Digital marketing overseas is about more than just translation

Digital marketing overseas is about more than just translation

As the world is getting digital rapidly, and customers engagement with products before they buy, as well as after, having an effective digital marketing strategy has now been a key part of a company’s ability to succeed.

Executing digital marketing campaigns with global outreach is imperative for any organization that is looking to expand its international territories. At the first look, this might seem like a straightforward task. There is no dearth of translation tools in the market and all you have to do is take your existing content and re-purpose it through translation to market it to an overseas audience. Right? Absolutely not.

This is where most of the marketers take off in a direction that is only characterized by sunk costs. A successful overseas digital marketing campaign is more about hyper-localization than globalization. Without the proper application of localization services, what works like a charm in your language might come across as a repulsive statement in another.

For instance, consider the case of KFC, wherein based on the outcome did not utilize professional localization and translation services, took off on the wrong foot in China in the 1980’s when they erroneously translated their slogan, “Finger Licking Good” to something along the lines of “Good to eat your fingers off.” The takeaway? Content may be king, but context is god.

Hence, to ensure that digital campaigns live up to the expectations of the local audience and deliver messages in the context that they were intended to, marketers need to think beyond traditional models of translation. Here are some effective practices that can help them do the same:

1. Understanding Cultural and Political Differences

In addition to the languages that are spoken in the target market, marketers need to put themselves in the shoes of the audience and understand the cultural and political nuances that exist. And this can even translate into varying digital habits.

For instance, consider the case of East Germany where the impact of political revolutions, such as the Iron Curtain after World War II, can be realized to date. Due to higher unemployment rates, lower wages, and a lack of qualified professionals, wide differences in internet surfing behaviour can be noticed.

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Hence, when Croud (a digital marketing company in London) executed a PPC campaign back in 2015, they witnessed substantially varying levels of search impressions. Here is how the total search demand was dictated by the east and the west.

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Thus, showing that generalizing your localization efforts or merely translating content for a certain demographic like a country would not cut it, it is absolutely imperative to understand the local landscape to accordingly shape the marketing materials, including website, copywriting, self-help knowledge-bases, images, and even videos.

2. Extensive Competitor Analysis

Once you have a fair understanding of local cultures and the prevailing political landscape, the next step is to take a close look at your competitors. Review their digital marketing strategies in the target country and figure out the rationales behind their every move. The goal should be to build a clear picture of how other organizations are leveraging digital marketing channels, such as social media, PPC, and content to get their messages across.

Before calling for professional translation services, it is imperative to get the perspective correct. Answer questions such as:

  • What are the primary marketing channels that competitors are active on?
  • What type of content is being leveraged and how?
  • What is the frequency of updates?
  • Are they curating tailored content for each channel or holistic content pieces for every global channel?
  • How does their local digital marketing strategy differ from their global digital marketing strategy?

You can even score their marketing efforts on the basis of three variables:

  • Frequency: Differentiate regular activities from ad-hoc tactics.
  • Quality: Pinpoint how well does the content align with their overall brand.
  • Relevance: Understand how appropriate the content is for the target audience.

3. Localize Your Brand

As a marketer, you need to accept that it is virtually impossible to keep all elements of your branding when working in a different territory. This is something you have to be at peace with, given that a single mistake in translation could cost you the market itself. All the more reason why it is important to look for a company that provides localization services in a manner that involves meticulously researching the necessary information to execute the localization flawlessly.

Elements of branding that companies might need to tweak include:

  • Company name
  • Logo
  • Tagline
  • Design scheme

Some instances of global brands that did not execute a proper localization strategy and overlooked the importance of renaming/re-branding products which ended up in them suffering from substandard local publicity include:

  • Nokia Lumia: ‘Lumia’ was a popular phone series from Nokia that was derived from the partitive plural form of the Finnish word lumi, which means snow. But unfortunately, the word translates to something rather profane in the Spanish slang, a derogatory word to address women.
  • Apple Siri: Siri might be one of the most beloved virtual assistants in the world, but the word holds another meaning altogether in the Georgian language, a term to denote male genitalia.
  • Barf Detergent: While the word means ‘snow’ in Iran, it paints a rather unpleasant and repulsive image in the English language, puke.

4. Identify What Audiences Engage With

While it is important to stay active on every marketing channel, the quality of your efforts can only be gauged by the engagement metrics that your campaigns command. It pays to understand how the target audience engages with your marketing material, which social media channels are the most active on, how their social media campaign results compare to email campaign results, and much more.

Before translating, have a clear understanding of what currently works in
the local marketplace:

  • Posts on Twitter have the most retweets, likes, and replies.
  • Posts on Facebook that have the most likes and comments.
  • The type of content format that commands the best engagement metrics – text, image, audio, or video.
  • The style of content that captures the attention of people - serious, educational, funny, or provocative.
  • The influence of cross channel digital promotion, such as tweeting about a Facebook competition or writing a Quora answer about a Facebook campaign done right.

By integrating the results of competitor analysis with engagement metrics, you can identify marketing opportunities based on the following matrix:


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For instance, this is the core ideology followed at Tomedes, a translation and professional language service that is backed by thousands of experienced translators. By leveraging both competitor and engagement-related data, Tomedes is able to provide translation and localization services with an extensive quality assurance along with technical and industry-specific insights.

5. Embrace Varying Conversion Rates

Marketers have to accept that conversion rates of campaigns differ aggressively over a range of countries. The variation primarily boils down to a difference in browsing habits that make prospects travel through the marketing funnel at varying rates and intensities. For instance, a thousand people liking or sharing something in Brazil will likely kick off a marketing funnel with a much different conversion rate than the same number of people doing so in France.

This difference holds even more prominence when we consider the engagement metrics of different age groups.


Notice that while 17% of old people (50 years and above) are active on social media platforms in Poland, a whopping 52% of them actively use online social networking websites in the US. Similarly, 93% of millennials use social media in the UK compared to 76% in Germany.

These gaps are substantial and are bound to affect the conversion rates of your campaigns while marketing across borders. Hence, instead of letting the message get lost in the mix with sluggish translation efforts, leverage habitual differences to curate campaigns with targeted translations that deliver results.

The Verdict:

While translation is necessary to explore new business frontiers, it is surely not enough. Using these techniques to achieve instances of brand localization acts as a safeguard that enables your business to function smoothly in foreign lands. Hence, it would be best to avail the services of companies that provide top-notch professional translation and localization services to secure the long-term growth of your business.

Sawaram Suthar is the founder of TheNextScoop and Jagat Media. A digital marketing consultant, he has experience in branding, promotions, page optimization, research, and strategy. He has an MBA from the University of Pune. Anyone can find him on Twitter @sawarams.

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