International localisation: Understanding the difference between translation and localisation

The digital age has presented an abundance of opportunities. We’re more connected than ever and barriers between countries, their cultures and markets have diminished. However, this acceleration of globalisation and growth brings a major challenge with it: How do brands clearly communicate their products and services with new customers around the world, in a way that resonates in different markets?

Ultimately, brand content should resonate and connect with consumers by using correct language and appropriate cultural references. Brands must build trust through a reliable customer experience, and clear messaging is a fundamental part of the process. Indeed, our recent study on international localisation shows that 26% of consumers say that bad translations make them less likely to buy, which is why it’s so important to understand the difference between translation and localisation.

What is the difference between translation and localisation?

Translation is the process of communicating the meaning of one language into another to make it accessible, and is quite literal. Localisation, on the other hand, involves taking a product or service and making it linguistically and culturally appropriate to the region where it will be used and sold. While translation may sometimes be appropriate, when it comes to digital marketing and business growth, localisation is often required to ensure that you’re really resonating with consumers.

Linguistic nuances

Applications and AI are constantly improving and while tools like Google Translate may be useful for functional everyday communication, we know that this isn’t always reliable and nuanced meaning is likely to be lost. When we’re working with brand content and creative messaging, it’s essential to have a human understanding of both the source and local languages.

Even neighbouring countries that speak the same language often have their own dialects, idioms and slang. Throughout Latin America, for example, the Spanish language has evolved and been slightly modified in each country, resulting in unique expressions that only make sense in those regions. The same is true of European and Canadian French. As found in our study, localisation faux pas can put brands at risk of losing out on key opportunities to scale their business, with 57% of respondents across all markets having experienced or noticed language or cultural issues with using an international brand’s website in their local market. A further 24% of respondents responded that inaccurate cultural references or content would negatively impact their impression of a brand to such an extent that they would trust the brand less.

This is where localisation provides a comprehensive understanding of language and culture to ensure that any humour or subtleties in meaning are not lost in simple translation.

At best, an inaccurate translation can be a hilarious blunder; at worst, it can be outright offensive. Either way, these types of indiscretions can have lasting effects on your brand image and growth potential.

Not just local language, but local knowledge

Beyond the valuable words on a website or advert, there are powerful visual elements that have a significant impact on consumers. Brand imagery can convey and evoke strong emotions, which can leave lasting impressions on a consumer, especially when the piece of content is personalised and tied to the audience’s cultural beliefs, values, and customs.

In fact, 84% of consumers say that finding inaccurate cultural references would negatively affect their impression of a brand, whether it be making them less likely to purchase, prompting them to start looking for alternatives or generally reducing trust. Our research also shows that more than two thirds of respondents expect international brands to tailor their video and imagery to their local market.

It therefore takes an intimate understanding and deep knowledge of the target region to produce localised content that resonates. All imagery and cultural references should be carefully considered for each market to foster familiarity and enhance the customer experience to, ultimately, build trust. Research and feedback from those in-market will help brands to achieve this. Croud’s network of in-market experts, or ‘Croudies’ often do much of this campaign research, feeding back on the market and providing invaluable insight.

There are other localisation considerations to take into account. Especially for websites, there is functional content that customers rely on to navigate and understand products and services to do business. This can be as simple as date and time format, telephone numbers and measurements, but maybe the most important is currency. When marketing your products and services to consumers in different regions, offering them the option to make purchases in their local currencies is critical in ensuring a seamless user journey. Formatting of currency is also important to consider, whilst in the UK, you would put the GBP sign ahead of the number (£10,000), in Germany or France you would add the Euro sign after (10.000€). Whilst getting it correct would go unnoticed, getting this incorrect could cause distrust by consumers, and eventually lead to loss of sales. 

When should I use translation vs. localisation?

The decision to opt for localisation over translation is a strategic one that will depend on the type of content and timings or budget. To adapt highly creative and emotive messaging for marketing and websites, and engage and connect with consumers, the priority should always be on localisation. 

To ensure that you’re choosing the appropriate method, consider the audience and the content’s nature and intent. Different brands and products or services will have varying requirements, and it’s important to focus resources on a clear and connected customer experience.

Your specialist partner for global growth

Understanding consumer culture, behaviour, needs, wants and market nuances is key to driving success and connecting with your target market. Users are increasingly seeking out brands who provide personalised content and experiences.

Croud’s 2022 International Localisation Report features a survey of 1,600 people across France, Germany, China and Japan, as well as a quantitative analysis of companies across finance, software and retail sectors, to explore the realities of brand localisation across these markets. Download it here.
If you’re looking to expand into new territories, localisation should be a vital part of your global marketing strategy. If you would like to discuss your localisation challenges, or how we can support your global growth, get in touch.

Related posts