The issue of language is a challenge. Localization.*

Brand localizing markets and languages
Brussels, the capital city of Belgium. Belgium has three official languages, which are (in order of size of the native speaking population of Belgium) Dutch, French and German.
A number of non-official minority languages are spoken as well Straddling the cultural boundary between Germanic and Latin Europe, Belgium is home to two main linguistic groups: the Dutch-speaking, mostly Flemish community, which constitutes about 59% of the population, and the French-speaking, mostly Walloon population, which comprises 41% of all Belgians. Additionally, there is a small group of German-speakers who are officially recognized. Photo: Baltic Media.

The decision of how localized a brand should go when expanding abroad has always been a challenge and our research this year shows it’s not getting any easier.

Retailers have to decide on the balance of localization needed. At Big Red Group O’Connor says that using marketplaces to soft launch and test a country initially starts with a level of localisation such as relevant banners on marketplaces, as well as potential translation of key lines before rolling out with a full localized launch with dedicated website and full translation if sufficient traction is gained.

“In terms of translations, our approach is to work with brands and suppliers to share the risk of entering a new market, which obviously benefits both parties, and the cost of human translation would be part of this,” says O’Connor.

The issue of language is a challenge. A first step can be machine translation services but many retailers say these can do more harm than good if not supplemented with other measures. “We believe using machine translation, while cost effective, can seriously affect overall customer experience,” says O’Connor, whose company employs a multi-lingual customer service team.

The same has proved true at Office. “For our German website, at the start of the process, we decided to use a translation agency rather than go down one of the more automated translation routes,” says Robin Worthington, multi-channel director at Office. “It’s very important for Office as a business to talk to its customers in a way they identify with, so a machine translation approach wouldn’t work. Now we are live, we have German speakers in our head office, who are responsible for daily site updates, plus the marketing and promotional calendar. They produce a fair amount of the content, but still work with the agency to produce bulk translations, and have been working on brand and tone of voice guidelines to ensure we get the language right,” he says.

Koch says retailers have to do more than just translate when it comes to international expansion. “If you have any marketing activities you need to transcreate rather than just translate since for instance a given catchphrase won’t come across in the same way,” he says.

For some retailers, such as fashion, the simple challenge of different garment names in different countries – such as trainers in the UK but sneakers in the US – can be challenge enough but other retailers face greater translation challenges. At FreestyleXtreme Loughlin says the very nature of the industry he serves can produce its own problems around localisation. “In a niche market like action sports the tone, the obscurity of the words and the slang used present huge challenges to the translation team,” he says.

“You need local people to have a sense check so that there is no misunderstanding or anything that could come across as an insult or irritate a customer rather than attract them,” agrees Koch. So whilst localisation of language and payment methods is important retailers also have to determine how much to localize content too.

Mirador Digital’s McClelland, says retailers shouldn’t overlook the value of their existing content for building the brand in new markets even without having to localize too much. “If you have a lot of rich content you can tell a very good story and generate that awareness fairly quickly and generate a core asset base that you can use to talk to both groups with very little fine-tuning in between them ,” he says.
At Big Red Group the company currently only has an Australian site so can largely reuse its existing content but CEO Richard O’Connor says it will introduce location specific content for different regions as its international roll out continues as well as merchandising according to the country it is entering as it continues with its localized roll out plan.

Similarly at Office although it has some location specific content for different regions Worthington says that economies of scale dictate that generally the company tries to syndicate as much of the same content as possible across markets. “Luckily for us, the products and brands we sell are fairly universal, however, we will of course take into account local differences in trading, for example recognizing local holidays, calendar events and product selection,” says Worthington.

At JD Williams the company’s head of international Jackie Hill says some shared content happens but across social media in particular content is tailored to individual markets. “Both websites are country specific, whilst using shared assets wherever appropriate for efficiency purposes. We do produce specific content for the different territories, particularly for social media purposes,” she says.

Others choose to use the same social media content – or at least share their domestic version, something that Animal’s international sales director David Abramson does. “We offer all our social media content out to our international partners so they can put it on their own websites. We also have our own riders that we sponsored and we encourage partners to do the same thing,” he says.

And others, like Ao, localize content completely with Monk explaining that the business has a team that writes all of its on-line content in order to ensure that it is suitable for the German market.

Of course localisation extends to product and merchandising too. “One of our challenges is the SMU special make up market,” says Animal’s Abramson. “For example in the Middle East maxi dresses need to be longer to cover the ankle. In Asia customers like to have pocket on t-shirts or shirts and then in markets like China you have to do smaller sizes – all of these are a risk because if it doesn’t work you have nowhere to put the product,” he says.

And issues can be as basic as size and color preferences. “In France we were always missing size 6 and 8,” says Koch. “You need to factor in differences in sizes. It’s the same with colors, for example black for Parisian customers is the norm and they won’t buy into fancy colorful looks. It’s about adapting to styles and expectations,” he says.

Retailers not only need to look at product specifically but how they merchandise on site too. At FreestyleXtreme the retailer has automated merchandising tools which adjust the order of products and brands based on the sales for each storefront individually, but the company doesn’t have separate creative/banners.

At Office merchandising differences depends on the sales and demands of that local market, including not just product choice, but seasonality, price and promotions, according to Worthington.

Again it’s a balance of ROI. “For Germany yes of course we do local merchandising do but for smaller countries we don’t,” says Boden’s Dreyer. “You have to get the balance right – you get to certain size and you say this is worth merchandising specifically for this country,” he says. The only exception is Australia he points out, where the reverse season of the market means a necessity obviously for local merchandising despite the relative smallness of the market.

* By Liz Morrell, 2015 Opportunities and threats. Source: Internet Retailing, the magazine, portal and events for European ecommerce.