A marketer's honest guide to localisation

Localised messaging matters — and consumer testing before launching is the key to nailing it.

Beth Owens
April 3, 2024

There are few campaigns more iconic in the United States than the early 90s ‘Got Milk?’ commercials. But less talked about is the initial Spanish version of the campaign that targeted local Latino communities.

Why? The response was… less than enthusiastic.

Not only did the direct translation ‘Are you lactating?’ Have VERY different connotations to the English version. The implication that Latina mothers were failing to nourish their children was deeply offensive to such a family-centric culture.

Luckily for the California Milk Processing Board (CMPB) this misalignment in brand messaging was caught before the actual launch, thanks to market testing and collaboration with local brand experts. 

The lesson? Localised messaging matters — and consumer testing before launching is the key to nailing it.

What is localisation (and how does it make your marketing more effective?)

Marketing localisation is when a business adjusts its content and branding to appeal to a different target market. This includes elements such as product selection, messaging, creative, or packaging design, just to name a few.

By putting the consumer first and understanding what drives their purchasing decisions (and testing accordingly!) you can ensure that your messaging/product is tailored to that audience.

In some cases, localisation can be as simple as translating your tagline and packaging to be understood by consumers who speak another language. But as the ‘Got Milk?’ example shows, successfully localising your marketing approach usually demands a deep understanding of the social and cultural norms of that particular market.

What do consumers in that market care about? Are there any unmet needs that your brand can target? How do those consumers shop? How does this align (or perhaps not align) with your current positioning?

Market localisation demands answers to all of the above–and more.

Localisation will make or break success in a new market

You know that feeling when a brand really ‘gets’ you? If that brand hails from elsewhere, this is most likely the product of a kickass localisation strategy. 

Understanding those subtle cultural nuances helps you to develop a better rapport with your target audience, which in turn leads to stronger engagement.

But when done poorly (or worse, not at all) localisation is embarrassing at best–and catastrophic at worst.

Starbucks offers a cautionary tale of what happens when brands don’t do their homework before expanding into a new market. Their launch into Germany inspired plenty of ridicule in local media, thanks to an embarrassing (and easily avoidable) translation error. 

Although latte is understood to refer to coffee and milk in most European and English-speaking markets, it translates to ‘pole’ in German. But thanks to the *ahem* symbolism, the word ‘latte’ is also used as a slang term for…male parts. #awkward

Starbucks got off pretty lightly in this scenario, as Germans saw the funny side and embraced ordering their lattes ‘to go.’ 😂 But in most cases, poor localisation will lead to campaign flops, failed rebrands, or offended locals–all of which is tough for a brand to recover from. 

Pro tip: Stickybeak allows you to test your creative and messaging anywhere in the world (yes, really!). How? Choose from over 200 geographies. What’s more, our language feature adapts to respondents’ default browser language, so you can avoid any embarrassing linguistic faux pas and cater for countries where there are several languages spoken!

How to (effectively) localise your brand’s marketing 

Do your homework and test your assumptions

If your initial response to the above is “Well, obviously!” then congrats–you’re already a better marketer than most! 

It’s shockingly common for brands to attempt a rinse-and-repeat of their existing approach without testing its relevance in a new market. Sometimes, this is due to budget constraints. But more often, it’s thanks to preconceived ideas about how certain ideas/concepts will be received by another audience. 

As the Starbucks debacle shows, assumptions are dangerous in marketing. Taking it for granted that ‘of course consumers know what X means!’ sets the stage for a PR nightmare.

This means you need to do some groundwork before any serious campaign planning is underway: What audience is your business trying to target, and why? Is there a large enough captive audience to make market expansion worthwhile? Who are your key competitors in that market, and what qualities/messaging can you leverage to differentiate yourself?

This is where consumer testing offers a brilliant temperature check to see whether your team’s assumptions about a new market hold up. By testing early and often, you will get a firm sense of what your business needs to localise (and why).

And this brings us to the fun part:

Get boots on the ground

You can’t get to grips with what makes a market tick if you don’t experience it firsthand. Immersing yourself in the local culture, customs, and industry landscape won’t just add colour and context to your understanding of the market; it will probably spark fresh campaign ideas that you never would have thought of otherwise!

Talk to locals 

By engaging with local consumers, you can understand which cultural nuances or preferences are most relevant to the product you’re trying to market. You can zero in on their shopping habits, unique pain points, and preferred channels–all of which shape how marketing messages are received by that audience. 

Most importantly, you can get those unvarnished reactions to your brand positioning and value proposition; how does your business stand out from other players in that region? Does your current messaging reflect this, or do you need to consider a slightly different angle?

In the age of the web, it’s also never been easier for marketers to reach local consumers right where they are. Stickybeak even recruits consumers via social media, which is especially handy if you’re dedicating a big share of your marketing budget to these platforms.

Consider working with a local agency

Even with dedicated on-the-ground sleuthing, it’s tough to replicate the experience that a local creative or advertising agency brings to the table. As locals themselves, they know how to craft creative and messaging that resonates. Plus, they can also provide a bit of a temperature check on your current brand collateral and see whether anything needs adapting.

Test, test, test!

Following these best practices can be challenging, and it isn’t always possible or practical to get on the ground in every new market.

Focused consumer testing can further help ensure you resonate in new markets, it's also convenient and cost-effective. Trying out the collateral you plan to use in your launch means you can see whether your planned localisation strategy holds water. You can even compare responses between your home market and others, allowing you to see where designs or messaging need to be ‘shifted and lifted’ to find that sweet spot.

Best of all, this doesn’t have to cost the earth or take weeks to get results. Stickybeak offers a range of awesome templates built by markers, for marketers, so you can get local audience feedback within just a few days–no lengthy focus groups required!


At Stickybeak, we offer a fully DIY testing solution for the busy everyday marketer. Leverage our templates to start marketing localisation testing with fun, gamified surveys that help you avoid any gaffes at your next big launch. 

No matter what creative you need to test (packaging design, logo, or marketing claims) Stickybeak can help you reach an audience segment virtually anywhere in the world. With 200+ geographies to choose from, you can get as granular as you like in pursuit of that ‘truthier truth’ – all you need to do is get started! 

"Stickybeak allowed us to quickly and cost-effectively test our brand messaging in six future markets for Zespri. I found the platform intuitive to use, and found the chat-like interface an engaging and different way to gather consumer insights." Denise Zhuang, Global Market Research Manager.

Find out more about how Zespri successfully localised its messaging using Stickybeak.


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