Let's talk about four brands that executed impressive localization strategies. Ones that are so well-thought-out and inspiring, we can all take a minute to learn from them, too.
We already know that a company's localization strategy takes into account much more than translation. It needs to be creative, bold, and inventive, producing assets and initiatives that resonate with audiences worldwide. To account for the cultural nuances and generate real connections.
It's not an easy feat, but when done right, localization can help a brand tap into new markets and find significant success beyond its home country. Today I want to discuss four brands that executed impressive localization strategies. Ones that are so well-thought-out and inspiring, we can all take a minute to learn from them, too. Let's dive in, shall we?
Examples of localization done right
As a true staple in almost every supermarket aisle around the globe, Coca-Cola is no stranger to localization. In over 100 years of activity they've perfected this art - successfully creating a presence in more than 200 countries.
In 2000, their then-CEO Douglas Daft cemented this position by introducing a new localization and marketing strategy for the company: "think local, act local." In each region where they operate, Coke creates ads, social media posts, packaging, and even products that reflect the local culture.
The coca-cola localization strategy
Coke's localization strategy is evident when examining its localized marketing materials and offering. In India, for instance, the company created different regional variations to attract local consumers. Rather than have their labels in English, they rolled out Bengali labels in West Bengal. They also launched unique local drinks, like Vio spiced buttermilk and Minute Maid Nutriforce.
In China, Coke uses a Chinese name on its packaging to appeal to consumers and features celebrity icons and cultural references. Their ad strategy made use of some unique Chinese practices, too. For example, a few years ago, the team at Coca-Cola discovered that Chinese teens communicate through a series of codes containing numbers, emojis, and graphics. And so, they featured 35 of those codes on their labels.
The company calls this their "hyper-localization" strategy - which means they're doing much more than simply translating their marketing materials. Understanding each country's culture and customs lets them appeal to a broader range of consumers.
What does Coca-Cola do well in its localization strategy?
• Adapted visuals and concepts
Coca-Cola's localization strategy is evident not just in the words they use but in the visuals they create. They incorporate colors, graphics, and cultural references into their ads and packaging, making their products more relatable to the target audience. They also work with local ad agencies to create advertisements that resonate with people - rather than try and nail down a marketing strategy remotely.
• Local product variations
Another way that Coca-Cola does marketing localization is by creating different product variants for each region. Like the Vio spiced buttermilk, tailored to the Indian palate, they launched herbal infusion drinks in China, cream soda in South Africa, and ginger drinks in Australia.
• Original marketing assets
When creating its marketing materials, Coca-Cola does more than translate English ads. Instead, their localization efforts include investing in local actors and actresses, original soundtracks, and local designs - all to give people the feeling that these ads were created especially for them. This focus on localization has led to some of Coca-Cola's most iconic and well-loved ads, which is a big part of what makes the company successful in its target markets.
• Local manufacturing
Coca-Cola has manufacturing facilities in many different countries, which helps them keep their logistics costs down and reduces their environmental impact. It also allows them to create products tailored to each market. They can work with their employees to experiment with different flavors and ingredients, getting feedback from people directly in their target market.
What can Coca-Cola improve about its localization strategy?
• Be sensitive
While Coca-Cola's localization strategy is largely successful, we mustn't forget they are a massive international force. If people see their marketing efforts as inauthentic, they could do more harm than good. The company should be extra cautious not to step on any tows - something that's incredibly hard to do without in-depth cultural knowledge.
• Take an active part
Rather than staying on the commercial side, Coca-Cola can contribute with outreach programs and additional community development initiatives in the countries where it does business. This would help to build positive relationships with these communities, and could even lead to increased sales as people come to see Coca-Cola as a company that cares about them and their wellbeing.
Global content localization
Netflix is perhaps best known for its original programming, tailored to fit the unique tastes of each region. By investing in local filmmakers and creative talent, they've been able to create content that's popular with viewers worldwide, generating lots of buzz on social media. Netflix's algorithm also supports its localization efforts: It automatically customizes the thumbnail and imagery displayed for each piece of content, so it naturally adapts itself to the preferences of each locale.
But that's not all their translation and localization team does. Netflix gives users in their new markets a truly native user experience - putting a lot of effort into creating an interface in their language and providing translated content through subtitles and dubbing into multiple languages.
Quality management at scale
In 2017, they even launched the ambitious Project HERMES - an attempt to design a standardized testing system that will allow them to generate high-quality subtitles on a massive scale. With so much translated content in their catalog, their localization department needed to control the quality of the translators they work with. But in 2018, Netflix reported that HERMES was shut down - saying that the task was "best left for the experts."
On top of being a good business decision, Netflix's choice to go global and support foreign creators tremendously impacts cultures worldwide. The syndicated, programmed TV of the 20th century made American culture an attractive "norm" to aspire to in many countries. But with the advent of multi-national television - thanks to streaming services like Netflix - American culture is no longer the only option on the table. Viewers worldwide can now choose from a variety of content that reflects their cultural values.
This is good, as it allows for greater diversity and understanding. Paolo Sigismondi wrote a fascinating article about this here, which I recommend reading.
What does Netflix do well in its localization strategy?
• Original international content
This has helped them appeal to a broader range of viewers and also nurture a more personal connection with their global audience. As a plus, they were able to support smaller creators and bring great TV to people around the world. Win-win for localization!
• Localized user interface
Netflix did an excellent localization job on their user interface, too. It improved their customer experience, making it significantly easier for non-English-speaking viewers to use the app and find the content they wanted.
• localized marketing strategy
Netflix also did a great job of marketing its original content. They used targeted ads and social media campaigns to reach specific demographics globally. The audiences in countries where these shows were created take pride in heading the Top 10 charts, generating even more buzz around those new shows.
• Flexible pricing models
Netflix also did some localization with its pricing, tailoring its subscription plans to fit each locale's income levels and preferences. So while Denmark customers pay an equivalent of $11.50 per Basic subscription, in Brazil, they pay $5.50, and in Pakistan - $2.50.
• Subtitling and dubbing
The Netflix localization team has done an excellent job of subtitling and dubbing a considerable part of its content catalog. This has helped them reach a much wider target audience, as not everyone understands or enjoys English-language content.
What can Netflix improve about its localization strategy?
• Invest in subtitle quality
Despite their ongoing efforts with the HERMES project, Netflix subtitles often get bad user feedback. Some went as far as saying that Netflix should focus on fewer languages to invest more effort into improving the quality of its subtitles. With such an extensive content catalog, it's understandable that some subtitles will be of poor quality, but this area could use improvement.
• Avoid inaccurate cultural depictions
Another issue that has come up is the question of cultural accuracy. In some cases, Netflix's productions have been criticized for their inaccurate depiction of foreign cultures. For example, the show Narcos has been criticized for its portrayal of Colombia, which many viewers found stereotypical and inaccurate. And Emily in Paris was panned for its patronizing depiction of the French culture. It's certainly a problematic issue and something that Netflix should be aware of.
Fast food localization
As one of the biggest fast-food chains in the world, it's no surprise that McDonald's has a significant global footprint. Wherever you choose to travel, the company has a restaurant there waiting to serve you - with over 32K restaurants in over 117 locations. But their massive global growth isn't a fluke - it's a result of a carefully-crafted localization strategy.
Unlike Coca-Cola's hyper-localization approach, McDonald's localization treats the world as one big, international target market. But while the golden arches are always there and the core characteristics of their chain restaurants remain the same everywhere, there are always original touches that make a huge difference. Marketing materials, visuals, and packaging get a local version that's often very different from those well-known designs in the US.
In fact, the company likes to launch new, exciting menu items in their global branches. Diners appreciate that their favorite food is featured at McDonald's, and tourists treat these unique items as a draw when visiting from other countries.
What does McDonald's do well in its localization strategy?
• menu localization
McDonald's did a great job tailoring their menu items to each country's tastes, cooking up their versions for all-time favorites. There are infinite examples of this: From iced milk tea in Hong Kong to the Cordon Bleu Burger in Poland, and from the McRice Burger in Indonesia to the Spicy Paneer Wrap in India.
• Brand flexibility
Another thing McDonald's did well was adapting its brand identity in their branches around the world. This is evident in their local marketing campaigns, staff, restaurant decor, and more. They even embraced local architecture by setting some of their branches in historic buildings and traditionally-designed structures.
• Worldwide familiarity
McDonald's maintains a sense of consistency and familiarity for their customers everywhere. There are certain items you'll always find on the menu - from burgers to sundaes. People often appreciate that, as it gives them a sense of comfort and stability no matter where they are. Additionally, this helps to build global brand loyalty among McDonald's customers, who see the chain as a global institution that they can rely on to provide consistent meals no matter where they go.
What can McDonald's improve about its localization strategy?
• Provide the whole meal experience
While McDonald's developed its versions of local dishes, they were often flat representations of the local meal experience. For example, in many Asian countries, a meal is usually made up of various dishes eaten with noodles or rice. While I'm sure McDonald's Tsukimi Burgers taste great, they don't quite fill the same culinary slot. It would be great to see them reinvent their international menus, providing a more authentic and complete meal experience for those foreign markets.
• Tailor more than food
McDonald's built its business on fast, cheap items you can grab on the go - a very American approach to dining. But in many cultures, dining is a much more leisurely affair, and people often want to sit down and enjoy their meal in a relaxed setting. In other countries, the service expectations people have of a dining establishment are significantly different. Adapting their restaurants - and menus - accordingly may help them assimilate even further into their international target markets.
• Respect its host countries
At McDonald's, even local foods get the brand treatment: A Chilean dish of breaded chicken and guacamole becomes "McPollo," and a Norwegian salmon-and-dill-sauce sandwich is called "McLaks," for example. This familiarity can be comforting - but it can also be seen as appropriation, with the brand absorbing the unique foods of these markets and generating its flat version of them. It would be nice to see the company step out of its comfort zone, serving local dishes without transforming them into its fast food variant first.
Local brand, global presence
Ikea's successful localization strategy helped it expand into new foreign markets. With the help of a team of translators, Ikea translates its offering, products, and marketing materials so that they are relevant and relatable. The company also localizes its website, ads, social media, and catalogs to be culturally appropriate and easy to understand. However, in a very strategic choice, the folks at Ikea chose to leave all product names in often-unreadable Swedish. This choice works in their favor, creating a fun, memorable customer experience.
What does Ikea do well in its localization strategy?
• Enviable atmosphere
Ikea sells more than furniture - it sells a dream. Their showrooms are filled with micro-spaces, with every bit of detail carefully placed to make customers feel at home. These decorated rooms, with their warm, inviting look & feel - in-store and online - encourage visitors to copy the clean Scandinavian design in their homes, too, no matter where they are. Ikea catalogs even became coveted reading material in some markets, and they're displayed in living rooms worldwide next to reputable home decor magazines.
• Consistent branding
Ikea dropped any semblance of assimilation in favor of an "imported from Sweden" edge. No matter which store you visit, you'll immediately get recognizable Ikea vibes. The decor is similar; the signage is always the same; the colors are consistent. They even sell the same Swedish food products in-store - from cookies to preserves. Customers don't come to Ikea for local furniture. Instead, they come for that unique foreign customer experience and for decor they can't get elsewhere.
• Consumer content
The Ikea community developed a hobby around the global brand: "Ikea hacking." Ikea furniture is known for its durability and versatility, and there are plenty of affordable options to use as raw material. This led to the development of a culture where people find creative ways to use it in their homes, creating bespoke-looking furniture from the simplest pieces. Some of the most famous Ikea hacks include transforming essential pieces like cabinets and dressers into built-in furniture, using Ikea furniture to create custom storage solutions, and using the company's inexpensive accessories to add personality to a room. These hacks generate buzz worldwide, making Ikea a household name.
• Language-free manuals
The high-ups at Ikea likely planned for globalization, creating a recognizable illustrative language for their manuals. This allows them to provide customers with clear assembly instructions without translating every word. A brilliant way for Ikea to ensure that all of its customers can understand how to put together its furniture.
• Small adaptations
While the Ikea brand stays consistent everywhere, its product offerings vary slightly. This allows them to appeal to a broader target audience, as they can tailor their products to fit the needs of each specific foreign market. For example, for the Indian market, Ikea designed outdoor furniture that will withstand high heat and humidity. And for Korea, they released a wide range of small beds and sofas to fit smaller apartments. These minor tweaks help make Ikea products a staple in every home, growing their large fanbase even more.
What can Ikea improve about its localization strategy?
• Local collaborations
Ikea has done a great job at localizing its products and materials to fit the needs of its consumers. However, they could improve their localization strategy by collaborating with local designers and manufacturers in each target market they expand into. This would help them create products that are even more relevant and relatable to local consumers, while also building stronger relationships with local businesses. It will also enhance their eco-friendly & sustainable brand promise, setting them apart from other furniture retailers.
• The human touch
While Ikea's furniture is undoubtedly popular, the brand can come off as somewhat plastic-y. The cookie-cutter quotes plastered on the showroom's walls and the uniform furniture you see wherever you go... don't scream 'authentic.' And the bigger they get, the more noticeable that's going to be. Working with artists and designers in every country would be a great way to lend some warmth to their brand. For example, Ikea stores worldwide could sell framed prints of local artists or host special concerts and events in the showroom. This would help customers connect with the brand on a more personal level.
Does every company need a localization strategy?
No, but it can give you an edge when tapping into a new foreign market. When you localize, you can connect with customers on another level, building trust and credibility.
Assuming your original marketing would do the trick can damage your brand's image, and you might lose out on potential customers. So if you're looking to expand your business into new territory, it's worth considering planning your marketing localization strategy ahead of time.
That being said, keep in mind that smaller brands just getting a feel of new markets can postpone their localized marketing efforts for a bit, and get away with a one-size-fits-all marketing strategy in the short term. And in some cases, if you don't have the time and funds needed to do it right, it might be better not to localize.
Whether to invest in your localization process right now depends on the brand and the product or service you're selling, the market you're getting into, your brand image, and a boxful of other considerations. If you're unsure, set up a consultation with a local marketing agency. They'll be able to help you figure out if localization is suitable for your brand, what your localization needs and goals are, and how to go about achieving them.
Thank you for reading! We hope this gives you a better understanding of the importance of localization strategies in marketing, and how some of the big ones successfully implemented it in their business.
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4 Brands that impress with their localization strategy
Let's talk about four brands that executed impressive localization strategies.
Michal Kessel Shitrit