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.