When in Rome, Do as the Chinese

By Gordon Chu | Tuesday, June 09, 2009

I remember in business school, one of the first case-studies I worked on was Euro Disney. I specifically remember reading the severe backlash from the public about the park’s “squeaky-clean” American image despite Disney’s promise to angle the park for a more European taste. Sure, there were the European themes on the rides and Mickey would wear his cultural garment when parading around, but I’m talking about the real cultural sensitivities. Let’s take service of wine at the park for an example – for a year after Euro Disney’s opening, wine was not served in accordance to Disney’s other amusement park rulings despite, culturally, Europeans regularly drink wine with nearly each and every one of their meals. This might be a ‘small’ example of market ‘misinterpretation’, but imagine a dozen of these and that single problem, all of a sudden, doesn’t seem to be so ‘small’ anymore.

That was my first lesson in localization early on and definitely a lesson that, as a brand marketer, we need to breathe, sleep, and live by in our marketing handbook. Why such the heavy emphasis on this lesson on localization? Because this is the one biggest mistake companies make when making the plunge across international lines. It does not matter if you are a media company or a brand, do not assume your name or brand will be enough – there is still an absolute need to acclimate your product for the surrounding market. And in China, this cannot be amplified more – with 1.3 billion people across the country, localization is a must.

Let’s take a closer look at the impact of localization on two companies from two different perspectives: Coke and Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC). For Coke, localization is much more relevant on its marketing / branding strategy in China. And for KFC, localization is found all the way to KFC’s product offerings.