Don't make the same mistake as Six Flags

Don't make the same mistake as Six Flags


The American amusement park company Premier Parks Inc. made an error in judgment around the year 2000. They bought Walibi Flevo and tried to market it as "Six Flags: the Rollercoaster Capital of Europe." Their marketing team just didn't realize that, unlike many Americans, Europeans rarely go out for hours to go to an amusement park. Six Flags was sold again in 2004, due to disappointing visitor numbers. Premier Parks Inc. thus discovered for itself that marketing strategies do not always work unchanged in another market. When you enter a new market, not only do you expand into a new language, you also have to deal with cultural differences. If you're not familiar with the language or culture of your target market, both can cause problems. Read our three tips to get your global adventure off to a good start.

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1: Cultural knowledge is crucial

If you want your marketing efforts to catch on, you must thoroughly understand the language and culture of the market you are entering. Basing a strategy on what works in your home market just isn't enough. Former theme park director Ronald van der Zijl recently looked back on the U.S. acquisition of Walibi Flevo:

"[They thought we] buy Walibi and that becomes a Six Flags near Amsterdam. That's not how it works in the Netherlands. Six Flags is not near Amsterdam at all."

Americans not only measure their distances in miles rather than kilometers, but they also have a very different frame of reference around distances than Europeans have. In a country as big as the U.S., it's not weird to drive six hours to go somewhere.

But in the Netherlands, a country about three times smaller than New York State alone, an hour's travel time is often already considered far. For the Dutch, Six Flags in Biddinghuizen, about 70 km from Amsterdam, is not at all "close to Amsterdam," let alone that visitors from other European countries will become regular visitors. So when it was decided to market Six Flags as the "Rollercoaster Capital of Europe," close to Amsterdam, they missed the mark. Although they first managed to attract two million visitors with their millions investments in marketing, visitor numbers quickly dropped to just 685,000 in 2003 and the amusement park was sold again in 2004.

2: Use marketing translators for marketing translations

It may sound logical, but it's important to find a translator who specializes in your type of content. Just as you don't get your eyes checked by the dentist, you don't ask a technical translator to translate your marketing materials. Knowing a foreign language doesn't make someone a translator, and if a translator has a lot of experience with legal texts, they're not equally suited to all types of text.

A good marketing translator is a creative writer who knows the target culture extremely good and understands your brand and message well. Therefore, he or she will focus less on the literal meaning of your original content and more on the meaning and intended effect of your message. An experienced marketing translator can handle jokes, idioms and length restrictions and will sometimes even give good tips on images or use of color in the end result. In this way, you can transcend cultural boundaries that would otherwise hinder your business and avoid disappointments like the Six Flags acquisition.

3: Increase your brand awareness with local brand customization

In the digital age, your market can span the globe. Therefore, it probably also seems like an efficient way to save time and money with a global brand that uses the same look, positioning and marketing strategies in each country. But while this approach to branding works for some companies, your branding may not be appropriate for all countries. For example, Honda almost made a big mistake when introducing their new Honda Fitta to the European market. The company found out late in the process that "fitta" is slang for vagina in Swedish. So it was just as well that Honda had gathered feedback from different markets and was still able to change the name of this model to Jazz in time.

It just goes to show that careful preliminary research and tailoring your branding to the local market is necessary for global success. By tailoring a message specifically to individual markets, your brand can still maintain its core values and internationally recognizable identity. McDonald's is a great example of this. Their concept and look are world-renowned, but the company has also proven it can tailor their menus to local cultures, with unique dishes like the Spicy Paneer Wrap in India or the McKroket in the Netherlands.

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