Cultural Sensitivity and Website Localization

 by anthony on  |
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We’ve talked a lot about the importance of speaking the language of your customers when going global with your website. After all, what’s the point in targeting a new market if they have no clue what you’re saying? However, another hugely important – yet regularly neglected – aspect of localizing your website is understanding the need for cultural sensitivity. This means researching the nuances and differences between cultures across different markets and languages, ensuring there is no marketing faux pas throughout the localization process.

Find out the dos and don’ts of every new market you enter – what’s frowned upon in India? Is there a turn of phrase in Mexico that you shouldn’t use? Even applying certain colors or images to your website have the capacity to insult the locals if you don’t know the ground rules. While it may seem like we’re being overly cautious, consider the fact that a culture is built and nurtured over decades and it’s what makes every market different.

For example, an attempt at humor might work in China, but be taken badly in Japan. Why? Because they’re culturally different. Failure to understand and implement the cultural needs of your target market when localizing can cause irreparable damage to your brand reputation. Without a good reputation, you may as well pack up and leave. Startups live and die by their reputation, and make no mistake, you will be a startup in any new market, regardless of the size of your business elsewhere.

A real-life example of this is Braniff International, an airline company who attempted to enter the Mexican market. They used the slogan ‘fly in leather’ throughout their campaign, failing to realize that the literal Spanish translation of this was ‘fly naked’. Needless to say, this error cost them their place in the market and they were forced to pull the plug. But such mistakes aren’t just limited to smaller companies, even the big boys drop a clanger from time to time. Perhaps the biggest of them all, Coca-Cola, figured out that their brand name translated to “Bite the Wax Tadpole’ in Chinese. A fine introduction to the brand!

The point is that the best-equipped companies localize their website to suit every market’s individual cultural needs, all without diluting their brand message. This includes everything from brand name, website color, 
imagery, and content. Localizing the right way isn’t straightforward, and cultural sensitivity is only one of the hurdles you must clear along the way. But the rewards for doing so are plentiful and you open up your website to a global economy of potential customers.

We can’t stress this enough: website localization is more than just translating your content into the language of your target market. It’s changing everything to make your website look and feel ‘native’ to your target market. Abiding by culturally-sensitive issues is a huge step towards realizing your localization ambitions. Don’t launch head-first into a new market without first understanding every nook and cranny. Do your research and arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible.


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