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The cross-border question: should agencies do more to localise content?

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Providing customers with personalised content can lift revenue by 15%, according to Harvard Business Review, so why is it that businesses so often settle for producing generic marketing – or, worse, create messages that simply do not translate? Robert Berkeley says they need to do more to localise content if they are to draw in customers and grow their businesses.
localise content

“Content builds relationships. Relationships are built on trust. Trust drives revenue.” The importance of quality content is difficult to sum up in any other way than this quote from hugely entertaining author and marketing speaker Andrew Davis.

The theory has and always will remain true. By providing someone with something relevant and appealing (funny, interesting or useful), you will begin to build a relationship and engagement that can eventually drive sales down the path to purchase. This is a universally accepted truth, so why is it that so many marketing agencies are happy to produce a single version of a marketing message in today’s connected world?

For any organisation to stay ahead of the curve, it needs to continually innovate, change and adapt. With this in mind, focusing on delivering marketing messages that customers actually want to hear and paying attention to subtle differences between markets and localities, will immediately provide a point of differentiation. Print, digital, video, packaging or point of sale – the point is the same: speaking to customers on the right wavelength on a local not global level will thrive.

Different tastes

A core illustration of this can be seen in television. As a Brit watching Shark Tank (the American version of the BBC’s business entrepreneur programme Dragon’s Den), I sometimes find myself surprised by what appeals to the investors and the American consumer (Shark Tank video below). Ideas are brought to the table that would be instantly rejected by Britain’s Dragons (and vice versa). But we must remember the American and British consumer are not the same – hence, the most successful brands vary their products based on country. In parts of The Middle East, for example, McDonald’s introduced the McFalafel in an attempt to Big Mac-ify a local speciality.


In marketing, research has proven that by creating targeted ads, marketers can be much more successful at drawing in customers. This is something most know, but time and money can pose significant obstacles.

Localise content, but don’t mis-translate marketing

localise content

This floor-to-ceiling golden glass sign, outside the excellent pizza and pastry shop within Naples airport, translates poorly from the Italian to read: ‘What is the pizzetta made by Moccia For neopolitan and for those who knows this patisserie, the pizzetta has the taste of good memories and melancholy (they meant nostalgia). The secret recipe is carefully preserved by wise artisan and it is made with a tasty dough, tomatoes and fiordilatte cheese. For certain you need to taste it, at least once in your life!’

Simple translation from one market to the other simply doesn’t do content justice. International toothpaste brand Colgate, for example, once launched a product in France with the name ‘Cue’ not realising this was the same name as a French pornographic magazine. American beer producer Coors made a similar error with its slogan ‘turn it loose’. When translated into Spanish this phrase is used to refer to diarrhoea.

Of course, each of these were treated and welcomed tongue-in-cheek, but slightly more seriously was Mercedes’ error in China. The car manufacturer opted to launch with the name ‘Bensi’ which in China literally means ‘rush to die’ – not a phrase you’d like to have stuck on the back of your luxury car.

Staying ahead

Both CMOs and agencies often struggle to keep up with demand for local brand content as markets continue to grow and communities become more diverse. A study by the CMO council suggested that almost two-thirds of marketers do not believe their teams have the capacity to meet the need for local content.

While we can all agree on the importance of localising quality and engaging content, on average just 5% of budget is put aside for its adaptation and localisation.

The CMO Council report revealed that although the majority were in agreement that website design and content are the most important elements of campaigns, most were frustrated with the pace of delivery. More than half admit they have not been able to deploy localised content in a timely enough manner.

More worryingly, just one in five are satisfied with their creative delivery process and marketing supply chain effectiveness. The report identified five process challenges:

  • Delivering creative on time
  • Shortening turnaround times
  • Ensuring quality and uniform branding
  • Measuring the creative appeal and impact of content
  • Workflow management

The problems around lack of time and money that so many organisations experience is, rather ironically, coming at a time when customers continue to have ever-growing expectations of personalisation. Despite many expressing their dislike for big data and the mining of their personal information, innovations such as Amazon’s ‘Recommended’ algorithm and personalisation of ads through cookies have meant consumers now always expect to always receive a personal experience traditionally confined to their local grocery shop.

If creatives continue to struggle to find effective ways to adapt and develop content for local markets, clients and the organisations they work for could lose out on significant amounts of business. A change is required.

A better approach

In situations where organisations are without the capacity or expertise to enable content to be localised, it’s much better to partner with outsourced talent. Delivering on the need for local content should be of the highest priority for all agency staff. By working with a trusted partner, organisations can develop better creativity, locally and further afield.

The age old enemies of cost and time are a challenge, but it is critical to engage with a diverse geographic and cultural audience to be successful in any market. Look to increase capacity and meet the challenge. Doing so will help you to stand out from the international crowd and keep you out of articles like this as a result of ill-judged quick translations!

Have an opinion on this article? Please join in the discussion: the GMA is a community of data driven marketers and YOUR opinion counts.

Read also:

Using personalisation and contextual marketing to transform email marketing campaigns

#WalkersWave & Burger King ‘OK Google’: risk-taking personalisation explored

Robert Berkeley
Author: Robert Berkeley
President at Express KCS |

Robert Berkeley is a co-founder of Express KCS and has spent his 30-year career devising technical and workflow solutions for creatives, having a detailed understanding and appreciation of the challenges faced by today’s marketers and media.

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