smiling people on world map

Why local in-market expertise is the key to international marketing success

For your business to succeed in a market, you must first understand that market – the way that someone who lives and works there understands it. Key reasons why international business expansion can go wrong include:

  • Insufficient research into local culture
  • Misunderstanding local audience intent and user journeys by market
  • Failure to adapt to local market platforms, preferences, and processes
  • Not treating local markets as separate campaigns where it would make sense to do so
  • Linguistic and cultural mistakes which undermine brand trust and familiarity
  • Brand names or slogans that do not translate well

The consequences of these mistakes can be expensive. The key to avoiding them is to invest time in understanding each market. Because each market is different, individual market analysis is required.


Local In-Market Experts can help to guide your campaigns

Marketers have various ways of gaining local insights. Desk research, native speakers, expats, students, and employees originally from other markets can all offer useful insights – but nothing is as accurate or up to the minute as insights from people physically based in the market right now.

Language, behaviour, and trends shift quickly as does local context. Research shows that it takes only 18 months for an expat to start to assimilate and blend their new culture with their old. Native speakers often say that when they return home, family and friends comment on their loss of language skills.

Linguistically, how consumers search for a given product, brand or category varies by market. It is never as simple as taking an English keyword list and translating it. Literal translations do not always make effective keywords as locals might use colloquialisms, abbreviations, acronyms, or simply alternative terms to search for the same thing online.

A local in-market expert can guide you on linguistic nuances and can also provide insights related to:

  • Consumer preferences in your target market
  • The best way to cater to those preferences
  • The most relevant digital platforms
  • The local influences that play out within each market


Factors such as history, religion, politics, social codes, and gender roles will determine what creative work is acceptable in market. Some obvious examples include:

  • Models with tattoos may be perceived negatively in some markets
  • Women with bare skin on display will be unacceptable in some countries
  • Colours symbolise different meanings around the world
  • Animals may be considered holy or sacrilegious in some cultures


Where possible, best results come from involving local expertise from the outset, rather than creating campaigns in English with a Western cultural framing and then expecting local experts to adapt them. Brands can use the social, economic, cultural, and linguistic nuances from local experts to help refine their message, so it connects best with the target audience in each market.

It might be tempting to cut corners and think you are saving time and money by not engaging with local in-market insight. But simply putting your key messages through auto-translate tools and hoping they will work in your target market, or leading with Anglo-centric campaigns, is rarely the right way forward. Sending the wrong message to consumers could not only discourage them but actively lead to them boycotting you altogether.


Oban’s LIME network is made up of 450+ people in 80+ countries

Oban has a network of Local In-Market Experts (LIMEs) made up of over 450 people in over 80 countries. This network is used to assemble virtual teams based on a client’s requirements. So, for example, if a sightseeing business wants to know how people search for and view their type of product in Japan, we will source LIMEs based in Japan who have travel and tourism expertise as well as search engine marketing experience to provide insights. Or for a fashion e-commerce brand that wants to understand expectations around user journeys, sizing, product information, delivery, returns, payment methods and so on in a certain region of the US, we will source LIMEs in the relevant US regions who have e-commerce, fashion, and UX experience to guide the campaign.

The network is designed to be agile, so that teams can be assembled at pace for specific projects or campaigns – ideal for a digital way of working.


How is the LIME network managed?

All LIME activity is project managed by Oban’s central team in Brighton. The central team will:

  • Source appropriate LIMEs for each client campaign, based on the client’s niche and objectives.
  • Brief the LIMEs for each campaign, using standardised briefing templates, ensuring that they understand the client’s brand, sector, business model, and marketing objectives.
  • Communicate regularly with the LIMEs, asking and answering relevant questions, using a dedicated talent management portal so all communication is in one place.
  • Co-ordinate different strands of LIME activity – for example, when LIMEs are working across multiple markets for one client campaign.
  • Provide quality assurance for the work by reviewing and giving feedback on deliverables before they are sent to client.
  • Where deliverables are in a language other than English, additional LIMEs who speak that language are used to check the work before it is sent to the client.

Generally, clients don’t liaise directly with LIMEs but instead, funnel all communication through their account manager. This provides greater efficiency and ensures an accountable point of contact.


Examples of LIME insights

Image review across 16 countries

Oban was tasked with reviewing office-based imagery for a large software provider who planned to use the images across 16 countries. We asked LIMEs in each country to assess the images and as a result, some were rejected for cultural reasons including:

  • Wrong footwear for an office environment
  • Proximity of male and female colleagues gathered around a desk
  • Visible tattoos
  • Feet up on furniture


French keyword advice for tourism brand

“In France, the verb ‘visiter’ – to visit – is purely used in a tourism context. That is, it refers to activities like sightseeing when you’re on holiday. This is different to English, where the word ‘visiting’ applies to many non-tourism situations – such as visiting a friend, visiting your grandma, and so on. Conversely, the word ‘tour’ is often used in English to refer to tourism – but we would never use the word this way in France, since it means going for a walk or loop around town. It doesn’t have a tourism connotation at all”

French LIME


Product advice for fashion brand entering Japan

“Japanese consumers expect detailed product information for apparel. For example, shoulder seam and sleeve length measurements are standard details for clothing brands to communicate to customers.”

Japanese LIME

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To find out how Oban’s LIME network can help accelerate your brand’s international growth, please get in touch.

Oban International is the digital marketing agency specialising in international expansion.
Our LIME (Local In-Market Expert) Network provides up to date cultural input and insights from over 80 markets around the world, helping clients realise the best marketing opportunities and avoid the costliest mistakes.

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