Don’t Let Your Message Get Lost in Translation

The digital revolution has expanded our customer markets from local to global proportions. As this shrinking globe challenges marketers, it also increases opportunities in today’s healthcare landscape. In the face of this change, remember that today’s audiences are not homogenous—so your marketing can’t afford to be either. These tips can up your recognition among all audiences.

Understand the Market

Who knows a market, its dynamics, and the culture better than its natives? Leverage opportunities with resident experts in the form of in-country employees, partners, staff, or agencies that represent each of your target markets. This provides the most accurate geographical experience for your audience and is the most important aspect of a localization strategy. David Ogilvy, the “father of advertising,” famously stated, “I don’t know the rules of grammar. If you’re trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language. We try to write in the vernacular.” If the audience has to translate your message, you’ve already lost them. Provide feedback mechanisms to ensure you understand market conditions, audience preferences, pricing strategies, competitors, promotion tactics, and message mediums. Evaluate feedback and adapt.

Be Memorable—Tap into Emotions

One size doesn’t fit all. Consumer-focused research is essential to your brand’s long-term success. Nielsen Consumer Neuroscience research shows highly successful campaigns score well on three dimensions: Attention, conversion to long-term memory, and emotional engagement.1 Identifying key findings that reveal consumer behavior insights tells you why audiences engage in certain behaviors, what need you are trying to solve, what triggers buying consideration, where they fall within the brand’s product or service lifecycle, and how to communicate in different regions—all within a competitive context that is the foundation for successful brand engagement. This framework is the first step in creating an emotional and memorable connection to your audience.

Do More than Translate

Modify your business to the culture of each individual market. Recall Apple’s highly successful “Get a Mac” campaign series featuring John Hodgman as the nerdy-looking, bumbling PC, and Justin Long as a laid-back, unflappable Mac.2 The two quibbled over features in spots that emphasized how much “cooler” Macs were than PCs. As Apple began to expand into Japan, it worked to better understand the Japanese culture. Apple quickly learned that if this ad were to run verbatim, it would be offensive because direct criticism of a competitor is deemed as low class in Japanese culture. So, Apple adapted its approach by featuring a Japanese comedy team and focusing on the notion that Macs were for personal use and PCs were for office use. The message resonated, and Apple reaped the rewards.

Cultural knowledge of global markets is critical not only for Apple, but for every brand. Determine the pain points of your customers. Uncover the alternative options to your products or services within each market. Discover the subculture your business falls within. These considerations are crucial to informing your localization strategy.

Stand Out From the Competition

Disruptive strategies begin with courage. Don’t allow a highly competitive marketplace to curtail your expansion into new markets—a large competitive presence can signify a strong market and thus, opportunity. Look for new ways to outsmart your competitors and serve your customers. Enhance your product with features competitors don’t offer. Provide value-added services as part of your unique selling proposition. Involve your audience throughout the process. Test offers, messaging, and campaigns for all target audiences prior to launching to confirm they’re locally relevant and culturally appropriate. Create evangelists who can create a movement. Provide communication platforms to empower your brand advocates to voice their admiration. Also apply what you learn to your website localization process.

Localize without Diluting your Message

Don’t retrofit an offline strategy. Successful marketing campaigns diversify communication channels to target the right audiences at the right time and place so they can engage on their own terms. Approximately 70% of worldwide marketers now produce social media content to promote their brand and engage with consumers, resulting in the second-most widely used inbound marketing strategy.3 Social media use via mobile devices continues to expand. New users are joining existing networks, and new platforms are emerging every day. Create regional social media components as part of your strategy. You will have greater success when you have diverse audiences, even if that diversity is only geographical. Produce precision-focused campaigns through geo-targeting to deliver localized messaging. Social media is also a perfect platform for rolling ethnographic research to tailor your product or service offering.

Successful social media marketing involves more than creating an online presence. Today, it’s all about driving engagement. It’s not as simple as accruing likes. Create dialogues by sharing relevant information, responding to comments, and encouraging users to share with their networks as mechanisms to reach your local markets. Great conversations are centered on excellent and tailored content. Engage key industry professionals in meaningful dialogue: As they begin to respect the brand as a thought leader, they become vital influencers.

Don’t Set it and Forget It.

Prioritize KPI reporting before localizing. In theory there are two philosophies: “You can’t change what you don’t measure,” and “Not everything that counts can be counted.” The truth lies somewhere in the middle. Before you begin the translation and localization process, define metrics that measure progress toward organizational goals that extend beyond the customer’s language. KPIs must be quantitative, practical, directional, and actionable. They must be steeped in justifiable data and provide context that reaffirms business objectives. Then, apply the strategy for achieving these goals. Review KPIs at least every month. Report, optimize, and adjust.

Translating and localizing are highly subjective, but they are critical for reaching your audiences in meaningful ways that resonate and drive action. Localization is what differentiates a good campaign from a blockbuster. This is precisely why some brands don’t reach critical mass. Adding regional, tailored components to campaigns builds brand engagement, key to achieving the business objectives you’ve set for any local market.


1. Adapted and excerpted from Nielsen Global Trust in Advertising: “Winning Strategies for an Evolving Media Landscape,” September 2015

2. Adweek’s Adfreak: “The Best & Worst of Advertising, Branding and Design,”

  • Kim Carpenter

    Kim Carpenter is Associate Partner, EVP of Integrated Services at HCB Health. As leader of HCB’s Integrated Services, Kim’s team consists of diverse disciplines whose sole purpose is to help clients find better ways to build more human relationships with audiences and build strong, enduring brands. 


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