Cultural intelligence in copy adaptation: how small tweaks can make your localized website stickier

While it may sometimes make perfect sense to completely reinvent your brand when launching it overseas, there's a wide range of options between a compete rebrand and a 1:1 translation of a company’s website (with maybe an option to switch to the local currency added for visitors’ convenience).

Depending on the local market, the brand and its goals in a specific country, small tweaks may be all that's required.

Scalable, on time, on budget, but more effective?

Translation may be the worst way to get good quality local copy… but it’s the only way to do it in a way that furthers business goals.  Doing it any other way costs too much, takes too much time, and requires too much overhead.

Wayne Bourland, Why We Shouldn’t Translate Marketing… And Why We Do It Anyway
Brand Quarterly

In Mr Bourland's article, he presents an example of a common problem.

Sometimes it makes sense to translate marketing materials, without adapting or localizing them.

The costs of doing otherwise may be prohibitive, in terms of both time and money.

Managing complex adaptation projects is likely to be an even bigger nightmare than managing complex translation projects (which is already bad enough).

However, sometimes relatively small tweaks to a homepage can result in significant improvements.

Making the page more on point, making it compliant with local legislation, possibly even driving visitors to make a purchasing decision. I'd like to present an example below.

Far end of the spectrum: hyper-local MediaMarkt ads terms of digital media, and more specifically the web, localization entails adaptation based on cultural, linguistic, functional, technical and other locale-specific requirements.

Evidence suggests digital media needs to depict cultural values, symbols, icons, and content which resonates consumer’s locale-specific expectations. Studies have shown that when the website is culturally customized to locale specific expectations, then consumer attitudes and purchase intentions on the website are also higher. Consumers also find culturally customized websites easier to browse and more useful. In fact, cultural customization can make your website ‘sticky’ which means more engaging to your online users. Thus, online users will not only click through your site, but will also stay and engage with your site. This is a key competitive advantage in a medium wherein another website is just a click away.

Dr Nitish Singh, Cultural Customization Of Digital Media: An Imperative
Brand Quarterly

I am particularly partial to the ones featuring the “typical Russian grandma” with a twist.

Buying a present for Pops, Grandma? – And for the neighbors, too.

Russian apartment buildings are notorious for their thin walls, allowing a glimpse into the lives of your neighbors… whether you like it or not

Levi’s homepage: small but significant tweaks

For a website… sometimes less can be good enough. Case in point: small changes on Levi’s website.

The reader wants to read the web page in his own language, he wants to have (expects) perfectly clear and understandable information, but he does not want to be culturally offended by language, images, colours, and so on. A website could be perfectly translated this way producing a culturally adapted target language version.

On the other side there are the goals of the client which concentrate on what the company, institution or person wants to achieve with the new website version. This purpose could be entirely different for the new foreign language website version than for the source language website. Thus, it will influence the whole translation or adaptation process.

Website Localization and Translation
Peter Sandrini, University of Innsbruck

Levi’s US website  Page captured 06/09/2018

Levi’s US website

Page captured 06/09/2018

Levi’s website (Russia)  Page captured 06/09/2018

Levi’s website (Russia)

Page captured 06/09/2018

The purpose of the websites is the same: drive sales.

In addition to that, the screenshots show that the layout is fundamentally the same, and many of the same images are used on the Russian website.

However, there are no deals or a sales sub-menu at the top of the page. Instead, it shows a history of the brand, providing context for the purchase.

Free shipping is a great incentive anywhere - be it in the US or Russia. In the Russian version it is a little less prominent.

The hero section is different and features a light-colored seasonal collection. Below the hero section structure and imagery have been adapted to help buyers self-select and move toward male/female jeans purchases.

Interestingly, shorts for males and females, although also seasonally appropriate, are shuffled into the background compared to the summer models for women. And accessories are given a place on the Russian homepage, which was not the case on the US page.

Considering cultural peculiarities and customer data

Localization also involves image adaptation. Let’s go back to our example: Say the ad shows a goalpost over the company’s door with a customer running through. If the copy doesn’t refer to the draft anymore, the picture no longer makes sense. Plus, football’s a uniquely American sport, so even if the original language were more universal (like “Win with us!”), the picture itself would still need to change into something the new market understands.

Smartling, How is translation different from localization?

However, the localized version is clearly geared towards female website visitors.

According to this research by GfK and Yandex (in Russian), women buy clothes online more often (over 70% of purchases). Thus it makes sense to make corresponding changes to the homepage, focusing offers on products that would be of interest to a female audience.

There are more images of female models, and the prominent sub-section directing towards T-shirts was replaced by a section linking to super-tight, super-soft and super-feminine jeans which fits general expectations for jeans and clothes in general for the majority of women in Russia (or at least, for what women in Russia are expected to look like; "awakening of femininity" is pretty much the whole premise of this popular Soviet movie), and so it's not surprising that lots of visuals are focusing on the way jeans make the owner look attractive and not just "feminine", but "super feminine".

Speaking of cultural expectations, the prominent pride collection banner was removed from the localized version. This is also probably due to the existence of the infamous “traditional family values” law (although Meetup has a rainbow unicorn on the RU website).

Conclusion… and a word of warning

Even if your brand is not drastically changing its image in a different country, introducing a number of small tweaks based on available research or data you collect from your customers may drive sales.

It's also important to remember that different cultures value freebies differently, as this recent example from Domino’s experience in Russia shows.

Perhaps offering free pizza forever, in a country with a saying that literally means “Even vinegar is sweet when it’s free”, is not such a good idea after all.


Need help with researching the pain points and desires of your Russian-speaking target audience?

Ekaterina Howard, Pinwheel Translations  Copywriting. Website localization (English to Russian)

Ekaterina is a bilingual copywriter helping US-based companies who want to unlock the potential of the Russian e-commerce market and attract more clients by adapting their Russian copy to the desired target audience, by using conversion copywriting framework