October 21, 2016 Last Updated 12:43 pm

Businesses win big overseas when they talk and sell like natives

Guest column: Charles Whiteman, SVP Client Services at MotionPoint, discusses in the third of his series of columns, the need to communicate with consumers in their preferred languages

Smart companies know that a “one size fits all” approach to expansion and marketing in overseas markets just doesn’t work. The horror stories are well-documented: mistranslated American slogans that offend locals, products and solutions that don’t resonate with consumers—the list goes on. The sad outcome? Businesses abandon global markets after spending millions to enter them.

threemen-full-400Fortunately, companies can achieve sustained success in global markets. For starters, it requires the ability to communicate with consumers in their preferred languages. It also demands a respect of the market’s cultures and beliefs—a kind of understanding that resonates with local consumers’ perspectives. This is more than linguistic fluency. This is cultural fluency.

Companies that employ this invaluable expertise in emerging markets, particularly online, stand to see increases in website engagement and revenue.

The terms translation and localization are often believed to mean the same thing, but they in fact represent different approaches to translation. Localization transcends conventional dialect-neutral translation. Instead, it uses regionally-preferred words and phrases that really resonate within specific countries.

The word “popcorn” is a good example of this. In English, “popcorn” is popcorn—there’s no other word for it. However, in Spanish, there are at least five unique ways of saying popcorn, and each is understood exclusively in specific Latin American countries.

(This means that if a company uses the wrong translated word for popcorn in some markets, customers there literally won’t understand what is being said. That alienates customers, and leads to site abandonment.)

We recently used localization to increase brand credibility for one travel industry client. After updating its translated site’s experience with locally-preferred terms and UX elements, the site’s impressions rose by almost 75%. Its SERP ranking rose an average of 11 positions, too.

When we provided native-friendly localizations of homepage promotional copy for another client, its checkouts increased by nearly 45%.

This cultural fluency also transcends text translation. We recently identified a way for one of our UK-based fashion retailers to improve sales with U.S. online consumers. Even though the retailer was very popular within the UK and Europe, it was new to the U.S. market. But Americans weren’t making as many purchases as expected.

Thanks to some analytics and cultural fluency of the U.S. market, we quickly determined why. Americans often stick to shopping on U.S.-based e-commerce websites. They’re skeptical that overseas orders can be fulfilled and shipped quickly and affordably.

We deployed several localized banners in key sections of the client’s U.S. website that flipped the script. These U.S.-exclusive banners showcased the client’s stellar reputation, and promoted its robust shipping and return policies.

Checkout rates grew nearly 30% a week later.

Charles-Whiteman-240The takeaway: As your company expands to serve new customers into overseas online markets, make every attempt to serve them in culturally-relevant ways. Investing resources into hiring in-house employees with such cultural fluency—or even easier, partnering with a website localization vendor that has such expertise—can make all the difference.

Ultimately, if your organization can engage global consumers with the same authenticity as their local businesses, it’ll be armed with the proper ingredients to generate sustained online success.

Charles Whiteman is senior vice president of client services at MotionPoint Corporation, the world’s #1 enterprise localization platform. He may be reached at cwhiteman@motionpoint.com

Photo: three man talking by Mirza A çetin used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

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