What Is Localization Marketing, and How Does It Differ from Marketing Localization?

I’d like to help clarify some terminology to enable better communication between the digital marketing profession and the localization profession. I often seen the terms “localization marketing” and “marketing localization” used interchangeably. Here is how I see the major difference between the two.

“Localization Marketing” Is a Strategy Driven by Digital Marketers

When a marketing team decides they will generate demand in other languages through localization, this is known as Localization Marketing Much like digital marketing, content marketing, inbound marketing, or any other type of marketing, it’s a strategy in and of itself, one that you have to learn, build processes around, and even create internal teams for in order to execute properly.

Digital marketers might choose to do Localization Marketing instead of, or in addition to:

  • Running local marketing campaigns in each market they are in
  • Deploying native content in each market they are in
  • Doing global campaigns of which localization is just one part

Localization Marketing is a strategy and a conscious choice to invest resources in scaling your marketing efforts through localization. You might do this in addition to other things, such as creating native content or locally driven campaigns that are completely separate from global campaigns. Or, you might lean on localization as your primary method of doing marketing in other languages, especially if you concentrate more on content marketing as a cornerstone of demand generation.

Consider Your Long-Term International Strategy, Stage, and Scale Before Investing in Localization Marketing

Your decision about whether or not to use Localization Marketing as a strategy also depends on what phase of growth you’re in. Sometimes, in the early stages of growth, it’s easier to scale and build up demand using localization marketing as a strategic method. Your success with this strategy also may depend on competition. If you’re working an SEO and traffic play, and competition for your category is low, perhaps you can quickly grow your audience primarily through localization of your website, blog posts, content, email campaigns, and so on. This might enable you to build up awareness of your brand and product without the need to hire huge numbers of people, as quickly, for each local marketing team.

While Localization Marketing offers tremendous benefits in early stages, it might not turn out to be a scalable approach for a market once your demand generation efforts grow and you hit a certain size. Generally, localization marketing is a good strategy for when local teams are smaller. For example, the local marketing team has only 1 to 3 people to execute on campaigns and generate demand. They don’t yet have the bandwidth or experience to drive local plays, write native content, and execute on all of this while also managing all other channels.

Consider Localization Marketing for Scaling Content Marketing Plays Quickly

Localization Marketing is a “divide and conquer” strategy. It can give local marketing teams some breathing room to quickly generate large amounts of content. Meanwhile, they can focus on core marketing tasks, as opposed to devoting themselves exclusively to content. Otherwise, they would have to spend every waking hour working on blog posts, which can be time-consuming to write from scratch. They might also spend ages translating email subject lines, landing pages, and other assets created by a global team in English, instead of actually getting campaigns out the door. Bottom line, it enables small and regionally focused marketers to scale at a faster pace than they could otherwise.

Because it emerges from the intersection of digital marketing, content marketing, and inbound marketing, Localization Marketing is a relatively new phenomenon, but one that is gaining in popularity, especially among SaaS companies. It requires companies with a digital marketing orientation to invest in localization resources and team members in order to rapidly scale. This type of marketing strategy is tricky to execute, but it’s often necessary for companies that are growing globally at a fast pace, until they gain enough steam in other markets to really invest more in those local marketing teams.

Localization Marketing can also be used as part of the ramp-up process for entering a new market. If the company is highly adept at content marketing and digital marketing, and if there is enough budget to back it up, it can actually work pretty well.

“Marketing Localization” Is a Process by Which You Localize a Given Campaign or Content Asset

Many people are far more familiar with the term “marketing localization.” This is basically the service or process that the marketer would request, in order to differentiate it from other types of localization services that might be requested, such as the localization of content for customer support, or for product training, and so on.

While many translation companies claim to offer marketing localization services for digital marketers, very few are highly adept at it. By this, I mean that they might have translators available who can provide the more creative translation services that marketing campaigns often require. However, they are rarely at the level that they fully understand the details of the CMS tools, marketing automation tools, and CRM software that are used to actually carry out the campaigns.

For this reason, marketers end up spending quite a bit of time simply educating their translation vendors and helping them get up to speed on their technologies. There can be quite a few roadblocks in the way both in terms of process and technology.

If you’re looking for translation agencies to help you with marketing localization projects, consider ones that have a lot of experience with websites and CMS tools, many of which are starting to offer more marketing automation components. These are usually the ones who are best prepared to help you. They’ll understand your needs in terms of tools and tech.

You might also consider looking for providers who offer a service called “transcreation.” This is what localization insiders often use for marketing content that has a strong creative aspect, such as multilingual copywriting, graphic design, and more. Unfortunately, these are usually not the same translation vendors who are most familiar with the marketing tech stack. It’s rare to find agencies that actually get both sides of this equation, but there are more and more of them appearing in the translation industry.

“Marketing Translation” versus “Marketing Localization versus “Localization Marketing”

Basically, these three terms fall on a spectrum, with “marketing translation” being the most simplistic. For a marketing translation scenario, the marketer will likely say, “Hey, I have a tagline or an email that I need translated into [language].” This type of marketing team could be from any type of company, even old school ones who do zero digital marketing. It’s likely the most type of marketing project the translation industry sees.

If a marketer needs “marketing localization,” this indicates that they are more tech-focused, and likely need more than translations. They probably have images, CTA buttons, and more to consider than copy alone. They’re going to need to get content in and out of systems, and most likely every asset that needs to be localized will be published online. Most likely, they have video assets to consider, embedded links, dependent assets, and SEO in play.

Lastly, if a marketing team talks about “localization marketing,” they are far more advanced than the first two groups in terms of digital marketing and marketing technology usage. They’re likely to be using localization as part of their overall growth strategy, which stems from their over-arching international expansion strategies.

For Localization Marketing to work, it’s dependent on the marketing team having a tight relationship with an internal localization team, localization vendors, or both. They likely have a mix of global campaigns that the localization team supports, along with local campaigns that are executed on by teams and third-party vendors in-region with native content, as well as hybrid campaigns.

The chart below helps distinguish between these three different terms.

Any team that uses Localization Marketing is also bound to live in their content management systems and marketing automation tools, and they expect their localized assets to be easy to create, translate, and publish to their audiences.

It’s also important to call out that Localization Marketing is a marketing strategy, and not a localization strategy, which is very different.

Digital marketers, when asking yourself, “What is marketing localization?”, also ask yourself what stage is your company at. Are you translating individual pieces of copy here and there (marketing translation stage), or are you localizing more marketing campaigns (marketing localization stage)? Or, are you using localization as an intentional strategy within your international growth marketing toolkit?

Nataly Kelly

Nataly leads localization at HubSpot and has previously held diverse roles in marketing, international operations and strategy, research, product development, and localization. She writes for Harvard Business Review on topics of international marketing and business. Nataly grew up in rural Illinois, lived in Ecuador, and resides in Boston (for now).

2 comments

  • Spot on! I’ve been working to reframe our services in a more ‘accessible’ way to digital marketers (aka the clients we work with).

    I’ve now started referring to:

    • “marketing translation & transcreation” as an umbrella of translation for creative copy;
    • UX / UI localization” to localize microcopy for website and app localization;
    • “Localization” is actually a broader term and can encompass different project types and scopes, so it’s a category of its own.

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