Localization, translation, and transcreation: What is the difference?

Main takeaways

This blog will give you a high-level understanding of:

  • The differences between localization, translation, and transcreation
  • Why content should be localized
  • The types of content that should be transcreated
  • What great transcreation looks like

If you want to expand your business into new markets, it is important to understand the difference between localization, translation and transcreation. Read on to discover what each of these concepts means, as well as what types of content should be transcreated – and what great transcreation looks like.

What is localization?

In content marketing, “localization” refers to the process of adapting a service or product to fit with the expectations, needs, and cultural sensitivities of a particular group of people. This typically means modifying written copy and visuals so they are familiar to and meet the needs of your target audience. To be adequately localized, copy must be perfectly translated into a particular language, taking into account colloquialisms, product or service name translations, societal or gender roles, differences in abbreviations, or any other cultural or lingual differences.



Localization is sometimes confused with translation. But localization does not simply mean translating a text word for word. Instead, it involves creating text (with or without visual content) that feels 100% natural to a target audience. This important sensitivity to look and feel includes using particular formatting for documents and incorporating design requirements such as specific user interfaces (UIs) for websites. For example, a person from China might have real problems engaging with a web page designed for a European audience, and vice versa.

Why should content be localized?

Localized content enables you to make a positive and memorable connection with your customers and audience. Every touchpoint they experience when interacting with your brand should make them feel as though you know and understand them, and that you are there to help. Your potential customers may associate your brand with the country or countries in which you currently operate. Content localization clearly shows you are committed to serving them specifically, and that they aren’t simply another market for you to conquer.

Your brand is much more likely to be successful in a new market if you ensure your communications are localized. Localization helps you gain a competitive edge, and helps avoid embarrassing brand missteps. By offering USPs of your brand that are adapted to your customers, they will better its value, leading to increased trust, loyalty, and brand reputation.

What is translation?

Translation refers to the processes involved in reworking written text from one language or dialect (the source) to another (the target). In commercial translation, the translator must fully understand the client’s industry. This will ensure any translated text takes into account local nuances, accepted styles, or terminologies.

Why should content be translated?

When brands are attempting to attract or retain international audiences, they must communicate on their customers’ terms. Translated content can:

  • Help you expand into new markets
  • Facilitate better two-way communication
  • Give you a competitive edge
  • Build trust and establish rapport
  • Show commitment to serving a particular audience
  • Boost search engine optimization (SEO)
  • Increase conversion rates

What is transcreation?

Transcreation blends two words – “translation” and “creation” – to describe the process of rewriting text from one language to another, while making it culturally appropriate to its target market. The core message, tone of voice, emotion, and intent of the original text are maintained, but the transcreator tailors the text. The transcreated text looks and feels completely natural, with messages that are finely tuned to resonate with a new audience. An acronym, play on words, or rhyme, for example, will not always directly translate from one language to another. In such cases, transcreation is necessary.

Transcreators are not simply translators. They are creative copywriters in their own right, with the ability to reconfigure text in ways that respects the spirit of the original, but is honed to accommodate the expectations of the new reader and motivate them to act in a desired way.


What types of content should be transcreated?

The main types of content that should be transcreated are:

  • Websites (including all navigation tools such as buttons and menus)
  • Advertising materials
  • Blogs and articles
  • Guides and E-Books
  • Case studies
  • White papers
  • Slogans, taglines, and mission statements
  • Product or service names and descriptions
  • Meta descriptions

To be truly successful, each touchpoint you have with your customer must display the same expert level of transcreation. Any discrepancies or oversights will be obvious – and potentially harmful to your brand.

3 examples of great transcreation

Before getting started with transcreation of your own, it may be helpful to take a look at a few examples of great, real-world transcreation.


Intel ensured it didn’t over commit to the Brazilian market by adapting its slogan, “Intel: Sponsors of Tomorrow,” to “Intel: In Love with the Future.” The original slogan would have been perceived by Brazilian customers as Intel stating it would deliver on its promises the literal next day – a significant challenge even for a company as successful as Intel!


McDonald’s three-word slogan and catchy jingle might be familiar to millions of people the world over, but the global fast food company had to adapt its iconic “I’m lovin’ it” for the Chinese market.

The translation issue revolved around the word “love.” In the US, the word is commonly used to express positive feelings for all manner of decidedly unromantic things: movies, great air-conditioning, a bike – you name it. In China, however, the word “love” is rarely used in this manner. McDonald’s changed the slogan to the English equivalent of “I just like it,” which was a much better fit with Chinese audiences.


Volkswagen is a particularly interesting example of the need for sensitive translation and transcreation. While many countries associate the automobile brand with the slogan “Das Auto,” it simply would not work within the Brazilian market.

The South American nation has been home to a large manufacturing center for Volkswagen since the early 1950s, and sees the brand as native to the country. Rather than risking alienating a loyal audience, Volkswagen changed the slogan to the Brazilian Portuguese transcreation of “Você conhece, Você confia,” or “You know, You trust.”

We’ve reached the end of our guide to understanding the difference between localization, translation, and transcreation! We hope you are feeling more confident about each concept, and which services you might need to expand your business.

Want to learn more about localization, translation, and transcreation? Download our free case study on Dutch “bike-as-a-service” company Swapfiets, which uses Contentoo translators and transcreators to strengthen its brand presence in several European countries.

Download the Swapfiets case study