By Sarah Mitchell published March 2, 2011

Produce Local, Distribute Global: 3 Keys to Your Content Marketing Localization Plan

Localization is a topic frequently on my mind. As the Australian editor of the Chief Content Officer (CCO) magazine I’ve been part of a team working on the inaugural issue.  It’s been an eye-opening experience for a bunch of seasoned content professionals.

The Australian and European versions of CCO are now available! Read them online and subscribe to future issues!

I’ve lived and breathed localization issues for more than 20 years, working on six continents and living on five. Having been on both ends of the equation – resident in the country originating content for international audiences and recipient of content not yet suitable to be distributed in a foreign market – I’ve learned a few things along the way.

Properly preparing your content for another market provides unlimited potential for success. Get it wrong, though, and even the best products and services will wither and fail. Get it really wrong, and you could unintentionally damage your brand.

Here’s my best advice for your localization project based on years of experience and a few hard knocks.

Who’s driving?

The first rule of localization is to establish ownership of the content. When you’re working across markets, and very likely across time zones, it’s imperative the head office takes ownership of the whole project. Without a strong management focus from the originating source, you cannot be sure your message is being delivered at all.

I’ve worked in offices where boxes of case studies and product brochures were stored, unopened, in the mailroom because no one was expecting them.  I’ve also seen reams of brochures destroyed because they weren’t localized.

A content rollout needs to be managed as a separate project and include a clear outline of job responsibilities on both ends. It might sound complicated but it’s not. Four tools that make this job easier are:

  1. Spreadsheets – Develop a project plan and assign tasks
  2. Skype – Terrific for free international phone conferences
  3. Dropbox –  An easy utility to share files “real time” with multiple people and locations
  4. World Clock Meeting Planner –  Ensure everyone is on the call at the same time regardless of time zones especially since no two locations implement Daylight Savings Time the same way

A common trap for localization projects is to let the local market handle it on their own. When relying on assurances of ‘We know our market better than you do’; corporations relieve themselves of responsibility at their own peril. I’ve seen strategic products sold as gimmicks, taglines rewritten into meaningless jumble, and smart designs reduced to amateur efforts all at the hands of an office working independently of headquarters. When you lose control of your message, you lose business.

Who’s navigating?

I’ve never worked in a country without someone – or everyone – pulling me aside to tell me they conduct business differently than everyone else. You know what? It’s not true. Every single market I’ve ever worked in makes purchasing decisions based on business benefit.  What is different is how they expect to get their information.

Cultural differences abound from country to country. That’s why you can’t conduct a localization project without the input of the local market. What works in the USA, may not work in Italy or Tokyo. Make sure the marketing manager in each location is part of your team and listen to what they tell you. They’ll also have a really good idea about distribution channels, key influencers, industry associations, and how to build a buzz for your particular product. It’s probably different than in your own market. Depending on the type of content you’re producing, you’ll need local PR services to maximize the promotion of your product.

How will you get all of this done?

I’m a firm believer in allocating budget for localization in any content-producing project up front. A well-planned effort delivers many benefits including buy-in from your foreign distributers and enhanced brand image in the international market. Often these tasks are only considered at the end of a project when everyone is ready to move on and the money is used up.

Sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it? You’re right; it is a lot of work.  However, your workload is greatly alleviated if your content is developed with localization issues in mind.

And, don’t expect recognition for your efforts, either, as the sign of a successful implementation is that no one realizes the content didn’t originate in their own locality. But the rewards will be reflected in your bottom line.

Not only do you need to have a process nailed down when localizing content, but there are a number of things you need to consider with your content. Stay tuned next week for my checklist!

Author: Sarah Mitchell

Sarah Mitchell is Director of Content Strategy at Lush Digital Media, co-host of the Brand Newsroom podcast and founder of Global Copywriting. She develops content marketing and community engagement strategies for clients in a variety of industries. Sarah works in Perth, Western Australia and frequently speaks on topics related to Content Marketing and Social Media. She's also the Australian editor for Chief Content Officer magazine. Follow her on Twitter: @SarahMitchellOz.

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  • Luis

    Terrific primer on the issues inherent in localizing (or localising) content. I work with clients in the English/Spanish and the Spanish/Spanish world and it amazes me how I must continually expalin why the Spanish brochure or commercial we developed for the Caribbean has to be re-worked for use in Argentina. Many companies just refuse to believe localizing is a big deal.

    I particularly agree with your point that “Without a strong management focus from the originating source, you cannot be sure your message is being delivered at all.” I have found that absent that kind of endorsement, local country marketing managers pay little attention.

    Thanks for an article I can share with clients & have a great day – or should that be G’day?

  • globalcopywrite

    Hi Luis,

    Thank you so much for your insight and anecdotal evidence. I, too, have spent countless hours trying to explain the importance of localizing content. If organisations want to have a global customer base, they have to start budgeting and planning for localization in every project. Otherwise, prospective customers in your international locations assume you’ve got little interest in them – just their money. Of course, it impacts the ability of the local sales force, as well.

    G’day works fine but I originated in the USA so ‘have a great day’ works too. Muchas gracias y hasta luego.

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  • professional resume

    Written simply and tastefully. It’s pleasant to read. Thank u.

  • Roger Mazzella

    this is good  and fantastic  

  • Stan Cole

    great article and useful tips for a beginner like me

    Cheers, Stan from