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How to successfully localise your marketing messages for a French audience

In my last post, I looked at why businesses need to adapt their marketing to reach French customers. Now I’ll explore how they can localise their  websites and other marketing materials.

Scenario: You sell your products online and your website is your main route to market.

Have you replicated your English website in French?Partially? Completely?

What do you want to get from a French website? More reach? Be found with French search? More sales from French customers?

A French website is a website with 100% French content. When you mix two  languages you confuse Google and you upset people: that’s a recipe for problems.

Ask your web agency and your marketing translator for help:

• Start with focusing on your popular products. When your traffic and sales increase, add products and content.
• Edit and delete: some of your English content is of little interest to French readers.
• Create content if necessary to bring clarity to your product, the payment process and your customer policies.
• Give people a way of contacting you in French when they have a problem. A simple solution is to add an enquiry page with a form.

Be realistic: will you reply from 9 to 5? Any time and any day? Within 48 hours? Explain what you need in order to solve the problem quickly: how the product has been used, a reference number, the date of payment, conditions of delivery, etc. Confirm that you will email them in French. (Obvious?)

Do you plan to redesign your websites?

• Choose what you want for your French audience: the same website as the English one? A bespoke website?
• Anticipate and think international: write simple sentences in English to make it easy to adapt in French.
• Avoid messages crafted for the British market with slang and colloquialisms: it can be pointless in French. Is humour important for your brand? Give your marketing translator plenty of time to do the job in French and be prepared for controversy: humour doesn’t cross language barriers well.
• Allow room for text expansion: French copy can be between 30% and 60% longer than English copy.

Have you heard about the “Bergman effect”?

Ingmar Bergman was aware of languages. He knew how few words can be written on a screen. Anticipating the subtitles, he used the constraints in film translation to create movies for international audiences with less dialogue.

You don’t have to go that far but mastering the singularity of the French language makes a difference.

How to localise your marketing materials

Scenario: You work with a manager in France and you sell through retailers.

• Get as much help as you can from them. Test your marketing materials (offers, product video, direct mail, loyalty programme, leaflet, packs or questionnaire, etc.). Get feedback from your clients at your French retailers. They know more about your French competitors’ products than you do.
• Check that everything makes sense locally. For example an offer for Mothers’ Day in the UK can be disappointing for French customers:  different dates, weather, trends, etc.
• Do French people have expectations about your products? Collect their comments. You may discover some cultural issues that you never considered.
• Propose different versions of your messages. Print small amounts digitally. Make sure everything sounds French: tone of voice, context, examples you give and cultural references.
• Do you want to check how convincing the French voice-over of your video is? Write a transcription so people can say what they like or dislike. Writing for the ear is different from text that will be read. Translated voice-over can sound stiff or cold.
• Allow space and freedom for people’s contributions: what can go wrong? Not a lot really, and you can get invaluable help, for free.
• Explain what you are looking for with the test. As a thank you, offer vouchers, products, an invitation for private sales, etc. People become interested in you if they feel they have played a role in the creation of your French messages. It’s the start of a conversation with potential customers.

Setting up your website for a French audience is about more than translation. You want to be found by the French who need your product or service. And you want to win them. Get your marketing copy ready in French.

Do you plan to run an Adwords campaign?

Don’t rush: you want to pay for search terms you don’t already own with organic search. Give yourself time with efficient content in French (optimised marketing copy with titles and subtitles, keywords, key phrases and metadescriptions) then run the Adwords campaign.

Some brands keep their French website close to their primary website, like Essential Care Ltd, David Nieper or KLM. Other brands choose to create bespoke website for their French audience with a different content and style (H&M, Boots, Lipton or Asos). Some mix both approaches (The Body Shop, Ikea or Lush).

Choose what works best within your strategy, resources and budget.


• The French don’t care about your nationality
• Whatever the size of your company, they will buy from you because your product is the best.

Are you the best in your industry sector? Tell the French why and why they should care about your product. Tell them in French.

Veronique Mermaz

Véronique Mermaz is a native French speaker and a branding and marketing specialist living in East Anglia, UK. Founder of, a French marketing support service for English-speaking businesses, she has 25 years of marketing experience in Paris in large/small agencies and corporate companies. She has promoted some of the biggest brands like Henkel, L’Oréal, Christian Dior, Canal+ and Air France, as well as not-for-profit organisations. She successfully managed a variety of marketing projects from national advertising campaigns to corporate communication, TV commercials, brand design, direct marketing and press coverage.

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