How to localise your content without losing your voice

How to think global and write local while staying true to your brand and tone of voice

 How to localise your content without losing your voice

In today’s world of geo-targeting and always-on marketing, consumers are increasingly demanding locally relevant, personalised content. It’s key to creating genuine and meaningful connections with audiences, and essential to preventing blunders caused by misunderstanding cultural nuances. 

Just as McDonald’s tailors its menus to reflect the local tastes of its consumers around the world, you too should be thinking about how to give your content and messaging a local flavour. If you are a global brand, you can’t just create a one-size-fits-all strategy and reuse the same copy in every territory. Localisation needs to be a key part of your thinking.

All that may sound daunting, but with careful planning and guidance, localisation needn’t be hugely expensive or involve creating stand-alone content for each market. Done well, localisation can simply mean working out which parts of your existing global strategy will work best in any given territory – and making more of those elements. 

You can start by following these two surprisingly simple steps:

1. Define your minimum global copy standards

Before you even start thinking about reworking your copy for local audiences, take some time out to create a standardised set of content rules and brand guidelines. 

This might sound like a lot of work up front, but put the effort in and you will ultimately save time and money in the long run. 

With standardised rules in place, you won’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you want to repurpose a piece of content, and you’ll be able to stay on-brand and write with consistency in every market. After all, it’s always easier to translate copy if it’s well-written and consistent in the first place.

Fail to get these guidelines established, however, and you could end up with a bunch of articles that all look different, read different, and – crucially – have a different tone of voice. And that will make you look like a disorganised collection of franchises rather than a unified global business.

Your guidelines might include: 

  • general best practice for online copy (including how to structure short paragraphs, write meaningful headlines, create clear lists and so on)
  • advice on quality control and content governance processes
  • tips on standard content types, structure and length, and how to write for them (including templates for case studies, product pages, section landing pages, etc)
  • high-level communications guidance that applies throughout your organisation overall (including your brand values and tone of voice)
  • an editorial style guide to ensure consistency, covering things such as how you write dates and times and the correct ways to describe your company’s products

When you’ve got your basic guidelines sorted, share them with everyone in your company. It may also be useful to organise a programme of workshops or webinars to help embed the guidance across local teams.  

2. Flex your tone to fit the audience

There are many languages in the world, but you have only one tone of voice. How a local language expresses your core messages or tone of voice may vary significantly from territory to territory. 

One of your tonal values might be ‘friendly and familiar’, for instance, but the way in which language conveys a friendly and familiar tone in Arabic or Finnish, say, might on the face of it look quite different from ‘friendly and familiar’ in British English. Some cultures might find your ‘friendly’ tone too formal, while others might consider it unprofessional and overly casual. (There are significant such differences even between the many varieties of English spoken in the world.) 

The key thing to understand is that your tone of voice is not a set of language rules but a description of your brand’s verbal personality. Content localisers need to understand the spirit of your voice and use that as a framework for translating it in the way that works best in their language, which may at times look quite different from a superficial, literal translation. 

Ideally, your global tone of voice guidelines will illustrate how your voice works in different languages. To give your local writers extra guidance and control, create best-practice examples of how each tonal value sounds in each of your key territories. Better still, get them involved in creating the best-practice examples in the first place, and adding powerful new examples of on-brand content in the target language when they are created. 

You’ll still be speaking in your normal tone of voice, just in a way that resonates with the local way of doing business. And if you’ve standardised your copy rules as in tip #1, your localised copy should merge seamlessly with your global, standard copy too.