in Globalization, Language & Culture

Cross-cultural branding is a tricky business, and it is never enough simply to know your own brand or product. Even in the seemingly universal world of sports, brand identity relies greatly on external perception, and companies in the sports industry must possess deep cultural understanding to enhance their targeting capabilities and avoid misrepresentations or even brand damage. As we continue to learn from example, it is unwise to use the same global branding strategy as an imported ‘copy and paste’ method for all markets, as targeted marketing campaigns with purposeful messaging are imperative for building positive brand perception, and ultimately increasing market share.

The global retailer giant Nike encountered this issue when they launched a video marketing campaign in Japan. The video, and Nike, received heavy backlash for importing overseas marketing norms and not tailoring content to meet the Japanese market. International brands must be acutely aware of the role they play and the influence they have in each market to optimize their local strategy and overall company image. Due to cultural differences by region, multinational companies must be aware of the weight of their marketing campaigns carry, which reflect company ideals and priorities, across various regions. While marketing campaigns may prove successful in one region, it may be received poorly in another and thus impact the company’s overall brand image.

Many global brands face challenges when directly importing marketing tactics to new markets, presenting a need for subject matter expertise and deep understanding of local norms when attempting to tailor content or products to overseas audiences. Tailoring marketing collateral based on local cultural knowledge and consumer behavior avoids creating tension between the enterprise and the consumer. Importing marketing campaigns that may have driven traffic in one country, may have the opposite effect in another, increasing the need for a nuanced approach to global branding, as noted in the Harvard Business Review. Customizing brand messaging to suit local audiences is of the utmost importance when operating on the global stage.

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It is crucial that marketing teams across the globe recognize the risk they take when cultural sensitivities are clearly ignored, especially when launching marketing collateral on social media platforms. In an article discussing the impact of the video, one viewer stated that, “if a foreigner demonstrates a deep understanding of Japanese culture or Japanese rules, then those same Japanese who would otherwise take offense, would gush forward with praise.” This is important because it clearly demonstrates the need for in-country localization linguist expertise, rather than imported marketing campaigns. Not only does tailored branding have the potential to enhance user or product experience and increase sales, but it also helps companies to avoid experiencing costly mishaps or risking recall.

Not only can misguided cross-cultural branding potentially lead to brand damage, it can also result in serious company revenue loss as well. For Lululemon, for example, high-profile misuse of social media by hand of one of their employees drew heavy backlash. Although this damage did not directly come from the company, the misuse of social media and misinterpretation of culture reflected poorly on the company’s image and public perception. Brand misinterpretation can cause heavy market share loss and cause profit margins overall to fall. The use of localized content should be a necessary priority for companies, who wish to steer clear of preventable profit risks.

CSOFT International provides end-to-end multilingual localization solutions employing in-country linguists and subject matter experts to ensure your marketing collateral is translated not only technically, but to cultural standards as well. Our cross-cultural branding specialists excel at understanding products and services, identifying communication needs, and working to ensure that campaigns are viable across languages in the regions they are targeting. Learn more at