UK to US localisation is frequently overlooked when expanding internationally. Our clients are often surprised when they discover there is a lot more to consider than changing the odd ‘s’ to a ‘z’. Other elements, such as lexical differences and messaging, need to be considered for businesses to appear local and authentic.

Here is a summary of the key areas that should be evaluated during the US localisation process.

Vocabulary, grammar and spelling

There are many spelling differences between US and UK English words. Whilst it is common knowledge that for some words the ‘s’ needs to be replaced with a ‘z’ for US English, there are other spelling differences you need to be aware of. Here are some examples:

  • US English ends certain words with ‘er’ instead of ‘re’, such as ‘center‘ versus ‘centre‘.
  • US English tends to use ‘or’ instead of ‘our’, for example ‘color‘ versus’colour‘.
  • There are some nouns that always end in ‘-ogue’ in UK English, which can be written either ‘-ogue’ or ‘-og’ in US English. For example, ‘catalogue‘ versus ‘catalogue/catalog‘.

There are also some distinct differences when it comes to grammar and punctuation. For example:

  • In UK English, when a verb ends in a vowel plus ‘l’, the ‘l’ is doubled when adding endings such as ‘-ed’, ‘-ing’ and ‘-er’. In US English, generally the ‘l’ is not doubled, for example ‘travelled, travelling, traveller’ versus ‘traveled, traveling, traveler’.
  • In UK English, the past simple and past participle of certain verbs can be spelled with an ‘ed’ or a ‘-t’ ending. In US English, the ‘-ed’ ending is generally used, for example: ‘dreamed/dreamt‘ versus ‘dreamed‘.
  • There are also differences in the use of propositions. For example, in UK English we would say, ‘call us on (phone number)’. In US English, Americans would say, ‘call us at (phone number)’.

There are also lexical differences between UK and US English that should be looked at during the localisation process. For example, an online fashion retailer would need to change the word ‘jumpers’ to ‘sweaters’ for its product descriptions in the US. We can see from adding this example into Google Trends, that there is a peak is the US around December for the search term ‘sweaters’, but no such peak for ‘jumpers’.

In the same time period in the UK, the opposite is true.

This example also highlights the importance of ensuring country-specific keyword research is carried out during the localisation process, even when targeting a fellow English-speaking country. This will ensure your product and category pages are optimised for the right local words with high search volume and high buying intent.

Messaging

Simply translating UK English content into US English doesn’t deliver optimal results without also adapting your messaging to the culture. This adaptation often requires a much more creative process than translation. Transcreation is different to translation, as content is generated based on a project brief. In effect, this is a native copywriting service in your target language, using mother-tongue copywriters who are based in country. The means the content is 100% target-culture appropriate, whilst maintaining the desired brand messaging. Often companies mistakenly think they only need one marketing message for all English-speaking countries, but different markets needed to be treated differently.

Coca-Cola is a prime example of a company that understands the need for different messaging for UK and US audiences. Its content is created specifically to engage different audiences. For example, for the UK audience they recently featured content on Joanna Lumley, a well-known English actress and author, for its launch of Fuze Tea. However, for the US they featured content on four US-based artists to support the launch of its regionally inspired speciality Coca-Cola flavours. The products, campaigns and content have been specifically chosen to resonate in their individual markets.

Messaging is also important when it comes brand names. When entering a new market, evaluating your brand name at the start ensures it doesn’t cause offence or sound too similar to existing local companies. An example of this is American company T.J.Maxx. When entering the UK market, the company realised there was a UK retailer called T.J. Hughes. To avoid confusion between the companies and build its own brand, the company rebranded as T.K.Maxx for the UK.

Some other less obvious aspects of messaging to consider for the US are imagery and tone of voice:

Imagery

Americans tend to respond to imagery that evokes power. There is a lot of pride associated with elements of personal identity, such as nationality, culture and sports teams.

Race and racial identity are currently huge issues in America, and US advertisers are aware of the need to feature people of all races and cultures. There is an increasing emphasis on diversity of representation and a rapidly growing Latinx population is making its presence felt in advertising in a number of ways, through music, imagery and language.

An example of this is the rise of advertising in America that features biracial couples. Infiniti USA is one such company, who recently created an advert with a white father, black mother, and biracial daughters.

Tone of voice

US copy tends to be much more candid, establishing a direct rapport with the customer and emitting friendliness. If given a choice between understatement and intentional exaggeration, an American text would often opt for the latter.

The US tone of voice communicates a sense of optimism and togetherness. This includes patriotism and a ‘can-do attitude’ that might seem a little intense to someone from the UK.

US English is generally very informal as a rule. Colloquial language is heavily used, with things from popular culture quickly finding their way into advertising. The language tends to be much more “in your face”, assertive or even aggressive. Americans tend to respond to boldness and strength.

In general, they also expect to be catered to and shown that they’re valued as a customer. They expect convenience, speed and a professional service. All this needs to be communicated explicitly.

Website design

For the US market, there is a trend towards sleek and modern sites with interactive elements and a variety of routes to the same destination. Websites should have a good search functionality and many filter options to allow products to be found easily. Uncluttered pages and dynamic visuals are key, and the ordering process should be seamless with as few steps as possible.

Is it good to be british sometimes?

For most companies, being seen as ‘local’ is key to success. However, in every market there will be businesses that can, and do, succeed based on their foreign roots. For UK companies entering into the US market, anything that taps into the widespread American fascination with European history, British culture and art will seem more authentic coming from a UK business. An example of this is Tetley Tea. The US version of its website recently featured coverage of Tetley Tea at the Royal wedding. They also have a product called British Blend, embracing the British selling point of their brand.

Many businesses are simply unaware of just how many differences there are. When it comes to localisation, there is no substitute for the natural expertise of a mother-tongue speaker. If you would like to find out more information on localising for the US market, contact one of our experts.