In a recent article in Brand Quarterly, Dr. Nitish Singh discusses how companies have historically centralized their marketing functions, standardized their identity across markets, concentrated on a few brands, and limited their packaging sizes and styles. However, as Dr. Singh explains, these companies should be moving away from standardization and toward localization. If they don’t, they risk missing many great opportunities and could even be offending or alienating potential customers.
In addition to relaying stories about the trouble companies get into when trying to directly translate their name into other languages, Dr. Singh discusses other aspects of localization and how critical it is to understand regional markets and adapt to them.
An interesting point that Dr. Singh makes is that pricing affects perception in the marketplace. He points out that a low-end U.S. brand may actually be a mid-range brand in another country. If you use the same marketing strategy, it’s unlikely to work, given that your consumer perceives a different level of quality. Think about the difference in an ad campaign between a budget furniture brand and a high-end brand. You would probably be confused if the high-end brand used the bright colors, graphics, and jingles that we expect from the budget-priced product. To be successful, you need to adapt your copy and perhaps your look and feel so that your marketing efforts reflect your product placement.
The article also discusses how standardizing your product packaging may limit your sales. In the U.S., consumers often want to buy products in bulk, but in places like India, customers frequently want to buy in very small packages. How can you manufacture and ship smaller packaging, but still price it so that you make a profit? Again, how does it affect your in-country marketing strategy? You need to plan for less room on the packaging itself, consider how to display smaller packages on shelves, and decide which product attributes should be called out on the packaging to appeal to that region's shopper. Don't forget to think about packaging color too. What looks attractive in one country may not appeal in another.
Social media and purchasing methods also vary greatly from country to country. In some countries, more than 50% of purchases are made from mobile devices. In Japan, customers may make the purchase online, but expect to pick up the product in person. You should familiarize yourself with the popular purchase and delivery options for each region, but also think about any disruptive technologies that may put you ahead. If you're used to selling your product online, how can you push mobile purchasing in a market that hasn't yet adopted that method? What incentives will work for those consumers? Note that if you pursue an online strategy you will need to create a site in that region's language. You cannot expect consumers in other countries to purchase from an English language site. In the case of a market like Japan, is there a local delivery company whose services you can engage so that your customer no longer has to go to the store to pick up your product? Consumers are likely to choose your product over your competitors if you make the purchase easier for them.
Companies that research marketing, packaging, and distribution for each regional market can gain a great advantage by creating manufacturing efficiencies where practical, but also tailoring product and consumer marketing where it will lead to greater sales. Don’t just translate the words on your packaging and websites, but adapt the content to appeal to the consumers in each local market. Learn from your successes from the U.S. market, but combine them with what consumers expect from their local shopping experiences and you're more likely to beat out your competition.