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We’re nothing if not resourceful in the UK. While high street sales may be dropping, a number of UK-based retailers are marketing themselves abroad, yet keeping the business (and product fulfilment) on UK shores.

Scottish brand Lyle & Scott, for example, has expanding markets in France, Germany and Sweden through e-commerce sites designed for those markets, while managing the business from its home in Selkirk.

The ease and comfort with which people shop online, of course, makes this possible. But marketing a brand across regions, cultures and different languages requires more than direct translation of your e-commerce site.

It needs to appeal to markets with varying linguistic quirks, tastes and cultural sensitivities. Sometimes, that means conveying the sense of a brand online, rather than relying on a word-for-word translation of the original website, a process known as ‘transcreation’.
Some of the biggest brands in the world have got it wrong (remember Coors’ ‘Turn it loose’ slogan, which roughly translated as ‘get diarrhoea’ in Spanish?).

The result of using transcreation, rather than simply translation, is a global brand that has local appeal. A truly international brand’s ecommerce site will elicit the same emotive response from consumers the world over – to want to interact, engage, sign up, donate or buy - over any need to stick rigidly to a corporate strapline or colour palette.

Cosmetics site Lush, is a great example of a brand that is recognisable across all its international sites, yet has a slightly different look and feel to localise the brand in international markets, and to appeal to different regional tastes. (Compare Lush Cosmetics’ Korean site to its US site to see what I mean.)

Lush Korea: 

Lush US: 

There are some simple rules to follow if you’re planning to market an e-commerce business abroad:

  • Think about how your brand name will travel internationally, and make sure it isn’t slang for something else in another market. 
  • Don’t assume a direct translation of your website is enough. Use colloquial language that fits with the local style and sounds natural, not stilted. 
  • Don’t just translate the text of your site. Adapt things like images, colours, graphics and themes to suit different cultures, while keeping the ‘feel’ of the original. Each country or region will have different cultural points of reference. 
  • Use different creative in your online ads and PPC campaigns for different regions, using images, stories, personalities, music, visuals, or themes to resonate with each audience. Make sure the landing page of your website is as locally relevant as the ad that took the consumer to it. 
  • Be prepared to adapt your strapline. You probably won’t have to do this in every market, but you almost certainly will in some. (If it’s good enough for Coca Cola…) 
  • Above all, get into the head of your ideal customer in each market. Nothing beats local knowledge. 

Any I’ve missed? I’d be really interested to hear from anyone with an experience – good or bad – or running an e-commerce site internationally, from the UK.

Patrick Eve

Published 28 March, 2012 by Patrick Eve

Patrick Eve is CEO at TranslateMedia and a contributor to Econsultancy.

7 more posts from this author

Comments (9)

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Great post Patrick, I think you cover some really useful points here. One thing I would add is that capturing and maintaining accurate address details is a lot more difficult for companies operating internationally than for those operating solely in one country.

All the problems and inconsistencies inherent to one address dataset, language, and one culture, become multiplied, making an already difficult task seem like mission impossible. And with the cost of international postage to contend with, the price of getting it wrong can be amplified tenfold. One way to avoid could be to use international address validation to ensure that all addresses are captured accurately at the point of entry.

almost 5 years ago

zac craven

zac craven, IT consultant at Zac Craven Ltd

@Natalie: good point. For the Address I came to the conclusion that it is better to avoid splitting to multiple fields unless you absolutely have to for some reason (e.g. take some action depending on user country). Just ask them for the
Address as one long text field. Same with Name.

almost 5 years ago

Gerry Brown

Gerry Brown, Director at MIS Associates

Excellent post, Patrick. I guess it all adds up to what the marketing academics call "self-reference criterion" - avoid using the marketing / thinking / digital that you have applied to your own native home base as the reference for what you do abroad.

almost 5 years ago

Gerry Brown

Gerry Brown, Director at MIS Associates

Excellent post, Patrick. I guess it all adds up to what the marketing academics call "self-reference criterion" - avoid using the marketing / thinking / digital that you have applied to your own native home base as the reference for what you do abroad.

almost 5 years ago



Natalie has hit the nail on the head here.

I've dealt with multiple companies with branding abroad, and besides the obvious linguistic and design alterations - the capturing of data becomes immediately more difficult, especially with addresses.

Capture+ from Postcode Anywhere covers this. Click my name to try it out - we use it with our clients and it's faultless.

almost 5 years ago


Ed Nash

Capture+ from Postcode Anywhere resolves any issues with capturing address data on an international level.


Unfortunately with literature and design, it's a very long process of research and checking and double checking everything.

I've seen menu translations in a variety of countries that have just got it so wrong. It can destroy a company or brand with relative ease.

almost 5 years ago

Paul Gailey

Paul Gailey, Marketing Consultant at Independent

One of the Lush UK products has a most unfortunate connotation for Spanish speakers http://www.flickr.com/photos/javic/191987517/

Perhaps for the same reason the Ford Pinto would not have had a buyer in Brazil in it's day.

almost 5 years ago

Patrick Eve

Patrick Eve, CEO at TranslateMedia

Excellent points. I would imagine it’s quite easy to make mistakes on addresses if you don’t have the local knowledge.

It’s also evident that brands that are generally good at working in international markets can make mistakes with product names – perhaps some assume that the brand is so widely recognised that transcreation isn’t a necessity?

almost 5 years ago

Marcela Plana

Marcela Plana, E-Marketing Consultant at Tarsis.net, S.L.

Wow, it would seem that we Spaniards are always looking for trouble... :-)

Very good post, Patrick. Not always what may be evident is so evident that everyone can articulate it as well as you have.

In our experience, it is true that a translation is not always enough. Not a direct translation, of course; but not even a good adapted translation for a standard language if the markets are still different.

For instance, when our customers are in the process of localising for a Spanish-speaking market, we would advise not to use the same text for Argentina, Mexico and Spain. Even when sharing the same language, some expressions may sound from familiar but not just quite right, to not natural, to weird, to plain unacceptable.

Regarding design, colour use and so forth, I doubt that the same colourful website would work as well in Portugal as in Brazil.

And as long as language shapes one's mind, how can it be the same if you read from left to right than from right to left or from top to bottom? I think this is an important issue usability-wise that would be worth exploring if you are going to tackle other markets.

over 4 years ago

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