Cultural Fluency Is Key to Wooing Global Customers

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By Charles Whiteman, SVP Client Services, MotionPoint

Companies have long understood that a “one size fits all” approach to expansion, advertising and marketing rarely resonates with global consumers. Some have paid dearly for such branding missteps: Walmart lost big in Germany and bailed on the market in 2006. In 2012, Home Depot suffered a similar blow in China, and split.

In both instances, the companies—and their messaging—failed to connect with local consumers. (Germans didn’t take a shine to Walmart’s approach to high-volume sales; Chinese homeowners associate do-it-yourself home improvement with poverty, not a hobby.)

Arguably, these costly failures—and many others—could have been sidestepped by having clearer insights into those markets, and their consumer preferences. This commitment to cultural fluency can make all the difference between sinking and swimming in new markets.

For more than 15 years, my company has translated online and offline content for hundreds of expanding companies in dozens of markets. We’ve found it takes more than expansion and translated messaging to energize global customers. Savvy companies that leverage cultural fluency can boost online engagement and conversions, and increase revenue.

Localizations Create Lean-In

The terms translation and localization are often used synonymously, but represent different translation approaches. Localization transcends region-neutral translations by using terms that resonate within specific markets or subcultures. (Consider American regionalisms regarding soft drinks: some folks call the stuff soda, others call it pop, and still others always call it Coke.)

This customized approach feels more authentic to consumers than conventional translations. It also helps companies make leaps in improving brand awareness and trust, which leads to higher engagement on global sites—and an average conversion rate growth of 52%.

This approach generated successful results for one of our clients, a global home furniture retailer. The company launched its Moroccan brick-and-mortar and online presences at the same time. Since its website wasn’t transactional, the company relied on the translated Arabic site to drive foot traffic to the offline retail store.

Our culturally-fluent linguistics noted that a holiday was currently underway in the region, and created a localized promotion on the Moroccan site tied to the event. It created brand affinity by congratulating celebrants, and tipped them to special offers they could receive via an email opt-in. The results were instant: the promotion generated nearly 25% more conversions than average.

When a UK-based client recently launched its U.S. e-commerce site, we quickly discovered that it had a customer trust issue. The retail brand was practically unknown in the States. American customers might’ve been intrigued by the company’s selection, but they weren’t transacting. We made the cultural connection: American shoppers are risk averse, particularly when conducting business with companies they know little about.

We quickly launched a campaign on the U.S. site. This localized content showcased the retailer’s worry-free shipping and return policies. That did the trick. In a week, checkout rates increased nearly 30%. This surge contributed to monthly incremental revenue of nearly £2,000,000.

Culturally-resonant customizations can be leveraged for conversion rate optimization (CRO), too. Our work with a U.S.-based telecom client yielded powerful results when we presented Spanish-speaking consumers with phone products sorted by price, by default. This seemingly-trivial change clicked with cost-conscious constituents. Conversions rose 65%.

For another client, A/B testing revealed that slight variations in translation word choice generated an 11% increase in sales conversions. Yet another telecom client saw an increase of 13% to visits to promoted site sections, and a 17% boost in conversions.

Big gains await companies that are willing to understand how a global market’s consumers think, consume content and shop. By thinking like your customers, and hailing a place of cultural fluency and respect, your organization can communicate more effectively, and secure revenue growth.

About the Author

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. MotionPoint is headquartered in Coconut Creek, Fla.