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Localisation Strategy in Marketing – Going Beyond Adaptation

Updated: Aug 16, 2023

Localisation Strategy in Marketing

We all know that it is important to cater the message for the audience when it comes to marketing. It goes without saying that the even the most well intended message may be misconstrued.

Heineken advertisement - "Sometimes, Lighter is Better".

Source: Marketwatch

Chance the rapper thought the above ad was racist. Heineken publicly apologised and had to clean up this mess of a campaign.

Getting the message right is however the bare minimum these days. Today, we need to create content that speaks to the audience and evokes their emotions, albeit not like Heineken in the above example.

Localisation goes beyond languages

Pulling at the heart strings of the audience is tough enough a job. The problem is, majority of growing businesses out there need to do this across the region or better – globally.

Localisation is not just about getting the accurate adaptation though. Yes that is the main objective but marketers now have the need to look even further. Take Chinese for example. The usual pick is Simplified Chinese adaptations for Singapore and China, Traditional Chinese for Taiwan and Hong Kong. Easy right? Well not exactly. Between the four territories mentioned the people use the language with some variations. The application of the language in the local context becomes very important in cases like this.

Cultural Norms

Which brings us to the appreciation of cultural norms.

Gif file of celebrity chef, Gordon Ramsay, blowing and wiping his nose enthusiastically.

Did you know that blowing one's nose in a handkerchief and returning it to one's pocket is considered vulgar by the Chinese? Who would have thought right…

Let’s take the case of the people in Hong Kong vs Mainland Chinese.

Hongkongers write in Traditional Chinese but speak mainly Cantonese. They speak Cantonese in everyday discourse though they might also speak other Chinese languages and dialects. To tourists who interacted with people from both locals, people in Hong Kong appear to often smile more, seem happier, and are more polite and circumspect in public.

Mainland Chinese are more outspoken, they speak Mandarin and write Simplified Chinese. As an extension of the need to maintain harmonious relations, the Chinese rely heavily on indirect communication. They rely less on words and are more attentive to posture, expression and tone of voice to draw meaning. Their speech is often ambiguous, and they may understate their point.

Just the two points stated above could pose some serious problems if one were to practice only basic adaptations to their communication. Conversely, appreciating and embracing this however can be very rewarding for businesses.

Historical Relevance and Preferences

Sometimes the nuances are embedded in the history of the locale. Here’s a great case study.

Meme with picture of Yoda from Star Wars and the words "Learn Portuguese word order you must".

In the early 16th century, Portugal also started the South America colonisation and Portuguese later become the official language of Brazil. At the beginning of the colonisation, European Portuguese coexisted with Indigenous and African languages spoken either by the native population or the African slaves brought to Brazil to work on the plantations and mines. By the end of the 18th century, the Portuguese government decreed Portuguese as the official language of its colony.

Brazilian Portuguese was largely influenced by Indigenous and African languages. It also incorporated words from other European languages such as French and Italian, becoming very distinct from European Portuguese. Today, Brazilian Portuguese differs from European Portuguese in terms of pronunciation, vocabulary, spelling, and the use of formal and informal speech.

Emotionally Engaging the Audience

At this point you may be wondering, what is the point of this discussion? Well here’s where the money is.

Catherine Caldwell-Harris is an associate professor at Boston University and directs the Psycholinguistics Laboratory in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. She published a piece titled "Emotionality differences between a native and foreign language: Implications for cultural marketing strategies". In that piece, she emphasises the findings of using the native language increases emotional engagement.

Understanding the factors that influence the emotional resonances of messages shown to bilingual speakers is an important consideration when marketing in communities where several languages are used. Bilingual speakers have long reported that emotional phrases feel stronger in their native language than in their foreign language. Examples include swear words, insults, I love you, and also marketing slogans.

We resonate 100% with this when it comes to localisation in marketing. From a marketing standpoint, this means that people are more likely to be moved or touched by something written in their mother tongue but are more practical when reading in their second language. For marketing campaigns, we have to ask ourselves, what exactly is the native language of the audience we are speaking to. This will be a combination of the language, culture and disposition of the audience.

Want to dive deeper with me on how we can localise and go beyond adaptations for your business, please contact us here!


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