketing localization.

Phase 1: Before demand generation

What is the company goal?

The goal of marketing content is to capture attention, build trust, and generate leads. It can include blog posts looking to rank internationally on Google, email marketing newsletters, ads, social media posts, whitepapers, product-oriented content, and so on.

These are assets owned by marketing teams and are typically hosted on CMS platforms (e.g., WordPress, Contentful, Storyblok, etc.).

Marketing content localization is mainly for long-form digital content that requires higher volume translations. Realistically speaking, one article can have more words than the whole product’s UI.

If you’re localizing content for a very different culture to the original market, you might need to hire an adaptation marketing specialist or a local subject matter expert (SME). This person can help map the content that needs to be localized and identify what new assets should be created for the new market. 

Selecting your target market

The decision to enter a specific market is usually based on an existing global marketing strategy. Internal and external data can help you make an informed decision.

For instance, you can take a look at your online data to see if there is particular interest or a great number of leads coming from a certain country or region, and calculate the cost of customer acquisition. You can also analyze where your competition is expanding.

Looking at markets that your competitors are in (but you’re not) can aid you in determining where there is a need for products like yours. Reading reviews of your competitors from a new potential market can uncover any unmet needs based on current offerings, which can help you differentiate yourself when you enter the new market. Reviews also tell you if people even like the competition and provide further insight into how ready the market is for your business. 

Analyzing and adapting your message to the new market

As you’re digging deep into the local market to identify things like what kind of marketing works best, what the local need for your product looks like, and what the competition is like (plus what they’re doing for their marketing) – you’re setting the stage for marketing localization.

The next step is to assess which marketing assets you have that can create a meaningful connection with the local population. This includes your website and landing pages, any infographics you might have, plus videos, or blog content – anything that is relevant to your new target market.

Deciding who will run the overall process and assembling a team

Of course, you also need to hire a team of local translators to translate and localize your content into their native language. You need to ensure that they not only understand your product or service, but also understand the intent behind what they’re translating. Translation is a part of localization, but it’s not the only part. The final product has to be fully adapted to the preferences of your target audience.

To really kick your marketing localization efforts into high gear, you also need to partner with a localization expert or hire a localization project manager. They’ll be responsible for a healthy project pace, aligning different stakeholders, and ensuring everyone working in the localization project is on the same page.

To learn more about the role of the marketing team in the context of content localization, take a look at this step-by-step guide to building a strong localization team.

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Picking your tools and building processes

A modern and lightweight localization platform will not force you to stick to a certain predefined workflow, but rather will be flexible and customizable to serve your processes and team.

While you might associate automation with decreased quality, it’s not the case. This is especially true if you are adding automation carefully by testing it and adding quality assurance steps, which can be also customized and adjusted to your project requirements.

Good localization software helps you automate routine tasks and provides you with everything you need to take control of the marketing localization process. Plus, you’ll have more time to focus on the creative part and increase value for your end users. Instead of managing all your translation efforts in a spreadsheet, you get a single source of truth for all things localization that allows you to collaborate on, manage, and review translations efficiently.

Consistency in your tone of voice and messaging can be achieved by managing an updated glossary. You can ensure consistent style using a translation memory – a database that stores all your previous translations and whose entries conveniently pop up as suggestions during the translation process. 

Bearing that in mind, you can easily create a process that works for your team and use a system that can be maintained using a dashboard. You can take advantage of features like version control and use chained tasks to avoid idle waiting time. In addition, the software gives you the insight you need to eliminate bottlenecks in your process. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

A new way to localize your marketing efforts

Thankfully, a lot has changed in the six years since my experience. Barriers have been removed and localization has become easier, especially if you use the right tool stack to manage, track, and control the localization process. You can now use translation management systems (TMS) to manage all localization and integrate with your marketing tools to streamline the workflow.

How Lokalise for HubSpot works

Here’s how easy it is to localize your marketing materials using Lokalise and HubSpot:

Step 1: Connect Lokalise and HubSpot

Step 2: Select the web pages, landing pages, blogs, and emails you want to translate.

Step 3: Choose the target languages and assign translation tasks.

Step 4: Let translators and reviewers do their work. Lokalise will notify you via Slack, Asana, email, or other tools of your choice once translations are ready or you can track task completion in real-time analytics. You can always provide feedback to translators using Lokalise chat.

Step 6: Publish or send your brand new web page, landing page, blog, email in the targeted languages.

Quick tip: If you are working with a design team to create banners or other print materials, make sure to connect Lokalise with your design tool. This will allow designers to push designs directly to Lokalise, automatically create translation keys, and give visual context to translators.

Bottom line, if you are a marketing manager and your product or service can be sold across borders, you should leverage technology to take control and localize marketing content to deliver consistent messages that boost traffic, engagement, and conversion.

Live demo: Lokalise integration for HubSpot (on demand)

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Phase 2: During demand generation

Taking care of translation

While traditionally you’d start thinking of translations once your copy is ready, this is no longer sufficient in the fast pace of new digital product development. You might want to fine-tune your source copy when the translations have already started. Your translators need to be able to share feedback. It can also happen that the design is still being updated during the translation process.

Right now, an increasing number of companies are embracing design-stage localization as it brings tangible benefits to all key stakeholders and a much faster roll-out of features as well.

To keep all these moving parts together, consider managing localization with a centralized localization management platform that is easily connected to other tools and supports cross-team collaboration. It should align any copywriting, design, translation, marketing, and review work across different team members.

Can you imagine how inefficient the process would be when using email communication alone, for instance?

If you’re not sure how to pick the right translation management system (TMS), read our comprehensive guide on how to choose the best TMS for your team.

Phase 3: After the prospect becomes a customer

Measuring results

Finally, analyze the effectiveness of your marketing campaign after you’ve localized it. How successful your efforts are depends on the specific goals you have, but you’re likely going to be looking at metrics like sales, signups, or number of demos requested. 

If the results aren’t great, rely on A/B testing and test different variables like headlines or CTAs to see what connects best with different segments of your global audience. Within your chosen localization management platform, variant or versioning management can be of great assistance.

If you’re going to enter multiple markets, you have to build that process out again and again for each market. Each market would have its separate team of translators who are all going to work at different speeds. You can also consider choosing a translation company that supports entering different markets.

In Google Analytics, you can look at metrics such as unique pageviews, sessions, and time on page to evaluate ROI for your localized content. For instance, when content is engaging, translated, and nicely adjusted to the target audience, users will spend more time on the page.

That’s why, to be highly effective in your marketing localization efforts, you have to find a way to automate as much of that process as possible. This is possible with a dedicated localization tool.

Increasing customer lifetime value

Our goal in marketing is to take a step beyond the transaction.

With an endless amount of options, people are seeking something special. How do you deliver a world-class experience that increases your lifetime value by increasing the amount of money someone spends with you?

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