Decoding Globalization and Localization in International Business

Elizabeth Pokorny
Written by
Elizabeth Pokorny
Elizabeth Pokorny
Written by
Elizabeth Pokorny
Reviewed by
Decoding Globalization and Localization in International Business

Any CEO or marketer looking to expand their business internationally will have come across the terms ‘globalization’ and ‘localization’. And if you’re planning a foreign venture, you could add ‘internationalization’ and ‘glocalization’ to the buzzword pile.

While these terms are very similar, there are some subtle but very important differences you need to understand before starting an expansion strategy. Knowing their strengths, weaknesses, and how they can be used to complement each other can help you get the most from your investment.

Here we’ll assess the key differences in the globalization vs localization debate, together with some case study analysis and tips for maximizing your chances of success.

Exploring the Synergy Between Globalization and Localization

If you want your business to succeed in a foreign market, you need to find the right balance between globalization and localization.

The former term describes the process of expanding a business overseas, whereas the latter details how a brand adapts to a new market. This could mean the likes of website translation, altering products, and changing marketing methods in a bid to appeal to different consumers.

Let’s look at the following examples to see the difference in practice.

Coca-Cola is one brand with a globalized approach, and it’s true that a bottle of Coke tastes the same no matter where in the world you’re drinking it. However, without the local celebrities in its various ad campaigns around the world, its foreign expansion story could be very different.

Coca-Cola’s glocalized Chinese website, using local actors

On the flip side, there’s McDonald’s. The brand is world-famous, but its menu differs from one country to the next in keeping with local preferences. The fast-food chain has taken its format worldwide, but adapted its product to meet the needs of local consumers.

Both brands demonstrate the importance of maintaining a strong global identity, whilst being open to local changes wherever necessary.

What’s the Difference Between Globalization and Internationalization?

Given the similarities of the words ‘global’ and ‘international’, the two are sometimes used interchangeably. But their meanings differ. The internationalization process involves getting your business assets ready before launching a local strategy.

This might include choosing the products you are looking to promote overseas and identifying any changes needed for them to thrive in a foreign market. Think of internationalization as the first step on the road to localization.

What are the Benefits of Globalization vs. Localization?

As we’ll see below, both approaches have multiple benefits – but there are some challenges to be aware of:

Table comparing the pros and cons of globalization and localization

Any strategist will notice elements from both approaches that will benefit their own enterprise, which is where ‘glocalization’ comes in. This catchword summarizes both Coca-Cola’s and McDonald’s approaches, as well as countless other firms who’ve made it big around the globe.

Glocalization adopts a global business strategy with careful consideration of local needs. This allows businesses to take advantage of their existing brand strengths and deliver the best possible customer experience.

When to Globalize and When to Localize: Strategic Considerations

Localized research costs time and money, especially when you need to hire marketing experts and people versed in local laws and customs. And if small tweaks need to be made to your branding in order for it to resonate within a new market, costs can quickly mount up.

Cutting corners, however, is simply not worth considering, as the auction site eBay found when trying to expand into China in the early 2000s. Its tactic of buying a local auction site run by expats lasted less than four years and showed a simple lack of localization.

eBay appointed a German, non-Chinese-speaking manager to lead its campaign. It pushed auctions when direct sales were preferred by the local market. And its listing times were less flexible than those of its rivals.

To put it simply, the more time you spend planning, the more successful you’ll be in your international expansion.

Here’s what you need to do:

  • Consider your product/service in depth, the needs of your new audience, and how the two can join together.
  • Research market data, popular media, and trends. Will a global or local approach work better with your targeted consumers?
  • Study industry case studies of brands that succeed in your chosen location and those that fail. Which globalization or localization strategies did they adopt?
  • Learn cultural differences and customs, and any local business regulations.
  • Consider the extent of localization required – a majority-global approach may be all that’s needed for a universal product or for cultures similar to your domestic market.
  • Do you have existing workforce resources for both strategies? How many external workers will you need to form partnerships with? What digital tools can make the process easier?

American writer Benjamin Franklin’s old saying: ‘by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail’ is never truer than when considering when to globalize and when to localize.

Case Studies: Successful Globalization and Localization in Action

Combining a globalization strategy with localization is an art form in itself. Let’s take a look at some of the most successful students of glocalization, and how they navigated local markets whilst maintaining their global appeal.


We’ve briefly touched on the fast-food giant, but their transnational strategy deserves a closer look. McDonald’s research demonstrated that not everyone is quite as enamored by the beef patty as those living in America.

So in India, you’ll find the Maharaja Mac – with chicken replacing the beef – and in South Korea, the pork Bulgogi Burger. French McDonald’s offers croissants and pain au chocolat, and in Spain, you can order a potato tortilla sandwich.

Localized McDonald’s Web Page, South Korea

The brand follows cultural trends, selling only British and Irish beef in the UK, given the push for local produce by the region’s residents.

But that’s not all. By introducing a franchise model to its restaurants, managers have an added incentive to perform and a personal stake in the McDonald’s brand. Which, as any trip around the world will demonstrate, is recognizable wherever you may be.


Similarly to McDonald’s, KFC has adopted localized menus that cater to the individual tastes of its international customers. The branding remains unmistakable across the world, but pop into a restaurant in Thailand, and you’ll be able to order a chicken rice bowl, a nacho box in Australia, and a corn and chicken sandwich in Brazil.

In order to get their menus right, KFC employs no less than 18 food innovation teams, charged with finding foodstuffs in line with local taste buds.


Netflix has been one of the great global successes since the world went digital, and its localization strategy is dominated by gradual expansion and a safety-first approach. After saturating the market of their US homeland, the brand first expanded into Canada and other English-speaking countries.

Once success had been established in these regions, they moved into Europe, Latin America, and Asia, not only adding local languages but localized content too. South Korea’s Busted, India’s Sacred Games, and Japan’s Devilman: Crybaby are just three examples of Netflix originals the brand created overseas.

Demonstrating excellent attention to detail, Netflix understood that successful foreign expansion was about more than excellent translations. In order to create a great user experience across the world, the brand introduced ‘pseudo localization’ – a method of allowing its designers to see how text layouts appeared across its branding.


Japanese gaming giant Nintendo has taken glocalization to another level with its careful employment of local penchants. Beyond text translation, the brand employs cultural references and humor found within its target market. This is also reflected across its marketing, packaging, and timing of its new releases.

Take Pokémon for example. Most characters’ names changed when the brand expanded overseas, in order to make them more appealing to local people. And in some cases, decisions were made to keep the Japanese original.

'Pikachu’, for example, was left in Japanese, given it’s easy to pronounce and soft sounding. ‘Pikachu’ is actually two Japanese words put together, and a direct translation into English would be ‘sparkle mouse-noise’ – not quite so catchy. Without such attention to detail, Pokémon’s global status would be much less likely.

…and on the downside…


Starbucks’ attempted expansion into Australia is a perfect example of how not to operate when trying to appeal to global markets. Between 2000 and 2008, Starbucks opened close to 90 stores, selling higher-priced coffee than local cafes and neglecting to serve flat whites – an Australian favorite. They’ve since scaled back their operations to 39 cafes, catering mainly for tourists.


The importance of cultural research is well-demonstrated by Pepsi’s entrance into the Chinese market. Its slogan ‘Pepsi Brings You Back to Life’ was translated into ‘Pepsi Will Bring Your Ancestors Back From the Dead’.This isn’t very smart to include in a culture that deeply worships its late ancestors.

Global Branding in a Localized World: Finding the Balance

Every business desiring a move into different markets faces the same challenge – that of getting the balance right between globalization and localization. The value of cohesive branding leads to consumer recognition, retention, and trust, inspiring business growth and financial success. But a failure to consider cultural subtleties may alienate the very people you’re hoping to win over.

There’s no shortcut, even for global brands like McDonald’s. A new strategy needs to be adopted every time a business plans to enter a new international market, with strong consideration of the following principles:

  • Maintain brand consistency within a flexible business model, adapting to necessary changes.
  • Use local expertise for marketing trends, consumer preferences, and regulation compliance.
  • Go beyond direct translation by adopting cultural norms across measurement units; date, time, and number formats; humor, and formal/informal language.

In-depth market research allows a business to understand the needs and pain points of a local audience, and the tools it needs to connect with them. Beyond consumers, local competitor analysis will help with product positioning and any gaps in the market your business can fill.

How Weglot Facilitates Seamless Global Communication

Weglot homepage

Global communication can be much easier when you have the best tools to work with. Weglot has been designed to streamline the process of website localization and translation for businesses, with no development expertise required.

Weglot integrates with existing content management systems, connecting to your favorite communication tools with ease and providing everything you need to translate and display a multilingual website.

The platform automatically detects and translates all of your content, including text, images, and SEO metadata, whilst you sit back and enjoy the ride. And it does that every time you upload new content!

You can manage your translations through its user-friendly dashboard and access other important features such as the glossary, visual editor, and statistics.

User interface for Weglot’s localization platform

Weglot comes complete with a built-in suite of integrated management tools. This removes the need for back-and-forth processes, enhancing collaboration between project managers, translators, and marketers.

Localization is dealt with through the translation glossary, listing your approved translations in both source and target languages and ensuring any cultural preferences are adhered to.

Example of a translation glossary rule

And with automated language subdomains and hreflang tag implementation, Weglot makes sure that search engines understand your intentions, across all stages of the marketing funnel.

Combining these features on a simple user interface helps to protect your brand’s hard-won integrity whilst offering local customers a personalized user experience.

Take your Business Global with Localization Insights and Strategies

Globalization and localization are two different approaches, but combined together, they can help you create a strong international strategy.

Maintaining brand identity builds upon your current strengths, separates you from the competition, and fosters loyalty among consumers. Encompassing localized elements into your strategy helps to build better relationships with your target audience and allows your business to adopt an all-important, personalized approach.

When navigating the path between these two strategies, it’s vital to have a strong infrastructure in place. Weglot fits into any international expansion strategy by giving you the tools needed to present your website to a global audience, whilst taking care of local nuances.

If you’re ready to take your business onto a global stage, sign up for your free 10-day Weglot trial today.

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