Unlocking Global Success: Navigating the Challenge of Local Relevance

Operating on a global scale while maintaining local relevance is no easy feat. When you’re a worldwide player, especially if you’re marketing directly to consumers, the road can get rocky. It gets even trickier when most of your early triumphs were in your home market, but now, growth there is hitting a standstill, and you’re compelled to explore foreign horizons.

Initially, you might attempt to replicate your homegrown strategies as much as possible, but reality sets in quickly. What works at home often falls short when competing against local and regional rivals – and sometimes, it’s just plain unfeasible. That’s when you roll up your sleeves and start making the essential adjustments. It involves everything from product testing, safety standards, and warranties to financial regulations, data protection, licenses, eCommerce platforms, payment methods, logistics, marketing channels, language translation, and more.

You might think you’ve got all your bases covered and even see some initial success, but then, things start to plateau, and you’re left wondering why. Most of the time, it boils down to a lack of trust. Why should local customers, and perhaps even your local employees, believe that you’re genuinely committed to their market for the long haul?

Drawing from my own experience, there are four critical areas for establishing local or regional relevance and, consequently, building trust.

Know Your Audience

To maintain trust without compromising your global brand, it’s crucial to understand what matters most to your local target customers concerning your products or services. Tailor your local positioning and messaging accordingly. For instance, consider my experience selling educational toys. UK parents bought them for fun, while many US parents focused on their children’s accelerated learning. Fun and learning were essential in both markets, but the priority order differed.

Embrace Local Preferences

When you’re taking on local giants as a newcomer, understanding local market preferences for specific products and experiences is vital. It’s not enough to have the top-selling product globally; you must cater to sub-categories that matter more in other markets. Take Xbox, for example, which found quick success in the UK with casual games like shooters and racing but faced challenges in Germany due to a preference for strategic and complex gameplay. The solution? Develop a real-time-strategy game tailored to the German market.

Master the Local Language

Language localization is a topic close to my heart. In my view, sloppy and careless language adaptation can erode trust in a brand, product, or experience more than people realise, especially at global headquarters. It goes beyond grammatical correctness – it involves understanding local preferences for complexity, detail, directness, formality, cultural references, and more. This becomes even more crucial in entertainment, culturally significant, and educational brands, products, and experiences. The differences between US and UK English alone are significant, and sometimes it’s worthwhile to treat them separately. Sadly, I’ve for instance witnessed US-based companies using Mexican Spanish voice-overs for entertainment products in the Castilian Spanish market, with disastrous results.

Cultivate the Right Internal Culture

Finally, building and maintaining trust across borders requires fostering an internal culture that is aware, aligned, and receptive to different office cultures in various countries and teams. Are you truly listening and open, and is there enough trust that the right information is being shared? Cultural clashes can easily lead to misunderstandings, jeopardising trust and creating an ‘us versus them’ dynamic. My experiences as a Dutch professional, working in South English EMEA offices for US-based companies, have taught me invaluable lessons. Remember, openness, transparency, and a wariness of stereotypes are key.


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