Don’t Become the Next Six Flags: Market to Your Target

American theme park company Premier Parks Inc. made a mistake in the early 2000s. They took over Walibi Flevo and rebranded it to “Six Flags: the Rollercoaster Capital of Europe”. But their marketing team didn’t realize that Europeans, unlike Americans, aren’t very likely to travel hours and hours to visit a theme park. Unable to attract enough visitors, Six Flags was sold again in 2004.

They learnt the hard way that marketing strategies can’t always be translated directly to a new market. When you’re (thinking about) going global, you’re not only expanding to a new language: you’re also reaching out to a new culture. Both can present challenges you might be unaware of if you’re unfamiliar with the language or culture of your target market. Read our three tips to help kick-start your global journey.

1: Cultural Knowledge Is Key

If you want your marketing efforts to resonate, you need to have a thorough understanding of the language and culture of the market you’re entering. Formulating a strategy based on what you know works in your home country, simply won’t cut it. Former theme park chairman Ronald van der Zijl recently looked back on the American takeover of Walibi Flevo:

“[They were] going to buy Walibi and turn it into a Six Flags near Amsterdam. That’s not how it works in the Netherlands. Six Flags isn’t near Amsterdam at all.”

Americans do not only measure distance differently in miles versus kilometres, but they also have quite a different perception of distance compared to European people. In a country as vast as the USA, it’s not uncommon to drive for six hours to get somewhere.

But in the Netherlands, roughly three times smaller than just the state of New York, an hour away can already be considered far. Six Flags in Biddinghuizen, about 70 km from Amsterdam, isn’t even “near Amsterdam” to Dutch people, let alone near enough other European countries for their residents to become regular visitors. So when they promoted Six Flags as the “Rollercoaster Capital of Europe” situated close to Amsterdam, they missed the mark. While their multi-million dollar investment initially attracted two million visitors, the numbers quickly dropped to only 685,000 in 2003, and they sold the park again in 2004.

2: Marketing Translations Require Marketing Translators

This may sound straightforward, but you should find a specialized translator for your content. Just like you wouldn’t go to a dentist to have your eyes checked, you shouldn’t hire a technical translator for your marketing materials. Knowing a foreign language isn’t enough to qualify as a translator and having a lot of experience translating legal documents doesn’t make a translator suited to handle all types of content. 

A good marketing translator is a creative writer with a thorough knowledge of the target culture and a deep understanding of your brand and message. They will focus less on the actual words used in your original content and more on the meaning and intended effect of your message. They know their way around puns, idioms and space limitations, and may even offer sound advice on the images or colours you’re planning to use. They can help you navigate cultural boundaries that would otherwise hurt or restrain your business, preventing scenario’s like the disappointing Six Flags takeover.

3: Build Global Brand Awareness with Local Brand Adaptations

In the digital age the entire world can be your market. Creating a global brand with the same look, positioning and marketing strategies in every country may seem like an efficient, cost-effective and timesaving way to build brand awareness. But while this one-size-fits-all approach works for some companies, your branding may not always be suitable for other countries. Honda nearly made a big mistake when they were preparing to introduce their new model Honda Fitta in European markets. As they later found out, ‘fitta’ is a vulgar term for vagina in Swedish. Good thing Honda gathered feedback from different markets and was able to change the name to Jazz before any damage was done.

This goes to show that researching and carefully targeting your local brand adaptation is necessary to achieve success on a global scale. By crafting a tailored message for specific markets, your brand can still retain its core values and recognizable identity worldwide. McDonald’s is a nice example. Their concept and look are widely recognized, but the company has also proven great at using cultural insight to adapt their menus locally, with unique items such as the Spicy Paneer Wrap in India or the McKroket in the Netherlands.