Apple’s Secret to Booming International Sales

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As Apple gears up for the global launch of the iPad, it’s riding high on booming international sales and net income numbers. In the second quarter alone, iPhone sales more than doubled overall, with sales in the Asia-Pacific region surging to an astonishing 474% year-over-year.

Based on these numbers, Apple has now gained the #2 spot as the second-largest company on the U.S. Standard & Poor 500 Index in terms of market capitalization, surpassing even Microsoft and trailing only Exxon Mobile. Given this success on a global scale, international marketers might want to take one of the lessons from Apple’s playbook –transcreation.

As companies attempt to sell their products and services to more and more demographics in more and more markets around the world, they are discovering – as Apple figured out quite a long time ago – that they can increase their sales when they adapt or recreate their messaging and content for specific target audiences, rather than translating directly from original versions. The process is called “transcreation,” and it allows companies the freedom to address cultural gaps by moving beyond translation to create something that captures the essence and spirit of a message, transforming it into one that is locally relevant and meaningful.


Images speak louder than words when it comes to explaining transcreation. Here’s a whirlwind graphical tour of how Apple successfully applied transcreation to modify its branding and messaging across several countries and languages for its iPod shuffle campaign. Expect to see the same process applied as the iPad goes global.Apple’s International Marketing Secret
Apple generally does something else that is very smart with its global ad campaigns. In addition to choosing one image that can be nuanced worldwide, it employs a minimum of text in the original English. So, even if there is a play on words that must be transcreated to remain relevant in other markets, the phrase usually does not require too many words in other languages to express a similar idea.

Based on a recent survey of 380 respondents by our market research firm, it is clear that transcreation is not only here to stay, but on the rise. Twenty-five percent of respondents expect transcreation – as a percentage of total translation activities – to grow between six and 10% during 2010, while almost 30% anticipate that it will grow by more than 10%. (See “Reaching New Markets through Transcreation,” Common Sense Advisory, March 2010).

Apple’s international marketing secret is that it understands that its brands must resonate in local markets – whether it’s a market defined by geography or one defined by language and culture within a larger domestic market. To do so, they are willing to go the extra mile (or kilometer!) to transcreate their messaging and content. In order to engage more demographics within local markets, other companies will need to learn to do the same in order to beat out strong local and regional competitors.

Rebecca Ray ( is a senior analyst at global market research firm Common Sense Advisory.


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