Cross-border trading is no longer reserved for multi-national corporations. The internet has changed the rules. But there is one rule that has not and will not change: for businesses to succeed in overseas territories, you need convincing translations in your marketing materials and insider knowledge of your target market.

Technology may help firms extend your reach, but marketing to an international audience requires an understanding of the language, culture, consumer needs and local marketing and trading laws. This article takes a look at six of the key areas you should address before targeting a foreign audience.

1. Speak the language

A report on global consumer buying preferences published by Common Sense Advisory, indicates that most online shoppers prefer to buy from brand that publish content in their native language. Not only that, but overseas consumers are even prepared to pay more for products.

marketing translations

The numbers are only slightly lower among fluent English speakers. Source: Common Sense Advisory

We have already discussed how the importance of localising content to your audience in their language cannot be underestimated. But comprehensive marketing campaigns go further than language. Colours, fonts and images also communicate to people and have a different impact on different audiences.

For example, in parts of Asia and Africa, white is associated with mourning whereas red is considered as lucky. Subtle changes to the design and product descriptions can make a huge difference to the purchasing decisions of your audience.

Companies that hope to achieve success in overseas markets not only need a multi-lingual website, but also need to consider localising content. Use Google analytics to determine which countries are bringing in high volumes of traffic and build a foreign audience gradually.

2. Foreign search engines

Not every country favours Google as their search engine. Most people in China use Baidu. The Vietnamese prefer their home-built search engine Coc Coc and is designed to target audiences in South America.

vietnamese search engine

When targeting a foreign audience, you should consider registering your website with local search engines. This also requires understanding popular search terms in order to prepare a keyword strategy.

Because of the technical detail involved with preparing a website for SEO, it is advisable to work with a professional translation service that has access to marketing specialists that understand your target market.

3. Video localisation and cultural appropriation

Video continues to be the strongest growing content medium Source: business2community

Video is the future of online marketing. The majority of online users access the internet using mobile devices – and on a small screen, the easiest media to consume is video. Unfortunately, few marketing ads are universal. A message that works on home soil may not have the same impact on a foreign audience.

When creating a video ad for an international audience, you should consider localising the content for a foreign audience. Also take care not to offend viewers by making a cultural faux pas.

To maximize the value of your videos, demonstrate local knowledge from the outset. Failing to take responsibility for the sensitive nature within a culture can prove costly. Just ask Proctor & Gamble. An ad aired in Japan of a man entering a bathroom and touching his wife whilst she was bathing flopped dramatically. The scene was considered an invasion of privacy and poor taste.

Translations in marketing do not only involve changing the script and localising slogans so they make sense. In some cases, it’s also beneficial to use local actors and voice-over artists that have genuine accents and share the characteristics of your target audience.

4. Cultural branding

A marketing report known as “Cultural Traction” measures the impact brands have on an overseas audience. Value is measured using the VIBE concept; Visionary, Inspiring, Bold, Exciting. At the moment the tech brands like Google, Apple and Samsung are killing it for obvious reasons.

But outside the universal language of the tech arena, other brands are making a significant impact by appealing to the sensibilities of home grown audiences. For example, Red Bull has won over consumers in South Korea by combining the country’s favourite national sport, Tae Kwan Do, with the nations thriving and influential K-pop culture.

Ikea are also performing well in emerging markets. The funky furniture makers from Sweden appeal to a worldwide audience due to their trendy designs at affordable prices. But what Ikea do well in international markets is to refresh their brand by using designs that meet cultural tastes.

global marketing

Ikea Party train ran in Tokyo, Japan, giving commuters a taste of the brand Source: Inhabitat

Cultural branding means staying connected to your audience. Look at your brand from the outside and determine how foreign audiences will adopt your products. Again, native linguists with experience in advertising can provide you with honest feedback.

5. Customise products for a foreign market

A report published by University West indicates that product adaptation strategies are considered as an “influential aspect of multinational corporations. In today’s globalised market, product flexibility is a growing requirement to meet the demands of your target audience.

The report uses McDonald’s choice to slightly adapt its menu towards foreign audiences. But not only does the fast food chain cater for foreign tastes, executives in overseas countries look to exploit cultural gaps in the market as well.

For example, tea and cake is a popular sub-culture of Vietnam. A recent marketing campaign invited local guests over to the “Golden Arches” to enjoy a free piece of cake when you purchase two cups of tea. The campaign not only taps into a sub-culture, but also promotes the typical Vietnamese culture of sharing food.

6. Understand local laws

Before launching a campaign in an overseas market, check the local rules on advertising. What may be permitted in your own country may be restricted in other countries. For example, Germany does not allow marketers to use competitive messaging such as “best” or “better” in promotional ads. Acquiring the services of a local translator with specialist marketing knowledge can help you avoid expensive mistakes.

Brands thinking of entering foreign markets have much more than language barriers to cross. Understanding the climate in foreign markets before launching campaigns could prove to be critical. And language translation service providers can offer you much more than translations.