Fine-tuning Your Brand for Foreign Markets

Article Written by Catherine Cheong, Copywriter at Verztec Consulting

As we have established in our previous blog post “Pitfalls to avoid when localizing your brand“, localization is a complex process and companies need to adopt the right strategies to communicate effectively with foreign markets. But what are the key areas you need to take note of when localizing your brand? Let us take a look:

Brand name
Examples abound of companies who performed poorly in another market because of the wrong choice of name. One of them is General Motors. When it launched the Chevrolet Nova in South America, it was unaware that “no va” means “it won’t go”. After the company figured out why its cars were not selling, the vehicle was renamed “Caribe” in Spanish markets.

Brand values
What one culture values may not be held in high regard by another. To succeed in a particular market, it is imperative that the brand value of a product or service is in sync with the cultural values of the population. When BMW presented images of status or success in its marketing campaigns in New Zealand, it found that these generated little to no interest in its cars. The company realized that this is because New Zealand has a highly egalitarian society where the pursuit of status holds little appeal. On shifting the focus to the quality of its engineering, BMW was able to generate more sales in this market.

Brand presentation
Cultural conventions will determine how your market responds to messages. The color of a logo may have positive connotations in one market and negative ones in another. The same applies to symbols used and the tagline that accompanies the logo. Furthermore, a more informal communication style works better in some markets.

Montblanc for instance customizes its letterheads and invitation cards in different states in India. They not only translate the text into the local language but also vary the colors and amount of decoration used. This is because consumers in northern states like Punjab expect a more lively tone and lavish presentation as compared to their counterparts in the south. In making such adjustments, Montblanc ensured that it was connecting more closely to each market in India.

Writing the right copy
There is a good reason why the literati applaud whenever a new, improved translation of a great foreign novel is released. The work of maintaining the nuance, connotation and mood of the original language takes knowledge and skill.

Therefore, direct translations of brand messaging are often ineffective, if not downright disastrous. Kentucky Fried Chicken’s “finger-lickin’ good” slogan was so poorly translated in China that it came out as “eat your fingers off”.

To communicate effectively in a new market, a brand has to first find the right words to best convey who it is, what it does and why customers should care. Therefore, keyword selection should be the first step in localizing any marketing content.

As analogies are often used to confer certain qualities to a brand, it is also worth investigating whether the concept or entity being compared is understood or valued in the same way in the new market. In the US for example, “capitalist” is a widely accepted word, even a way of life. However, Forbes magazine’s effort to promote its “Capitalist Tool” credit cards was met with a negative response in Indonesia. This was because capitalism was an alien, even taboo, concept in this country.

Ideally, the translator of the content is not only an expert linguist but also a subject matter expert. This is because the translation of marketing materials involves an interpretation of the essence of the message. On top of distilling the message, the translator has to identify the key elements and present them in a manner that the target market will respond to. Without an understanding of the industry, it would be difficult if not impossible for the translator to achieve this.

Translating the images
If a picture is worth a thousand words, whatever it says has to be translated as well. Like words, photos can contain a host of political, social and economic landmines. Compaq was ordered by the authorities to redo an ad campaign in China because the map on its posters did not show Hong Kong and Taiwan as part of China. Pepsi was sued in India for glorifying child labor when it ran a television ad showing a young boy serving its drink to the Indian cricket team.

Images often reflect social hierarchy and relationships between people, groups, and entities. Given that these vary from country-to-country, the content of the images must therefore be adapted accordingly.

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