Cosmetics & Beauty Products Localization: 10 Things to Consider When Selling into Worldwide Markets

There’s never been a better moment for K-beauty brands to expand outside national borders. Over the past decade, the K-beauty phenomenon has captivated the world, turning South Korean skincare and cosmetics into a symbol of excellence and sophistication. With that solid reputation already in place, you have the perfect scene set on the global stage, and now you must make your show impeccable so it speaks directly to the audience’s hearts — and that’s where localization comes in.

Why is it so important? The K-beauty wave has set high expectations for all cosmetic brands and allowed Korean cosmetics to compete in a worldwide market. Localization will help you reach new audiences and grow sales with high-quality, culturally relevant products and experiences.

South Korea’s cosmetics exports have increased by 21.7% yearly: the beauty and cosmetics industry is crowded, and new Korean brands like Beauty of Joseon, Yepoda, and Donginbi are gaining popularity just as fast as the large players. Localization can be a significant differentiator, helping you outshine competitors with products and experiences finely tuned to local tastes and preferences.

Advantages of localized digital marketing campaigns in the beauty and cosmetics industry

Each market has its own beauty ideals, skincare concerns, and cultural nuances. Product offerings and marketing campaigns that reflect these local specifics create a stronger emotional connection with your audience and help you grow market share.

This cultural resonance will also:

  • Build brand awareness and trust with your local audience, which will grow your new fan bases.
  • Increase conversion rates, which ultimately leads to more customers and revenue growth.
  • Encourage brand loyalty as it makes customers feel valued and understood.
  • Enhance overall customer satisfaction with a long-term impact on repeat sales and brand perception.

Effective localization facilitates smoother market entry and expansion thanks to marketing messaging that resonates with local buyers. But most important, it becomes a competitive advantage in the crowded beauty and cosmetics industry.

And last but not least, localization ensures regulatory compliance—not just an added benefit but a critical necessity. Selling beauty products worldwide involves navigating various country-specific regulations covering ingredient safety, labeling requirements, and advertising standards. Localization is not a nice-to-have but rather a must-have, ensuring that products meet each market’s legal and safety criteria.

To maximize your investment in localization, consider the following key factors and best practices. These will guide you in effectively adapting your products and marketing strategies to align with local regulations, cultural differences, and buyer preferences.

1.  Get to know your target audience

When expanding your beauty brand into a new region, the first step is thoroughly understanding the market and its buyers. Analyze who is buying in your new market, why, and how they buy. Pay close attention to key industry trends and buyer preferences, such as the demand for natural or organic ingredients, focus sustainability, and preference for popular product categories like skincare or makeup. For example, in the U.S, women buy based on quality, they are price sensitive, they care about brand reputation, they are keen on product innovation, and they want a wide variety of shade ranges.  A brand would double down on those elements to sell in the U.S.

To find these things out, use online and offline surveys to collect quantitative data on customer preferences, purchasing habits, and brand perceptions. Complement this with focus group discussions to gather qualitative insights, which will provide feedback on specific product concepts or marketing messages. This way, you’re well informed about your new audience and can effectively tailor your strategies to meet local needs.

2.  Do competitor research

Identify local and international competitors, including direct competitors (other Korean brands) and indirect competitors (local beauty brands). Note their product lines, the variety within them, how they position themselves in the market, their taglines, the number of languages on their website, their shipping/return policies, their social media preferences, the variety in ways to buy, on and on.  This competitive analysis will help you determine where to position your products in the market.

3.  Define your localization strategy from the outset

With so many Korean beauty brands going international, a well-thought-out localization strategy can provide a competitive edge. Clearly define how you will adapt to local markets to better differentiate yourself from competitors and capture a larger market share.

A key question is: keep it Korean or make it global?

For instance, Laneige doesn’t heavily emphasize its Korean origin in its global marketing strategy. Instead, it fully embraces localization, aligning its image with other companies from France or the US. Even its name and logo have a Western rather than an Asian feel, helping it to blend seamlessly into diverse markets.

In contrast, Yepoda leverages the hype around South Korean skincare to achieve rapid growth by emphasizing its origin and incorporating elements of Korean culture into its branding and marketing. This “localization with a twist” strategy includes using Korean terms, traditional ingredients, and cultural references, resonating with shoppers specifically seeking authentic K-beauty experiences. The depth of localization here involves not just adapting to local languages and regulations but also maintaining and highlighting the brand’s Korean roots to attract a niche audience.

If your strategy involves maintaining a strong Korean identity, the localization team will focus on lending local elements with traditional Korean aesthetics, ingredients, and cultural narratives. However, if you opt for a more Western look, the team must adapt these elements to align with different beauty standards. In this case, you should anticipate more work to modify packaging, messaging, and product presentation.

4.  Clarify your local content strategy

You might be tempted to replicate what other Korean brands do with a copycat strategy, but there’s no universal “Korean recipe” for success.

Going back to Laneige, the brand focuses on scientific innovation and uses modern visuals to appeal to a sophisticated audience. Its content includes in-depth product tutorials, skincare science education, and professional dermatological advice, catering to customers seeking effective, scientifically backed solutions. This strategy requires highly specialized translation and localization services to ensure accuracy and compliance with advertising regulations.

On the other hand, Innisfree emphasizes natural ingredients and eco-friendly practices, reflecting its commitment to sustainability. Its content features nature-inspired imagery and vibrant visuals that tell the story of its natural ingredients sourced from Jeju Island. The brand engages its audience through sustainability campaigns and interactive social media posts that encourage users to share their “green” beauty routines.

What do these two brands have in common? They’ve mastered communicating their values while aligning authentically with the public perception of what a Korean beauty brand represents. Each leverages its unique identity to resonate with different consumer segments, illustrating that global success requires a tailored and authentic approach above all else.

5.  Invest in cultural adaptation/transcreation

Cultural adaptation, transcreation, and creative marketing design go beyond simple translation to ensure your messages resonate with your target audience’s cultural context and preferences.

You’ll use transcreation services for the following elements:

  • Marketing content
  • Packaging
  • Website
  • Social media campaigns
  • Promotional materials

Transcreation helps you incorporate all these country-specific requirements in your core message without altering your brand’s essence. Which brings us to the next best practice.

6.  Know the local regulations

Understanding the law is crucial in the cosmetics industry because it helps you achieve compliance with local regulations, particularly for ingredients and labeling.

While most countries require ingredients to be listed in descending order of predominance, the EU and South Korea have more extensive lists of prohibited substances than the US. Additionally, allergen disclosure requirements differ, with the EU mandating the disclosure of 26 specific allergens if they exceed certain concentrations, which may not be identical in South Korea.

In some cases, additional documentation is required to sell products in a local market. For example, the EU mandates that all cosmetics have a Product Information File (PIF). This file includes detailed product information, safety assessments, and proof of efficacy for any claims made and must be available in local languages.

Marketing regulations also play a significant role. Most countries in the EU emphasize the substantiation of marketing claims, aiming to provide high transparency and protect consumers from misleading information. The US also emphasizes truthful advertising but allows more flexibility in marketing claims, provided they do not suggest a therapeutic benefit.

7.  Maintain your brand identity across markets

You need a consistent narrative across countries and marketing channels, including social media platforms, product descriptions, and packaging. Two major elements help you achieve brand consistency:

  1. A core message that aligns with your brand’s values
  2. A uniform visual identity

These elements help consumers quickly identify your products regardless of where they shop. So, even when adapting packaging to meet local standards and labeling rules, you must retain core design elements to ensure brand recognition remains intact.

Beauty of Joseon embodies this strategy with a universal message that showcases its commitment to traditional Korean herbal medicine. In the US, the brand capitalizes on influencer partnerships and informative content to spotlight the innovative features of its products, extending beyond just the ingredients. Meanwhile, it emphasizes cultural narratives for the European market, underscoring its historical and traditional foundations and aligning with the European values placed on authenticity and heritage.

Beauty of Joseon also uses consistent visual elements such as color schemes, fonts, and imagery that reflect its minimalist and elegant aesthetic rooted in Korean tradition. This uniformity is evident across countries and touchpoints, from the website and social media pages to physical packaging and in-store displays.

8.  Choose your translation approach: AI vs human

Cultural nuances and emotional resonance play decisive roles in the beauty market. While AI-based translation tools have made significant advancements, they often fail to capture the subtleties and context essential for effective marketing in this industry. Use AI only with ultimate caution.

For instance, describing a skincare routine or the benefits of specific ingredients must be precise and culturally relevant. AI tools often struggle with idiomatic expressions and industry-specific terminology, which are critical in the beauty sector. Furthermore, describing the luxurious feel of a moisturizer or the calming effect of a face mask requires a level of emotional engagement that AI translations lack. You must invest in human translation to make these descriptions accurate and evocative.

A hybrid approach, where AI does the initial work and then human translators refine the content, can offer a balance between efficiency and accuracy in some cases. However, for critical marketing materials, product descriptions, and brand messaging, it’s advisable to prioritize human translators to maintain the integrity and impact of your communication.

9.  Invest in multilingual SEO

Translating keywords instead of optimizing your content for local terms might have the opposite effect on your rankings.

Most keywords that perform well in South Korea will have a different impact in the US or Europe due to differences in language, culture, and beauty standards. “미백 크림” (whitening cream) is a frequently searched term among Korean consumers, reflecting the local beauty standard of fair skin. In Western markets, potential buyers might look for “brightening cream” or “glow cream” due to differing cultural perceptions of beauty and skincare goals.

Search engine algorithms in different countries will also likely prioritize various aspects of search queries. For example, in some European markets, consumers look for eco-friendly and natural ingredients, so keywords like “organic skincare” or “natural beauty products” are more prevalent. In contrast, keywords related to cutting-edge technology and innovation in skincare, like “anti-aging serum,” might be more prevalent in markets like the US, where there is a high demand for advanced skincare solutions.

Use local keyword research tools and analyze search volume, competition, and user intent specific to each region. Furthermore, you must pay attention to regional language and slang variations. The term “moisturiser” is commonly used in the UK, while “moisturizer” is the preferred spelling in the US. Similarly, in Spanish-speaking countries, a term like “crema hidratante” might be used differently in Spain compared to Latin America, where regional dialects and slang influence search queries.

10.  Choose your localization partners wisely

A vendor specializing in localization, cultural adaptation, and transcreation can significantly influence whether your brand succeeds in new markets. These professional services involve adapting content not just linguistically but culturally and contextually while maintaining the original brand message and tone.

Transcreation and localization experts understand the nuances of local cultures, consumer behaviors, and local vs. global trends. A beauty brand expanding into Japan might need to adjust its marketing messages to align with the local beauty standards emphasizing purity and simplicity rather than the bold and diverse beauty movements popular in the US. With expert help, you can navigate these nuances, so your content speaks directly to the local audience. Look for:

  1. Experience with global retail brands
  2. Linguists who are expert in transcreation not just translation
  3. Various approaches to translation, and strong use of assets like glossaries and style guides
  4. Expertise with multiple content types (video, web, documentation, social, packaging)
  5. Related services like app localization, testing for websites, and language quality assurance

Final thoughts on K beauty localization

Expanding into new countries requires more than just the groundwork laid by the government or other K beauty brands. For your Korean cosmetics brand to resonate with varied consumer groups, effective localization is essential. This ensures authentic connections, adherence to local regulations, and a distinct presence in an increasingly competitive global market.

At Hansem Global, we can help you achieve all these goals. Our teams of specialists include native language experts, cultural consultants, and industry-specific professionals. We can manage all aspects of your content—be it product descriptions, marketing campaigns, or social media posts—and craft every message with a deep understanding of the local market.

Hansem Global has comprehensive experience navigating the intricate language, culture, and technology landscape, essential for supporting Korean companies in their global endeavors​. With established processes and quality assurance measures, our robust workflows include multiple stages of review and feedback to prevent misinterpretations or cultural faux pas. Contact us and take the right step toward a successful localization strategy for your international expansion.