Many marketers take their time when translating their website and collateral, such as brochures, webinars, or online videos. Those marketers are confident that English is "the language of business" and that, even if the product is available internationally, English-only digital properties will be enough to convince prospects to evaluate it.

Studies beg to differ.

According to a report titled "Can't Read, Won't Buy," research firm Common Sense Advisory found that 75% of customers prefer to purchase products in their own language. So if a competitor has translated some collateral and you haven't, you're already at a disadvantage.

The advantages of a localized website are obvious, but there's something else that's routinely getting ignored: the importance of localized mobile advertising.

As companies are still trying to develop their mobile advertising strategies, customers have already adopted mobile as the primary way of accessing the Internet. A study from InMobi discovered that global customers use their phones mostly (37%) or exclusively (23%) online.

That presents an enormous opportunity for businesses that translate and tailor their mobile content for local audiences.

Benefits of Localized Mobile Advertising

Mobile user acquisition firm Appia conducted a study about the benefits of localizing mobile ads to serve different regions (specifically, Germany, Spain, and France). The company ran controlled tests of mobile ads that were both localized and in English across those three markets. The ads were distributed across Appia's network at the same time, and traffic was served evenly, based on real-time visits to a mobile app or website.

The results were telling: 86% of the localized campaigns outperformed the English campaigns in both click-throughs and conversions. The average click-through rate for the English campaign was 2.35%, with a conversion rate of 7.47%. Meanwhile, local ads had a click-through rate of 3.34%, with a conversion rate of 9.08%.

Clearly, localized copy and creative resonate with customers and prospects, and they can have a big impact on the bottom line.

Mobile, though, is a tricky medium. Businesses should build out personas for each of their potential customer types first, then work to establish what messages will work best.

And then, businesses have to take into account SoLoMo.


There's a popular acronym among mobile marketers today: SoLoMo (social-local-mobile). When you're planning an international campaign, though, the local part of SoLoMo should mean localized rather than local. Appia finds that native language use can significantly improve click-through and conversion rates.

Imagine what further localization efforts can do.

In Japan, McDonald's runs mobile marketing campaigns that are customized for the customer, with ads and coupon offers geared toward previous purchases, age, and location. Tailoring mobile ads may even mean taking different dialects into account. For example, in China and the Philippines, there are dozens of dialects. An ad that's localized but sent to a part of the market where customers speak a different dialect can be rendered ineffective.

Likewise, businesses have to think carefully about the differences between markets that speak the same language. Spanish, for example, may be spoken in Spain and Latin America, but cultural differences need to be taken into account due to regional differences across Latin American countries. Those differences may affect tone, vocabulary, and even color schemes.

The creative ad itself—for example, a banner or video—will need to be built from the ground up with localization in mind. Mobile ads already have very little room for graphics and text, which means every letter counts. English-language creative may fit neatly within one box, but the same translated copy might be cut off, leaving an incomplete and unprofessional-looking ad.

Experiment with the translated copy before sending an ad out, so that you can be sure both the native and localized versions have the look and feel of the brand. The same goes for any kind of video.

Subtitles can be a cheaper option, but they may not stay in sync with the footage, especially in the short, flashy videos familiar to a mobile environment. Instead, companies should find a way to have voice actors dub the video in the market's local language.

A New Environment Equals New Opportunities

The opportunities presented by mobile marketing are still just emerging, but consumers have already migrated there, dedicating most of their time online using their smartphones and tablets.

The mobile environment is different from traditional online or print outlets, demanding concise and brief ads that could be wholly different from a company's traditional marketing tactics.

Mobile habits differ from user to user and country to country. The things and experiences customers expect can vary wildly, depending on their location. The good news is, however, that most of this data can be accessible through analytics tools.

A company that harnesses all this new information and makes the most of the mobile environment will be one that localizes content for country, culture, and customer—in real time. Appia's study has shown the enormous revenue potential for localized mobile ads. When context is thrown into the mix, business opportunities will grow exponentially.

While the mobile marketing gold rush is happening, there's been surprisingly little on what that will mean for international marketing campaigns... or the lack thereof. Localized mobile ads is a brave new world, and the businesses that experiment with how to best connect with mobile users will have a great head start as this environment continues to evolve.

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image of Françoise  Henderson

Françoise Henderson is the co-founder and CEO of global language service provider Rubric. She has more than 20 years of experience in localization, and she serves as an adviser to nonprofit organization Translators Without Borders.

LinkedIn: Francoise Henderson

Twitter: @rubricfrancoise