Ecommerce Club lunch: Tribal behaviour makes localisation a must

It’s an old saying that you never get a second chance to make a first impression, so every brand has got to make the most of that chance. And if a brand is planning international expansion, that chance can be the difference between success and failure.

At the latest Ecommerce Club members lunch in March 2015, John Sellwood, head of new business and Joe Doveton, head of conversion, at Oban Digital shared their experience of the impact of understanding culture, and tribal rules, on brand audience and behaviour.

Tribal behaviour is a concept that goes far beyond nationality, or a recognition that customers want to be spoken to in their own language, rather it’s about understanding details of how audiences behave in different environments. It’s about sentiment, semantics and context, as well preferred payment methods, the impact and use of different alphabets – such as Cyrillic, Arabic, Latin or Hebrew – whether certain scripts are read vertically or horizontally and more.

No one denies the importance of language. A number of brands at the Working Lunch reported problems in translations, especially when copy is translated through more than one language. The challenge can be such that it prevents international rollouts, a potentially critical problem when looking for rapid market expansion.

Even for those brands who can afford good translators however, things can easily go wrong. One of the most famous legends is of Pepsi’s “Brings you back to life’ campaign in China, where the tag line translated as ‘Pepsi brings your ancestors back to life’. While ancestors may be respected in Chinese culture, no one exactly wants them coming round for a drink!

The key to successful localisation is to understand bias, or the specific intent of the audience. And that’s where brands need to understand tribal behaviour. A 14 year old Japanese One Direction fan is a member of at least three tribes – Japanese, teenager, One Direction fan – and every brand needs to know how to speak to the tribes they want to reach. Brand personas will help marketers to refine that message, but it is tribal behaviour that affects search bias.

goat herders

Which tribe do they belong to? Are they Mongolian – or are they goat-herders – or are they Apple fans? Deciding who you’re really communicating with can help define a successful growth strategy.

Another example of how tribe can impact behaviour can be seen in analysis of how people search for football kit. For a start, most people search for a particular club’s kit, but analysis of search terms has shown that different searchers respond to different emphases. The Arsenal tribe for example tends to search around fashion and trends, unusual kit etc, while the Liverpool tribe is more likely to respond to history, and Manchester United buyers are mostly driven by elements around children and cheap. If you want to speak to your tribe, you need to understand what drives them.

Of course localisation is a huge issue, and one that can’t be tackled in a lunchtime. But Oban Digital offered 6 top tips for understanding how to communicate in an increasing globalised world:

1          Language

Translation doesn’t work. Localize. Or rather, Localise.

It’s important to understand how people in a market (not just a language) talk about a problem, search or solution. It is audience intent that matters, not what you expect. In a home market an educated guess has a good chance of being right. Elsewhere, not so much.

Remember the importance of context. Colgate famously launched a toothpaste in France under the brand name Cue…which unfortunately meant this family brand shared a name with a rather notorious French porn mag.

2          Colours

Remember these mean different things in different countries.

Red: In the UK and Germany red represents danger. In China it means lucky, while in Russia it means beauty and in France it’s usually just how prices are made to stand out on a web page.

Green: In the UK and Europe it means go. In Latin America it’s the colour of mourning while in China it can represent infidelity.

It’s critical to understand the subliminal messages you send to your audience. If you’re planning in expanding into Holland however, it’s worth knowing that everyone there seems to love orange…

3          Space (the use of)

Most site developers in the UK tend towards the clean, clear and simple approach. But this is another cultural construct. Many Asian sites are text heavy, long and scroll down – a completely different design aesthetic but one that is culturally appropriate.

Every brand also needs to think about its pages in different languages. When an alphabet is read from right to left, instead of left to right, that can be fairly straightforward to change. But how to deal with the fact that some Chinese characters have upward of 40 brush strokes in them and font size must increase if they’re to be readable? Or that the English has only 26 characters and simplified Chinese has upwards of 4000? Those pages are going to look very different.

4          Context and tone

Think about audience intent. English has become internationalised, so if someone wants to describe a selfie, they’ll use that same term in the UK, Germany, France and more. This is really important when marketers start to look at search marketing keywords, as brands could be buying the wrong words in different territories.

And do you know where it’s best to offer customers a Free Quote, Request Quote or a Get Quote button? (In order it’s Australia, China and the US and UK, as a matter of fact). These simple elements can have a huge impact on a site’s success and impact.

5          Approaches to money

Think about how the customer expects to spend their money. In the UK people are happy with debit and credit cards, but in Germany most want to pay on receipt of invoice.

It’s not just a question of easing the customer’s path though, different payment mechanisms can have a direct impact on levels and costs of returns.

6          Use of technology

Think about the market and its infrastructure. Complicated, rich media sites won’t work where broadband is minimal or slow. In China, the majority of sites work best in IE6 (I know). In Africa, optimise for M-Pesa, as most transactions are done via mobile phone.

What all these tips boil down to is one thing and one thing only. It’s what most brands claim to do, but the hardest thing to achieve. Remember that it’s not about a language it’s about people. Put people at the heart of your research, remember to test everything and your brand might just be ready for the next level.


PS: For a quick laugh, take a look at some of the biggest translation fails in marketing history