Localization strategy: the ultimate guide

As the world becomes more connected, businesses are increasingly looking for ways to tap into new markets. Localization offers a way to do this through adapting your offer to suit the needs of a specific region or market.

But if you act without a strategy, it can lead to a tarnished reputation. One too many brands learned this hard way—some you may have heard of (like KFC and Mercedes Benz).

That's why we strongly recommend creating one. Not sure where to start? Continue reading.

What is a localization strategy?

A localization strategy is a company plan to redesign its branding and product or service to connect with a particular market. It's much more than translating content into another language and often requires adjusting color schemes, imagery, taglines, and pricing, and marketing message based on the culture and customs of the target country.

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It also encompasses everything from the marketing channels used to the topics covered on a company blog. What matters to one group may not resonate with folks in another country. For example, your marketing strategy may switch from Facebook ads to engaging with users in an online community.

Here’s a non-exhaustive overview of the essential elements to cover in your strategy:

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Why is a localization strategy so important for your business?

The goal of a localization strategy is to create a localized experience that relates to the buyers in the target country.

The keyword here is "localize," which makes your business feel familiar (like shopping at any other company in the area).

When done effectively, localization can help your brand:

  • Increase sales and market share. Localized products or services are more likely to be bought by customers in the target market, leading to increased sales and market share.
  • Boost customer satisfaction. Customers are more likely to be satisfied with products or services that meet their specific needs and preferences. When customers feel you understand their needs and have tried to cater to them, they're more likely to be loyal and advocate for your brand, leading to repeat business and positive word-of-mouth reviews.

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  • Gain a competitive advantage. In many cases, businesses that adopt a localization strategy can better compete against larger, multinational companies because they can offer products or services better suited to the local market's needs.

Three stages to build an effective localization strategy

Localization strategies vary depending on the business vertical and from one enterprise to another. However, below are the three key stages and the must-have steps that anyone would benefit from.

Stage 1: Analysis

At this stage you should focus on your company's needs and resources. Your aim is to obtain the data that will help make informed decisions later.

Step 1: Market Research.

Goal: Find out if you are targeting the right region

What is the size of your target market? How much influence do your competitors have in the market? Will your product satisfy the needs of locals?  To get answers to these and many other similar questions you may look at:

  • Competition map. Check how many competitors you currently have and how big  they are. Look at competitor's products/services, marketing campaigns, and advertising methods. See what's working for them (and what's not). Look for gaps in their strategy and product offering using tools like Semrush .Trends.
Semrush Market Explorer

For example, Taobao (operated by Alibaba group) is a widely used shopping app in China with more than 1 billion active users. So, if you launch a shopping application in China, you might have to face strong resistance.

  • Traffic flow. Check out the number of  visitors to the local version of your website (or your competitor's one). If there is a high number of visitors from a particular country, the chances of your success in that area are high.
  • Cultural, political, legal, and technical nuances. Learn how these nuances impact your product or service. For example, there might be no high-speed internet in your target region, so you will have to down-grade your app to perform better on slower networks.

Step 2. Audience research

Goal: Make sure your product will appeal to the target audience

Localization is all about catering to the needs of a specific audience. So you'll have to consider language, traditions, and other specifics.

  • Ask the locals. Keep in mind the best research involves the locals—get them involved in surveys, study groups, and interviews to gather first-party data.
  • Check out the influencers. You can also learn who or what influences their purchasing decisions (it may not be creators on TikTok or YouTube). Depending on the audience, they may trust formal publications over social media influencers.
  • Engage with the community. There you'll get the insights you can't find anywhere else. It puts you in the frontline to hear stories, complaints, aspirations, and desires directly from your audience. You can join both physical and online communities. Check around the familiar social networks like Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter. Ask locals which sites they frequently use to hang out with family and friends.
Canva localization

Stage 2. Planning

The road map lets you identify whether you have all the resources required to localize your assets effectively without being late.

Step 3. Setting KPIs

Goal:  Measure the efficiency of your localization strategy correctly

As you develop your localization strategy, it is necessary to establish key performance indicators (KPIs) to gauge the success of your efforts.

KPIs help track the results and highlight weak areas so that you can review your plan and make the necessary changes.

Below you'll find examples of KPIs reflecting customer experience and the performance of product/service:

Social media KPIs 

Marketing KPIs

Revenue KPIs

  • Social Share of Voice

  • Total Impressions

  • Followers, fans, or subscribers

  • Audience Growth Rate

  • Share Rate (Shares or Retweets)

  • Interest Rate (Likes, Reactions, Favorites)

  • Response Rate (Comments, Replies)

  • Key Post or Hashtag Reach

  • Link Clicks

  • Marketing Qualified Leads 
    Cost per Lead
    Upsell & Cross-Sell Rates

  • Conversion Rates (For Specific Goals)

  • Return on Ad Spend 

  • Average Order Value


  • Revenue by Product or Service

  • Customer Lifetime Value

  • Net Promoter Score 

Step 4. Selecting assets to localize

Goal: Prioritize localization efforts

You can't localize all at once. What you should focus on depends on your business and your target audience.

For example, you may not need to redesign your app much, but the channels you'll target are unique. Maybe the locals don't use social networks or websites you're used to communicating through. So explore popular channels within that region, like:

  • Social media sites (e.g., Telegram, Qzone, and Viber),
  • Forums (e.g., Reddit, Github, and Kaskus),
  • Pay-per-click ads (search engines and social media),
  • Industry or niche websites (health, technology, finance, etc.),
  • Online communities (Slack, Discord, etc.),
  • Influencer marketing (Imgur, Instagram, YouTube),
  • Print content and ads (magazines, newspapers),
  • Audio (radio, podcasts),
  • Visual (billboards, TV commercials).

If you’re targeting online communities, you’ll need to learn community rules and tweak your marketing efforts. For example, Reddit will delete posts if it’s promotional. So brands focus on creating helpful content with occasional links to a product or service.

The same goes for your products and content. See whether they need to change features or formats to accommodate locals. For example, using video over blog posts. Or focusing on SEO instead of social media ads.

The restaurant industry adapts by adhering to local cultural preferences and religious beliefs. For example, switching to turkey bacon in an Islamic community.

As for prioritization, focus on the assets closest to revenue generation or your other KPIs. For example, localizing your website and blog is ideal if that's the primary channel used by your audience (vs. a mobile app).

Step 5. Allocating budget

Goal: Make sure you'll have enough resources to finalize localization

Localization will take time and money, so make sure to budget accordingly, so account for both one-time costs like translation, testing, and cultural adaptation and ongoing expenses like maintenance and customer support.

This budget should also be separated from the general marketing budget and designated for localization purposes only.

It's also advisable to have a bit (around 20%) extra to cover for emergencies.

Step 6. Establishing timelines

Goal: Not to damage the company's marketing by falling behind schedule.

A clear timeline and understanding of specific tasks will make the localization process smoother. So start with breaking it down into smaller tasks. It helps with setting deadlines correctly. It will also prevent the project from veering off task.

You should also set a strict order for your localization activities. Otherwise you risk starting to localize too early or too late.  The key is to find a balance between these two extremes.

Step 7. Drafting guidelines

Goal: To make localization process consistent and provide context for all participants

As you already understand localization is a serious process with many people involved, you need to find a way to ensure they are all on the same page. So it's time to create documentation for each target region.

But what should be inside your localization kit? Here's an overview:

  • Brand style guide with your localized brand voice, colors, fonts, tagline, graphics, logos, customer profiles/personas, and campaign goals
  • Information about the locals (culture, holidays, favorite channels, etc.)
  • Words, gestures, or phrases to avoid
  • Who will use the localization kit and how (project managers, translators, marketers, salespeople, etc.)
  • Product information, including localized descriptions, photos, pricing, manuals, guides, etc.

This isn't an all-conclusive list since localization kits vary from business-to-business. Once you develop your localization kit, share it with your teams.

Step 8. Building a localization team

Goal: Making sure you have enough workforce to achieve your goals without making your team burn out

Localization requires a team of experts designated for each task, working together to ensure that each team member knows their part in the process and can work together to execute the strategy effectively. So who do you bring aboard?

You may have everyone you need in-house, but there's a high probability you'll need a helping hand.  

Here's a list of the professionals to consider:

  • Localization manager: Leader to build the localization strategy and oversee the localization program to meet goals.
  • Project manager: Someone to oversee the teams to ensure proper implementation of the localization strategy.
  • Linguists: Professionals that not only know a language but understand the cultures behind them (and can perform customer research and interviews).
  • Translators: Experts in translating text into one or more languages.
  • Marketers: Strategists, writers, promoters to build visibility and recognition of your brand.
  • QA manager: Someone to check the quality of the translations, marketing collateral, and product design.
  • Designers: User experience experts to create the redesign of your digital and physical products (website or tangible product line).
  • Developers: Programmers to build the design of your app, website, or software, so it meets the standards of the localized design.
  • Business attorneys: Legal guidance to ensure the localization process remains with the regulations of the country you're expanding to.

Apart from making sure that you can access everyone from the list, it's recommended to list their responsibilities and involvement in each of the tasks you set at the previous step.

Step 9. Choosing a translation service provider

Goal: Avoid juggling multiple tools and switching between multiple companies

There are lots of companies in the market offering to assist you in localization and even fully undertake the process.

It's up to you to decide how much to delegate but it's absolutely to limit the number of service providers you are using to... ideally one. Let's try to list your needs to help you determine the requirements to a potential vendor.

  • Automated translation to make your project moving forward at a steady pace.
  • Linguists' database to complement your team to back you up in case of emergency.  
  • Project and workflow management features to release you from manual work and eliminate human error.
  • Integrations  with your project and task management tools and a solution to streamline content delivery to your CMS or developer software.

Sounds like a task for two or even four tools. But guess what, Smartcat has it all: AI-powered translation, 500, 000 professional linguists and agencies at your service, unlimited free seats for your team, 40+ integrations and connectors, and Autopilot, the smart project management system.

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Stage 3. Implementation

Step 10. Internationalization

Goal: Prepare your product for localization

Internationalization is the step that logically preceds localization. It's the preparation of your website or app design, service offerings, and products for the targeted markets.

Internationalization touches upon engineering, design, marketing, and content and is intended to make sure all your assets can be easily translated without affecting the user experience.

Step 11. Translation

Goal: Translating your assets to the target language without grammar or cultural mistakes

Translation is a critical step in the localization process. Though it's at least three steps actually, as to get high quality you will not only need to translate your content, but also have it checked by a spell-checker to eliminate basic typos and then reviewed and assessed by a professional editor (preferably a native speaker), as you don't want to get into an awkward situation over a mistake.

KFC translation fail

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Step 12. Ensuring compliance

Goal: Protect your business from reputational risks and financial losses

Every country has its own set of norms and standards, and if you want to tap into that market, you need to be aware of them and strategize accordingly. What might be considered normal or polite in one culture could be seen as offensive in another.

For instance, Asia is known for its strict laws on its citizens and the companies that venture there. In North Korea, women aren't allowed to wear pants. So if you're a clothing store, adjusting the women's items to dresses and skirts is ideal.

So, depending on your business, you may need to comply with different laws and regulations in various countries and you'll need legal experts to ensure translations are accurate and within your best interest.

Apart from common norms, you also have to worry about business legalities, like:

  • Establishing an entity across seas (if you're selling in another country, you're liable to pay taxes and file registration documents).
  • Hiring contractors and employees (countries like the UK have similar laws about categorizing workers as employees).
  • Using stock options to pay employees (check local tax laws to see if there's a large tax bill attached).
  • Registering intellectual property (register your trademarks, patents, and design rights in each market you operate in to protect them).
  • Localizing terms of service and sales contracts (translate all legal documents to the local language to avoid complaints, leading to unfavorable terms).
  • Acquiring a foreign business (get help from a local expert to review contracts and localize.
  • Paying taxes (get tax structuring advice to minimize tax obligations).
  • Protecting data (data protection laws are strict in the EU, so be sure to follow local rules for receipt, use, and retention and always get consent).
  • Renting or buying real estate (tenant obligations vary globally, so understand your responsibilities and rights while operating in the space and once you depart).
  • Entering disputes (understand local dispute resolution procedures and arbitration options to avoid litigation).

Step 13. Testing

Goal: Guarantee positive user experience

You've covered all the subtleties of your brand and product design. How confident are you that everything will run smoothly? Don't wait until launch day to find out. Test your apps, websites, ads, and other marketing materials to ensure it works.

Your teams should consistently test layouts on different devices. But don't stop there—enlist the help of locals. Include them in experiments to offer a fresh pair of eyes and feedback on things you overlooked.

Determine whether your team will do this along the way or wait until the end to perform testing in one go. Each comes with its pros and cons.

For example, parallel testing:

  • Finds and resolves problems right away
  • Slows down progress, since teams have to cater to problems before moving on
  • Keeps your team agile to make changes on the fly

Then testing after development:

  • Keeps team focused on the project, not fixes
  • Delays project if there are a lot of changes to make
  • Wastes time and money spent on doing major overhauls of design and translations

Localization strategies to learn from

Below you'll find the examples of localization strategies that had an overwhelming success.

Netflix localization strategy

In 2010, Netflix was only limited to the American audience. And now, it is available in more than 190 countries in 30 languages. The key to its global success is its localization strategy.

Netflix localization

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The following are the steps that Netflix took to connect with a global audience and keep existing members engaged.

Market conditions research

Netflix begins its localization process by analyzing data to determine which countries are potential markets for its service. Instead of going too thin, they targeted specific regions. It then looks at the cultural preferences of these countries and creates content that appeals to their interests. For example, in Japan, Netflix offers a range of anime titles that are popular with Japanese audiences.

Breaking down the language barrier

Netflix translates its content into the local languages of its target countries, ensuring that viewers can understand the dialogue and enjoy the film or show without subtitles. For this purpose, they dub the content by employing voice actors who can speak the local language. Dubbing provides a more immersive experience for viewers and makes it more likely that they will continue using Netflix.

Creating local versions of the website and applications

Netflix designs its website and app interface using a "pseudo localization strategy" specifically for each market it operates in to allow users in different countries to navigate the site and app in their language and access localized content easily.

Launching partnership programs with local companies

The company's localization strategy has been particularly effective in Asia. In China, for example, Netflix partnered with Baidu and other local companies to offer a localized version of its service. As a result, they could gain a foothold in the Chinese market.

Similarly, in India, Netflix partnered with Reliance Jio to offer an affordable mobile-only plan that has helped the company attract new subscribers.

Generating original content

After its expansion into different regions of the world, Netflix steps into the field of generating original content. They partner with local producers to produce region-specific content. Blockbuster programs, like Money Heist, Game of Thrones, and Squid Games, cater to local and international audiences.

Coca-Cola localization strategy

Localization is crucial to any international business strategy, and Coca-Cola saw the opportunity. With this strategy, Coca-Cola sells about 2 million drinks every day. Here are the key steps Coca-Cola took to localize to reach every corner of the world.

Coca cola localization

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Increasing localized products to their services

Based on market research of local consumers, Coca-Cola develops products tailored to meet each market's specific needs. For example, in China, the company offers a range of herbal tea drinks that are popular with consumers.

Another example of introducing localized products by Coca-Cola was in India, where they launched a grape-based sparkling drink in one of the Indian states, Tamil Nadu, where it has been widely popular.

Developing localized marketing campaigns

To maximize reach and impact, Coca-Cola adapts its marketing campaigns to fit each market's local culture and language.

For example, the company started a "Share the Coke" campaign in 2013 to engage its customers and build an emotional connection. The idea behind this campaign was to urge the audience to share a coke with friends by their common names, i.e., Sarah, Jack, and John, on each label instead of writing the company name. The same strategy proved to be successful and was adopted all over the world.

An example of customer compliance was the step-up by Coke in China. Chinese people don't like to call each other by their first names. Coca-Cola changed its technique to match by using phrases like "share with classmates" or "share with your best friend."

Moreover, Coca-Cola also uses local TV stars or famous personalities to create their influence for marketing campaigns.

Partnering with local businesses

Partnership with local businesses on celebratory occasions is an effective strategy businesses employ to increase their participation in other countries.

We can see this approach in Coca-Cola's localization strategy as well.

For instance, in India, cricket events are hugely celebrated events. To show presence during these events, Coca-Cola partnered with cricket teams. The company employed a similar strategy in China and has worked with the Beijing Winter Olympics to reach Chinese audiences.

Moreover, producing musical shows like Coke Studio in regions like South Asia and Africa is also part of their localization strategy.

To summarize

Localizing a product and brand is only as great as your planning and execution. This guide has walked you through each step of developing a strong localization strategy to empower your business. So here's just a quick summary of the things to keep in mind when you start:

  • a thorough market and audience research will equip you with the data to build on
  • your strategy is only efficient if you know how to measure its efficiency
  • the right localization partner can replace a dozen of tools and suppliers

We hope you enjoyed this article and will use it to conquer the global market.

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Daria Andronova
Daria Andronova Content Expert at Smartcat