When looking at localization vs. standardization, which you choose depends on the answer to the following question: Are you looking for maximum market share, or are you interested in ensuring high-quality brand consistency within each market you enter? There’s no wrong answer. In fact, the best global expansion strategies are usually a combination of the two. It’s a bit like people’s motivation for going to the gym—some choose to practice cardio and yoga to become faster or more flexible; others go all-in on weightlifting to define muscles and participate in bodybuilding competitions. Both are routes to better health, but each has different goals.
Standardization ensures high-quality content and brand consistency in every single market. On the other hand, a localization strategy centers on approaching each market at an individual level. Both are global approaches that can benefit a company, but each may not be best suited for certain kinds of business.
Localization vs. Standardization: Comparing the Two
Comparing standardization vs. localization is best broken down by looking at two different kinds of companies—the massive conglomerate and the small startup.
Company A Using Localization
This type of company intends to become a major global force and has the funds to manage it. They may target 20 different languages to only succeed in 10, but to them, growth is what makes the return on investment (ROI) worth it. They typically choose to take a hyperlocal approach, which increases their chance of success in a single market, but will make brand governability a challenge later on.
Harley Davidson is an excellent example of this type of company. In the U.S., much of its marketing collateral centers on American culture. However, if you view the brand in Brazil, you’ll see it targets more affluent motorcycle riders. The company adapts its strategies for every single market. While this is challenging to manage, it’s possible because Harley has the resources to control it.
Company B Using Standardization
This type of company is a small startup with limited funding. When they approach growth, it needs to be scalable so they can ensure revenue remains constant in every market they enter. This company will target a global strategy that allows their brand to slowly grow into new markets using its existing marketing campaign as a base.
A small app provider who wants to expand their mobile game into a new market would be an excellent example of this. They’ll likely stay consistent with their marketing and adapt their content for new users based on their existing material. Then, they’ll leverage user feedback to make improvements specific to that market. Only when that campaign yields strong performance results will they move on to another.
Regardless of which approach you take, you have to consider whether your product is mature enough to approach new markets or whether it requires updates. We can use our own history as an example here. When Bureau Works started, we were a translation agency run out of Brazil. When we decided to expand into the U.S., we realized a lot of our Brazilian offerings wouldn’t resonate here. We found that one of our most prominent features in the U.S. became the platform we use to translate. Today, we market a product that doesn’t exist at all in Brazil because of what we learned while localizing our company. A secondary market became our primary market, and a tool we use to offer services turned into our main selling point.
Choosing the Best Path for Your Company
When it comes to choosing between localization vs. standardization, you need to consider the long-term impact. In ten years would you rather be operating strongly in seven markets with a consistent, easy-to-control message? Or do you want a presence in 100 markets, knowing that you’ll need adequate resources to juggle that many disparate campaigns? The first strategy (standardization) yields an ROI centered on revenue. The second (localization) yields an ROI focused on maximum growth. Combining components of the two strategies that fulfill your company’s needs will ultimately yield a satisfying ROI, delivering both revenue and growth.
One thing you don’t want to rely too heavily on is your brand’s name recognition. Many big companies have approached the global marketplace with the assumption that their name recognition was strong enough to drive their campaigns. An excellent example of this comes from Walmart when they attempted to sell baseball bats in Brazil just like they would in the U.S. While Brazil is an ideal consumer base that’s focused on value—a perfect fit for Walmart’s demographic —what the company overlooked was the appeal of baseball in the country. As a result, baseball bats sat on Brazilian Walmart shelves. Even with the American name recognition, they just couldn’t convince a foreign consumer base to adopt something so far out of their comfort zone. This example holds a powerful lesson to all those considering standardization—although the strategy thrives on brand preservation and consistency across all markets, the approach still needs to be thoughtful and mindful of the cultural differences that impact the marketplace.
No matter what decision you come to at the end of a standardization vs. localization comparison, if you want to go global, you’re going to need a robust localization management platform to control your message and manage all the moving parts of your campaign. Using an end-to-end solution allows you to monitor data and view your projects in a centralized space, making it easier to identify opportunities for cost-savings and create efficiencies. Standardization and localization may have different goals, but they’re both much more achievable by leveraging the right technology solutions.