When it comes to localizing content for other markets, relevance is key. It ranks above all else in consumers’ minds. According to independent market research firm CSA’s ‘Can’t read, won’t buy’ report (which surveyed nearly 9,000 customers across 29 countries), 65% of people prefer to consume content in their own language, even if it’s poor quality. We’re not advocating for poor quality localization, but this statistic gives a sense of the importance of localization if global expansion is to prove fruitful.

Understanding localization types

Understanding that there are a few options for localization is key to being strategic about the research phase. First, assuming the subject matter is truly global, subtitling is quick and is more cost effective compared to other localization methods. Dubbing, too, can be implemented as a standalone localization strategy i.e. the only element of the video that is altered for a new market. However, to implement subtitling and dubbing in such a way – if images and context aren’t going to be adjusted – it’s crucial to know if the subject matter is truly global. 

Dubbing and subtitling can also be used in the context of versioning – whereby multiple elements of a video are adapted to meet local market expectations. Images might be switched out or interviews redone to resonate with the intended market, in addition to dubbing or subtitling the content. In versioning, important elements of the content are adapted to suit the target audience.

Thirdly, there’s transcreation, the holy grail of content creation whereby content is completely recreated for the new market based on research. The downfall here is that it’s expensive and can be time-consuming, which is where testing and learning and cost/benefit analysis on pilot content is key. 

With a solid understanding of localization, it’s possible to map medium and localization method to market expectations and needs. For instance, according to the Edleman Trust Barometer, Japan is highly distrustful of both media and businesses, which would suggest that for this market, doing low-level localization (just subtitles, for example) won’t suffice, whereas when localizing content from the US to Mexico, it might.

Research, research, research 

Home market audiences are often rigorously defined. Agencies are drafted in to find out what they care about, what they read, where they go, and how they consume media so that content can be created and distributed based on the data. But when it comes to reaching audiences in new markets, there’s the unfounded belief that broad conclusions, drawn by home market research, can be applied across the board. This is a recipe for disaster. In order to make a real, scalable impact in new markets, understanding them is key.

In short, investment in content geared towards market preferences has to be supported by technological investment in data and analysis, so here are the types of tools and tactics that successful global companies use to plan overseas expansion.

  • Audience intelligence and social listening tools –  these allow companies to segment online audiences based on their interests, location, language and affinities. By delving into each of these segments for analysis, it's possible to draw insights that inform content creation and localization plans.
  • Competitor analysis – Analyzing the competition in target markets yields insights that inform the localization strategy: on what channels do competitors gain traction; what do they rank for in search engines; what are their main traffic sources; what types of content succeed and which fail and against what objectives. These things help to build a picture of where and if there are gaps in the market and how  challenging it will be for your company to enter that market with your content.
  • Owned data – no explanation needed, but even a cursory glance at demographic information probably shows that a portion of consumers fall outside of home markets, even if a company isn’t internationalized. This is a good place to start research: by looking at what content is already organically gaining traction. Analytics alone isn’t enough, of course, but paired with other research tactics, it's a useful jumping off point.
  • Ghost posting and A/B testing – once audience segments have been defined, pilot content should be produced or localized and pushed to a sample audience supported by ad spend to see what works. These findings then inform the wider strategy. Audience segmentation tools are usefully often integrated within demand-side platforms that target ads to specific audiences.
  • Partnerships and acquisitions – it’s not so much a research tool, but if the allocated time frame for expansion is limited then partnerships with local companies that already have access to valuable local knowledge is an option. Massive budgets aren’t a pre-requite here – smaller, even individual, content providers can be acquired as outposts in new markets and a period of testing for success against pre-agreed objectives agreed.

Investing in analyzing target markets – languages spoken, cultural expectations, and competitors’ success – then segmenting potential audiences and building messaging and content based on the data is a tried-and-tested method for success.

The next phase is building a robust localization strategy, with clear objectives for each market, based on the insights gained from the research and testing phase. After deploying the tactics as part of this initial strategy, the next challenge is scaling; all of which we'll be covering in a forthcoming post. Stay tuned!