In conversation with Theresa Hein, Babbel’s Head of Creative Localization: Leveraging data-driven creativity & localization for global marketing success

Need translations? Try Smartcat for free!

Localization, the art of adapting content for diverse markets around the world, has become essential for any brand looking to reach a global audience. More than simple translation, localization involves a balance of creativity and data insights for results that captivate customers wherever they are.

To learn more about how top-performing brands meet this challenge, we sat down with Theresa Hein, Head of Creative Localization at language learning company Babbel. With a background in translation and conference interpreting, Theresa now spearheads Babbel’s localization strategy and shares her insights on how to achieve success with creative localization.

Introducing Theresa Hein

Q: Thank you for joining us, Theresa. To start us off, please tell us a little bit about your role at Babbel.

A: It’s a pleasure to be here! So, I’ve been at Babbel for almost five years now. I joined as a team lead, and actually, it’s still the same team, but we navigated through some different team structures and responsibilities before transitioning into a role focused on creative localization. Originally, the team was called Wording and Translations and focused mostly on localization, but it gradually evolved to incorporate more creative marketing elements, such as ideation and copywriting. Collaborating closely with designers and video editors, we now contribute to all stages of marketing campaigns, tailoring content for global or localized needs.

Before Babbel, my studies were translation and conference interpreting, and my experience was in various areas of the localization industry. To adapt to Babbel's marketing landscape, the team and I added a lot of creative marketing knowledge to our profile, gaining an understanding of diverse channels as well as the nuances of diverse channels from organic to paid and offline as well as creative copywriting.

The responsibilities of a creative localization lead

Q: That’s an interesting transition, and it’s great that you can handle both aspects of it. And now that you are Head of Creative Localization, have you noticed a shift in your responsibilities?

Since I started this position in November, there’s been a shift to a more strategic focus. We became more professionalized and incorporated localization managers into our team last year.

As the company expanded, my responsibilities included oversight of localization strategy and tooling— our recent launch of Smartcat was a big project of mine.

Additionally, I've been tasked with extending these initiatives beyond our team to the wider company, fostering a network of knowledge exchange to share best practices, processes, and KPIs across Babbel's localization efforts.

The importance of creative localization for global business needs?

Q: So, what is creative localization, exactly, and why is it an important business need?

A: Well, specifically for us at Babbel, it applies to any localization processes in the “creative” or “marketing” space. As a team, we’re involved from beginning to end, thinking about adapting content to specific markets, even if it starts as a global campaign.

Fundamentally, creative localization involves adapting marketing content to resonate with diverse cultural and linguistic audiences while maintaining its creative essence. It's crucial for businesses as it ensures cultural relevance, fosters a stronger emotional connection with the audience, and enables market expansion by tailoring content for local preferences.

That way, you avoid misunderstanding and enhance the brand perception. It helps drive scaling and revenue, which are very important at the end of the line.

Last year, for instance, we launched into several new markets, including French Canada, and we also did a kind of relaunch in Brazil and the Spanish-speaking Americas with our new strategy. If you have creative localization experts involved in that from the beginning, you bring that cultural understanding into the marketing process from the get-go.

The key to success in global localization and marketing

Q: Speaking of experts, how does your team get the intel to localize it? What do you do when the campaign targets a new market, like with French Canada or Brazil?

A: I would say that localization teams, in general, are known for being very well-connected and good networkers within any company that I know. A lot of intel gathering is just keeping your ear to the ground and maintaining connections to other teams. For example, the customer service team always has many insights on what matters to your consumers, their preferences, and what doesn't work for them. Babbel learners are quite vocal in their feedback, and that’s great. If they don’t agree with a certain phrasing, they always write to us and ask why we wrote something a certain way.

As well as customer service, it’s important to liaise with any marketing insights or analytics team in the company, keep up to date with trends, join in on customer interviews, and so on. And a lot of it is also just social listening, being in touch with what's going on in the market you write for.

Q: And how is the combination of creative and localization a recipe for success for go-to-market or ongoing campaigns? Do you have any dos and don’ts to share?

A: Combining creativity with localization ensures campaigns resonate with local audiences, boosting engagement and driving better campaign performance. This approach, which involves thinking globally and locally simultaneously, leads to collaboration within teams and ensures creative consistency across languages, preserving brand identity in all your markets.

As far as dos and don'ts go, it’s most important to maintain consistency, so we create glossaries and style guides that are part of the basic toolkit for any writer. We work with quite a lot of freelancers, especially when it comes to new markets, so we need to make sure to onboard them thoroughly on the brand voice—how we talk about our product, the names of our features, and so on.

It’s a balancing act. On the one hand, we use tools like glossaries for consistency and control, but we always look for people who have that creative localization profile and make sure to give them the freedom to adapt source copy to the target market and make it sound natural, which leads to better campaign performance.

Inclusive language is also super important for us. Then there’s quality assurance, as well as always having in-house proofreaders, especially at the beginning of the critical launch phase when not everybody is used to working with us and our style yet.

Implementing data-driven creative

Q: How can localization teams set up systems to implement more data and marketing-driven creativity?

A: As I mentioned, localization teams should keep close connections with marketing and research teams to integrate market research and customer data to inform localization decisions. Every marketing team has the KPIs they are focused on, metrics like engagement or sales.

In my experience, A/B testing is invaluable as it allows for a nuanced understanding of performance, considering factors like copy, design, video, budget, and target audience. Isolating variables through tests provides useful insights to inform strategic decisions and optimize outcomes.

Q: Can you tell us about a recent campaign that you worked on where you were proud of the achieved outcomes?

We've had some very successful organic campaigns recently, working closely with the organic social team on our local Instagram and Facebook accounts. We used to have a global social approach, but since we decided to focus on local accounts, that's been very successful. We've had several videos go viral and create lots of engagement, proving that this local strategy resonates with consumers.

For example, something that's always very popular is speaking to Germans about their native language—we have videos about how romance languages have more or less the same word, but German is always the odd one out—things like that are very popular. Every language group appreciates that kind of humorous look at its quirks.

Localization workflows for marketing teams

Q: How can marketing teams include localization in their workflows, even without a dedicated localization team?

A: Luckily, this isn’t the case at Babbel, but I appreciate that it can be a challenge for startups and smaller companies, who may have just one person who can take on localization duties. Definitely start with training in the basics, like what is localization or transcreation, and the importance of cultural sensitivity. The knowledge-sharing could come from internal staff who may be in a different role—marketing or product staff usually have some awareness of localization—or by inviting an external expert to run the training sessions.

I also encourage the adoption of specialist technology as soon as you can. Use a translation platform that can also incorporate sourcing of freelancers and language experts—this will save a lot of time. Get a dedicated project management platform to help organize collaborations between teams. Set up global templates, glossaries, and style guides to define localization guidelines so that you’re not starting from scratch with every campaign, and you’ll start seeing many efficiency gains.

The professional skills needed to succeed in global marketing

Q: On a more personal note, how has your experience allowed you to lead the way in your new Head of Creative Localization role? What hard and soft skills allowed you to get there?

A: Sure. Apart from the background I mentioned at the start of the interview, I also did a mini-MBA in Marketing and Brand as well as several trainings on Leadership in the creative space. That really helped me develop the soft skills around communicating with stakeholders and understanding what’s important to them. Working closely with all of our marketing channels, I got to know the lingo in terms of KPIs, channels, and so on.

Although my multilingual proficiency started me on the path to my position, I would say that copywriting and technical proficiency with localization IT tools are hard skills that are more important now, especially as localization specialists are working more with AI.

The role of AI in creative localization

Q: What role does AI play in your work, and what advice would you give industry peers?

A: AI is starting to play a more significant role in the localization industry, but with my team and peers, the reaction to generative AI has been calmer and more “welcoming” than in other areas. I would say this is because machine translation has been around for years now, and we have had the experience of learning to adapt to technology in the past.

The same will be true with AI: We need to specialize even more and use the technology to our advantage. I see big opportunities for localization professionals as they already bring technical knowledge to the table and are highly adaptable—now it requires learning and, most of all, lots of testing.

AI aids in automating repetitive tasks, testing, providing data insights, ideation, and content creation. That gives localization professionals more space to focus on creativity. Staying current and embracing AI's evolving role in localization is essential. Despite challenges, AI presents significant opportunities for localization professionals to specialize and adapt to new technologies.

Future trends in localization and marketing

Q: Our final question. What future trends do you see in localization and marketing?

A: Well, AI is going to continue to develop as a trend, becoming more specialized. For example, as well as ChatGPT-style generative text, tools for video localization that can automate voiceovers, subtitles, and dubbing are emerging. Video is becoming a more important medium for brands, and it used to be highly work-intensive.

Now, AI makes it easier to achieve faster, almost real-time localization. Still, teams need to be actively learning how to tailor the content and make it SEO-friendly and more personalized to the target audience. It’s a fine balance between automation and maintaining the human touch to ensure cultural relevance and emotional connection with the audience.

Q: Thank you Theresa for these great insights!