Back to Basics: 5 tips for localizing global marketing materials

Bryan Sirois, Jyll Saskin Gales / December 2020

Bryan Sirois is the global trade director, consumer at Export Development Canada (EDC), and helps Canadian businesses leverage EDC’s international network to achieve their global growth ambitions. Jyll Saskin Gales is an international growth consultant at Google Canada. In this Back to Basics article, they highlight five commonly-overlooked localization steps.

Marketers are critical partners when exporting. They are the keepers of the customer experience across international markets. Their analytics and insights can inform which markets to enter from the start, and their campaigns, ads and websites help companies communicate in more relevant ways. This is especially important for companies without an in-person presence on the ground.

The pandemic has shone a light on how important it is to be geographically diversified. An increasing number of companies are looking to reach new markets as more people shop online, businesses look for new revenue opportunities, and different products become in-demand.

Localization, which is the process of adapting products and messaging for different regions, is an important step for marketers when exporting. A common example of this is translating ad campaigns for different languages. But while it can sound straightforward, there are commonly-overlooked aspects that can have a big impact on the global customer experience. Here are five key considerations for marketers.

Localize language beyond translations

For e-commerce customers, the ability to obtain information in their own language can be even more important than price. Translations are important, so don’t go cheap. Make sure you’re enlisting the help of someone who knows the local dialects and lingo, and can craft copy that comes off as authentic and authoritative. I’ve heard of companies with creative approaches to finding the right writers, like hiring local journalists.

There are thousands of languages in the world, but focus localization efforts on the markets you serve and the most common languages in those markets. English alone can reach many people in global markets, and you can reach 90% of online shoppers with just 13 languages: English, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, German, French, Korean, Portuguese, Italian, Russian, Dutch, Arabic and Swedish.

Localize the numbers, too

While localizing, language is often the first thing marketers focus on, but 57% of people say currency is more important than language. People don’t want to be on a website or viewing an advertisement and forced to figure out the currency conversion. Ensure websites and apps display local currency and that marketing campaigns are adapted to show local prices, too.

Another commonly-overlooked number is date formats. Some markets look at date formats in different ways so be sure it’s clear and accurate for that region. For example, in the UK dates are written with the day before the month (eg. 1 January, vs. January 1). These little details can help build trust with local consumers.

Make sure you’re familiar with local customs and celebrations, and are creating campaigns for regional shopping extravaganzas.

Adapt to local cultures and customs

Have a localization strategy to assess other website and campaign elements, such as colours and flags. Colour schemes can have cultural implications so do your research in advance and consult with local experts. Make sure country flags accurately reflect regions and languages. For example, some global companies will add a Canada flag for English, overlooking the fact that we have a large Francophone population in Canada. As well, make sure you’re familiar with local customs and celebrations, and are creating campaigns for regional shopping extravaganzas. In India, sales rise during Diwali. In Mexico, the biggest shopping moment is El Buen Fin, which happened from November 16-19 this year, and in Australia, the big shopping days are called “Click Frenzy.”

Look to shopping carts for new customer insights

Many businesses overlook the importance of localizing shopping carts. According to research by, almost 90% of items added to digital shopping carts in March were abandoned. Reasons for this could include being caught off guard by prices, delivery fees and shipping times. Localized payment methods are important, too.

Research has shown that many online shoppers consider the availability of the preferred payment method as a key factor in trusting an unknown merchant. For example, in the Netherlands, very few e-commerce transactions use a credit card. The preferred form of payment is a local bank transfer program called iDEAL. In Brazil, credit cards are widely used for e-commerce, but many are not approved for cross-border transactions, so customers may not be able to checkout.

Dig into all available geographic insights from your website analytics, and think of new ways to market to people who are abandoning carts.

Look into the reasons why people aren’t converting. Dig into all available geographic insights from your website analytics, and think of new ways to market to people who are abandoning carts. Are particular products being abandoned? Are there messaging adjustments that can be made?

Reassess market opportunities on a regular basis

Marketing insights can flag new opportunities for your business. Regularly check-in on your website and social media analytics to identify patterns in regions, even if you didn’t pursue them in the past. Markets change, especially during unpredictable times. For example, it used to be difficult for businesses to sell online to the Indian market because they preferred to pay cash on delivery. Now, more people are comfortable using digital wallets and India’s e-commerce revenue is expected to grow by 51% to US $120 billion in 2020, making it the highest growth in the world.

Google’s free Market Finder tool can help you quickly identify growing opportunities in markets and the products people are looking for. As well, the EDC Export Help Hub can help answer questions and connect marketers with people in specific markets.

Localizing campaigns requires careful consideration and personalization. By looking beyond simple language translations, assessing the range of insights available, and reassessing new market opportunities on a regular basis, marketers can play a big role in helping their companies achieve global growth.

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