Globe, Map, Location

What Is Localisation, and Why Is It Important?

Localising is essentially the process of translating and adapting content from one geographic region to another. The process is different from direct translation since it takes into consideration the culture, social dynamics and even law of the target region. Done correctly, the final localised product will be indistinguishable from local native content.

Why is localisation important?

Let’s rephrase the question. What’s the worst that can happen without localisation?

When Pepsi tried to break into the Chinese market, their marketing campaign was headlined by this slogan: “Pepsi Brings You Back to Life.” All the marketing literature was then translated into Chinese. It apparently took a while before they discovered that the slogan translated into “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave” in Chinese! Considering that ancestral worship is quite a big deal in Chinese culture, there were probably many red faces around.

Here’s another example. Remember the really popular “Got Milk” commercials from the 1990s? The brilliant marketing concept was conceptualized by the creatives at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners in San Francisco. It was a very effective tagline, in English. When it was translated though, problems began to emerge. Probably the most memorable was the Spanish version of the commercials: “Are you lactating?”.

There are numerous other pitfalls that can befall companies which skip the process of localisation, especially local culture and sensitivity. Don’t look at localisation as another bureaucratic hurdle to overcome. Instead, think of localisation as your new best friend in every new market you enter.

Here are the key takeaways you should always remember:

  • Localisation helps to improve your messaging
  • Localisation helps to increase your conversions
  • Localisation helps to avoid offending your audience
Localisation, Map And Pin
Localisation is an opportunity, not an obstacle.


Localisation vs translation

People usually confuse localisation for translation or vice-versa. This is understandable since both essentially involve translating content from one language to another. However, localisation goes several steps further. It transforms the content from a foreign-sounding one to a native-sounding one. This means every aspect of the content will be analysed and adjusted as required.

An inch is an acceptable unit of measurement in the United States, but it needs to be changed to 2.54 cm in France. A working mother and stay at home father may be an acceptable premise in Sweden, but it may meet with cultural resistance in Saudi Arabia since the country’s still largely patriarchal society would frown at the concept of stay-at-home dads. Shopping during afternoon siestas may be commonplace in Spain, but the concept will seem foreign in Nigeria.

Translation won’t take imperial measurements, religion and culture into consideration, but localisation will.

A good way to summarise the difference between the concepts is this: translation is just one aspect of localisation.

Should you choose localisation or translation?

It depends on several things, like the target region, demographic, type of content and level of personalisation. For instance, automated marketing emails by a British company will require localisation if they are meant to be used in China. However, similar content from an American company for a Canadian audience usually just require basic translation. It’s a good idea to solicit feedback from your translation agency before making a decision.

For more complex content, such as packaging, images, videos or podcast, localisation is almost always needed to ensure local cultural, socio-political and religious sensibilities are taken into consideration. Otherwise, you are leaving yourself exposed. Take Pringles, the world-famous American potato chips maker. In 2015, they committed a terrible blunder when they promoted bacon-flavoured chips to Muslim audience during the holy month of Ramadan.

Another notable consideration is the language pairs. English is a very sophisticated language and the vocabulary is far larger than most major languages. As such, direct translations will usually end up longer. For example, Danish only have 40% of the English vocabulary. Direct translations might lead to unclear translation. It could also lead to much longer content that might not fit into manuals, book covers or packaging.

As always, SEO should also be factored into your consideration. Keywords are one of the most important ranking factors for search engines, and they are different in every language and region. Direct translation will never do if search engine result page ranking is important to your business.

What can be localised?

You can localise practically any marketing and advertorial content, whether they are in digital format, printed or audio-visual format. These include:

  • Advertisements
  • Search ads
  • Brochures
  • Videos
  • Graphics
  • Online support documentation
  • Newspaper advertisements
  • User manual
  • Mobile Apps
  • SaaS Applications

Simply put, any material used to sell, operate and service products and services can be localised. In fact, we’ll go one step further: any material produced for end-users must be localised.

Aside from language (obviously), other factors that need to be considered include time zones, units of measurement, currencies, public holidays, geographic references and even gender roles.

Newspaper, Printed Content
Unlike digital ads, newspaper ads cannot be amended. Once they are published, they will live forever. As such, be sure to localise your print ads before releasing them in new markets.

How to plan for localisation

The first and most important step when doing localisation is to plan and document the entire process. Picking random bits of content to be localised is not only inefficient, but it will also prevent an organisation-wide standard from being implemented. Over the long haul, this disorganised approach will end up costing more, increase revisions and reduce accountability.

Ultimately, the decision to adopt a localisation strategy relies on the market, marketing mix and overall business strategy. Once again, discuss this with your translation partner for a broader, expert viewpoint.

Localisation should not be implemented in isolation; it must be a part of your overall content and marketing strategy.


If you need help setting up a localisation process and structure in your organisation, give the most experienced e-commerce localisation agency in the Nordics a call today (that’s us, by the way).

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