Why localisation is key to building a global e-commerce brand

The e-commerce revolution has made it possible for businesses to sell goods and services to consumers on the other side of the world in just a couple of clicks.

But to successfully do business internationally, building a global e-commerce brand is vital. And that requires – more than almost anything else – effective localisation.

Because while you can now reach a much broader audience,Guest Posting you still need to take the same care to craft your message to the personal culture and context of each consumer if you really want to sell.

If you don’t create a level of trust with each segment of your global audience by doing this – enough for them to be comfortable buying from you and slowly start building loyalty to your brand – potential consumers will go elsewhere.

Smart, effective localisation will help you build a global e-commerce brand which helps you get your slice of the approximately £5 trillion which the world’s online market is expected to be worth by 2023.

Here’s how to localise your brand so that it helps you convert worldwide:

What is a global brand?
As a business leader, you’ll know that it’s often your brand – possibly even more than your high-quality products or services – which really resonates with your customers. It’s your brand which your customers will mentally associate with being “good” or “bad” and which sets you apart from the competition.

So far, so marketing 101. But when it comes to building a global brand, the definition of what makes a brand has to be given a little space to breathe.

Of course, you need your brand to be cohesive. It needs to be recognisable everywhere it is seen. That’s the power of a brand.

But you also need to adapt your brand to meet the local cultural understandings and expectations of local people. This might mean incorporating colour symbolism in China or a carefully adapted version of your trademark slogan for the Middle East.

Why localise your brand?
Every major brand which wants to target its advertising spend efficiently – and convert as many consumers in different regions as possible – knows how important it is to localise their website and brand offering for different audiences. After all:

72% of internet users never or very rarely look at websites in other languages
42% of internet users never purchase goods or services if they can’t do it in their own language
56% of internet users say having information in their own language is more of a factor in their purchasing decision than price
How to build your brand – picturing the localisation process
Localisation is always easiest if it is planned early in the design process. This is especially true when you think there’s a chance that you’re going to want to localise your website, app or content later down the line.

Laying the groundwork for later localisation is often referred to as internationalisation:

1) Internationalisation
Internationalisation is, essentially, the pre-planning work you’ll do to allow later localisation.

With a good partner Language Service Provider (LSP) and a little forward planning, localisation doesn’t have to be a difficult process. By building smart internationalisation practices into the design of your app, for instance, you make it possible to easily localise it for specific audiences at a later date.

Let’s picture a very basic example:

The name entry field. It’s a standard part of almost any form or sign-up process you care to name. It’s also one of the places where poor localisation can make a consumer instantly feel that you do not care about them.

Think about the sheer variety of names out there:

Some Spanish consumers may have two given names or two family names
Some Japanese consumers may need to enter their names in multiple scripts
Some Eastern European consumers may need to enter different family names even if they are married
Some Russian and Eastern European consumers may have patronymic and matronymic names
In this example, the internationalisation process would ensure that a given-name/ last-name form is not hard-coded into the design. This makes later localisation much easier.

Your chosen LSP should be able to give you extensive advice relating to the internationalisation process.

2) Localisation
Next comes localisation itself. A critical thing to understand about localisation is that it is not just translating the words consumers see.

Translation is certainly part of the localisation process. But localisation actually includes everything involved in adapting a product or content for a specific audience. This includes:

Adapting units of measurement and currency
Researching and using preferred purchasing methods
Adapting all cultural references so that they are relevant to someone from your target audience
Adapting images and visual content. After all, if you are targeting China and all of the images on your website are of white British people enjoying themselves near Big Ben, you risk alienating consumers who might feel more at home seeing more recognisable people and landmarks.
Choosing good multilingual fonts and adapting font sizes
Ensuring your design takes into account any text expansion or contraction
The end goal is to make your content, product, website or brand appears completely natural to a given audience. Something which belongs in their personal landscape.

This is the reason why it’s important to select a partner LSP with good knowledge of the region. How else will they know how to judge what “belongs” in that region?

It’s also the reason why localising your brand, specifically, requires careful thought…

E-commerce brand localisation and how to do it
Localising your brand will involve several important steps:

1) Choose your target markets
Realistically, you might not be able to sell to every target market in every country. This means selecting the best target markets is a vital first step.

In particular, you will need to do the necessary research to figure out which markets give you the best chance to do well. Your website and app analytics can be a good place to start when it comes to pinpointing those regions where you might have a clear opportunity for expansion.

Selecting certain markets is all the more important because you need to carefully localise and adapt your brand for each and every market you are planning to target.

Each market is unique in all kinds of ways. You will need to be able to answer, at minimum:

What are the demographics like?
What about consumer purchasing habits?
What are the local sale seasons? When are the holidays?
What kinds of goods or services are popular?
What are the pain points in the customer experience?
Will the way you’ve positioned and marketed yourself in your home region resonate with your new audience?
Are there major competitors in your target region who don’t trade at home? What does their brand say about them?
Which are the preferred marketing channels in the region? Which are the preferred social media platforms? (Remember – not everyone uses or has access to Facebook and Twitter.)
2) Use local experts
Your LSP should always be using local experts to localise your content. Make sure they’re using linguists who are specialists in your industry as well as translating into their native language.

The same is true of your in-house efforts. Looking into a region, culture or market from the outside is a quite different perspective from having grown up within it. Using local experts is the only way to ensure that your brand localisation efforts are more than skin-deep.

You can and should use local experts to help you analyse and select your target markets too.

3) Adapt your design to local tastes and expectations
Your localisation efforts might already have included the smart adaption of the text, images, units of measurement of your website and so on for your new region. But even given this, there’s no guarantee that the overall design of your site will meet the expectations of your new target audience.

For example, take a long look at the websites of major brands which target both European and Asian markets such as China or Japan. You’ll see that – to most “western” eyes – the style of website which Japanese or Chinese consumers are used to looks cluttered with information. Thus, the designs which those brands use in those regions are dramatically different from those they use in other markets.

If you don’t adjust your website design to local tastes, you will end up looking wholly out of place. Possibly to the extent that no one will want to buy from you. The same is true for your brand.

4) Don’t water down your brand too far
That said, while it’s important to adapt to local taste and style preferences, it’s equally important not to completely do away with what sets your brand apart from your competitors while you do.

The example of courier company UPS is a good one. Check out their international branding to see how they’ve subtly incorporated other colours to supplement their brown and gold and appeal to other markets.

Like UPS, you still need to retain as many of the key visual features of your brand as possible if you want to bring all of the positive associations which you’ve worked so hard to grow with you into new markets.

That means using as much of the same style, personality and colour scheme as possible. But it also means walking the fine line between allowing local tastes and preferences to have something of a say and possibly add a little local spice to your main brand recipe.

5) Always test your positioning
The easiest way to figure out how your brand will be received by your new target audience is to test it. You might have to work harder to get the correct look and “feel” of your brand across in some markets than others.

Again, having a partner LSP with local experts and expertise to call on is a great resource here. They can help you find out what people local to this region take away after seeing your logo, slogans or branding.

Has your new audience taken your messaging onboard? Rounds of A/B testing will let you check your tone, choice of language and more against the eyes and ears of local people.

6) Let your localisation inform your home brand
Editing and adapting your brand so that it appeals to people from other regions and cultures can often have an unexpected additional benefit:

All of these efforts can help you refine and even enrich your core brand. As you expand beyond your original local market, you may find that all of the research you do will give you a huge amount of data to re-introduce back into your marketing language.

Going beyond branding
There are a number of other aspects of developing a global e-commerce business which cannot be skipped if you aim to succeed.

Carrying out these steps will help you position your brand as one which is attractive to your local audience. Your efforts here also need to be factored back into your overall branding efforts:

1) Adjust to local conditions
Part of succeeding as a global e-commerce brand is understanding that new markets mean new conditions.

Pricing is the most obvious example of this. It’s no good entering a new market at a price point which no consumers can afford. Equally, it’s probably a wasted opportunity to enter a new market which would pay significantly more for the goods and services you offer at a low price point.

Good initial market research before localising your brand ready to enter a new market will pay huge dividends.

2) Offer something different to local competition
Another aspect of succeeding in a new market which your research will help you with is knowing the local competition. Having competitors, while not ideal if the market is already saturated, doesn’t mean you need to give up on your plans to enter a given market altogether.

They do at least indicate that there is likely to be a high level of demand for your kind of goods and services in the region – something which makes it an ideal candidate for reaching through localisation.

However, you will need to offer something which your competitors do not. This might mean a more cost-effective price point or presenting yourself as the luxury option. It could also mean offering additional value to your clients through any number of extras. Just be sure that these are culturally relevant and desirable in your new region.

Of course, you then need to build clear statements about this offering into your branding and marketing.

3) Don’t just sell – be part of the community
Being known as a foreign, international brand is usually an acceptable position to be in as far as most consumers are concerned.

Problems only tend to arise when it becomes clear that you are not part of the local community, don’t understand how it works or are unaware of recent developments and events. This might include anything from changes in government to natural disasters.

If you can, be ready to lend assistance to your local staff or a local community which is loyal to your brand whenever an opportunity presents itself.

4) Be ready to provide multilingual customer support
As soon as you globalise your client base, you need to be ready to provide equal support in every language you serve. This will almost certainly require that you have either in-house or outsourced expertise in that language.

A cost-effective first step will be to produce a great deal of helpful technical support, FAQ documents and the like – anything which will reduce the number of queries you receive – and have them localised for the regions you want to cover.

Remember, of course, that providing coverage by language is rarely enough. It’s not a good idea to provide the same Spanish-language support files for both Spain and Mexico, for example. Though a Spanish speaker in Mexico will almost certainly be able to understand a document written in the Spanish spoken in Spain, it will clearly have been written for a Spanish audience. This displays a lack of care and commitment to your Mexican audience.

Professional translation should always be a requirement of your customer support process. Resorting to Google Translate is never a smart move.

5) Go mobile
Never forget the importance of making sure your desktop apps, website and so on are properly localised for and available on mobile devices.

The mobile market is continuing to grow worldwide, especially in regions like Africa and the Middle East. Leaving it out of your e-commerce localisation strategy can result in seriously slower growth than building it in from the start.

Like all of your branding, products and marketing, your app content needs to be properly localised. Apps which are localised for specific markets have been shown to increase conversions dramatically.

7) Be social
One of the questions your initial market research should answer regards the social media preferences of your new target audience.

Social media is, perhaps, not as important as your mobile localisation efforts. But they still require carefully localised content if your brand isn’t to become known as a bumbling foreigner.

Don’t always assume that Facebook and Twitter are the places to focus your efforts either. WeChat, Weibo and QQ are the big names in China, for instance.

Localisation – the key to building a successful e-commerce brand
Your goal when building a successful global e-commerce brand should always be to carefully choose the specific target markets you want to localise for. You should then call in the local experts and professional native linguists who can properly adapt your brand for your new audience without diluting what makes it great.

You will make life much easier for yourself if you build an internationalisation framework into your website, app and other elements from the start. This will allow for far easier localisation for any target market you choose later on.

Finally, take steps beyond constructing your global brand to build it up. As with all branding efforts, listening and researching what your customers are telling you, encouraging interaction with your brand and engaging emotionally with your customers are all going to be vital when trying to make your brand appeal to a global audience.

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