Cultural audit: how to avoid alienating your international customers


Nicola Winters

Head of International


International

When expanding internationally, it is easy to assume that a simple translation job will do the trick – but the gold standard for websites varies across the globe. By only satisfying one element of the localisation process, the language, businesses put themselves at risk of alienating audiences and presenting barriers that prevent users from purchasing through their website.  

Our international expansion offering is based on three pillars for global market success: 

  • Linguistics 
  • Online visibility 
  • Cultural compliance. 

In this blog, we will run through some of the factors our international team of mother tongue digital marketing experts look at when conducting cultural audits to ensure any localised websites are culturally compliant. 

Can anyone carry out a cultural audit? 

It is important that mother-tongue digital experts who have first-hand experience of the market carry out cultural audits. This is because someone who has lived and breathed a culture will be able to spot subtle issues, such as incorrect address formatting on a checkout form, something that is likely missed by someone who speaks the language but has little hands-on experience with the market culture. Overlooking issues such as these, no matter how minor they may seem, could have a significant impact on website conversions or the delivery of orders. For example, the incorrect formatting of an address form on a website may result in addresses being printed incorrectly on packages, meaning they cannot be understood by local couriers and delivered to your customers. 

Finally, a mother-tongue digital marketing expert will be able to ensure that your website content is localised, rather than directly translated, avoiding issues when working with multiple markets who speak the same language but have very different customs and expectations. 

Target audience insights 

When expanding into new markets, brands often find that their international customers do not fit the same audience profile as their customers back home. There can be several reasons for this: different interests, different needs, different opportunities in the market.  

Using third-party tools such as Google Analytics and Facebook Audience Insights can help you to gather audience insights and understand who you should be targeting for each market you want to expand into.  

Digital landscape 

How the internet is used, and by who, can vary drastically between different countries and cultures. Understanding the digital habits of your international audiences can help you to better optimise your websites.  

Things to consider 

  • Which search engines are the most popular in this market? 
  • What devices are commonly used during different stages of the customer journey by users in this market? 

Legal requirements 

Having a website that is legally compliant is crucial, but the requirements can vary across markets. Understanding best practise is and what is mandatory will ensure you avoid getting into legal issues when launching internationally.  

Things to consider 

  • Are terms and conditions mandatory in this market? If not, do users still expect to see T&Cs?  
  • How are copyrighted pieces of work protected in this market?  
  • Is it a legal requirement to display cookie information? 
  • How is personal data protected in this market? Are you legally required to provide a data protection statement? 

Content accessibility 

Ensuring your content is easily accessible can make a big difference in how consumers perceive your brand and website. Content needs to meet users’ expectations, as well as market and industry standards if it is to be trusted by consumers. Simply translating your website often misses out on small nuances, such as variations in website or category page structure used by your international competitors. If your website pages are not organised or structured as your customers would expect, they may have difficulty converting on your site. 

Things to consider 

  • Is the type of font and size used easily read and understood in this language? 
  • Are there any specific grammatical requirements or accents required in this language?  
  • Are the texts and colours used in your logo and images appropriate for the market, its cultural norms, and expectations?  
  • Are the website navigation and category pages structured in a way that is easily accessible to users and mirrors local competitors’ sites? 

Trust signals  

Buying from a new website is risky for consumers. Trust signals help users determine if a website is legitimate or not, and without trust signals, it is likely that new users will leave without making a purchase. 

Different countries may have different trust signals and it is important that you have identified and incorporated all possible signals – particularly if you have little brand awareness in the market.  

Things to consider 

  • Are reviews important trust signals? Do certain platforms have more clout in this market than others? 
  • Do users expect brands in your industry to have certain awards or certifications? 
  • Are case studies strong trust signals in this market? 
  • Are transaction protection certifications an essential trust signal? Are there any certificates widely recognised in your market?   
  • What are commonly used payment methods and platforms in this market?  
  • What are the preferred delivery and/or collection methods in your market? Is there a standard returns policy for your industry? 
  • What are the commonly used contact options in this market?  

Whether your localised website is targeting end consumers or industry businesses, a cultural audit will help to ensure it meets the expectations of your audience within that market, helping to build brand trust and reputation.  

If your website operates in a B2B environment, our cultural audit will focus on the legal requirements your website must respect and the trust signals required to best sell your service or product range to local businesses.  

Lastly, to truly compete with local brands, you will also need to ensure your website content is not only linguistically accurate but also optimised for search.  


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