By Sarah Mitchell published February 7, 2014

How to Prepare Your Content Marketing for a Global Audience

illustration of globe filled with peopleHere’s an eye-opener: Less than 6 percent of the world’s population speaks English well enough to conduct business. Furthermore, many who speak English don’t know how to read it. In fact, 96 percent of the world’s consumers do not live in the United States.

Scott Abel, consultant and content futurist, explains the content marketing significance of these realities: “Many of us treat the worldwide web like the Ohio web or the American English web. Marketers are overwhelmed and unprepared to produce content for a global audience.” 

Nonetheless, Abel believes there’s tremendous opportunity for brands to reach consumers once unreachable due to differences in geography and language. This view is shared by author John Yunker, who claims the global market for international domain names (IDN) is greater than 2.5 billion people (and most are not native English speakers).

“We’re inching closer to a linguistically local Internet, in which people no longer have to leave their native languages to get where they want to go,” Yunker writes on his Global by Design blog. “This is a positive development for making the Internet truly accessible to the world.”

So how can content marketing practitioners prepare?

The first and obvious solution is to get your content professionally translated. While online translation tools like Google Translate make it easier to reach a larger audience, they will not capture the nuances of language that are essential to engaging an audience with your content marketing, such as colloquialisms, humor, and cultural sensitivities. A professional translator can ensure the trust you’ve built for your brand is not damaged by awkward missteps.

Next, understand the cultural differences of other countries, going beyond simple political correctness. According to marketing expert Rohit Bhargava and InterCultural Group Founder Paolo Nagari, it takes a principled approach to develop content to attract a global audience. They urge content marketers to view language as only part of the solution to creating global content: “It’s important to value the local point of view,” says Bhargava.

To do so, take into consideration a broad scope of cultural differences. While seemingly minor, certain off-cue remarks can alienate your audience. Pay special attention to such details as colors, holidays, religious references, sports, fiscal years, and even superstitions — missteps will signal you are an outsider.

For example, white is a color that is associated with death in China, so the traditional white-wedding imagery of Anglo countries may flop. Football in America is different than football in Europe, and different yet again to the football game played in Australia. Even a seemingly innocuous sentence like, “October is the time when most companies lock in plans and budgets for next year,” sends the message to your global audience you don’t understand how their business runs.

“The big question is how do you apply your global mindset to create content that works across cultures without building a huge team or relying on just translations,” says Nagari. His view is that most brands can ensure the global integrity of their content by engaging local subject matter experts to review everything before it’s published. Unless you’re a mega-brand like Coca-Cola, building a large team is unnecessarily expensive, since your core message is likely to remain unchanged from country to country.

It’s time to develop a healthy respect for the consumer living outside of your local boundaries. American marketers are often perceived as xenophobic in their content — a trait not tolerated in other markets. Unfortunately, the same is true of most other countries. As globalization takes hold in business, so too must it infiltrate every part of your content marketing strategy.

This article originally appeared in the February 2014 issue of Chief Content Officer. Sign up to receive your free subscription to our quarterly magazine. 

Author: Sarah Mitchell

Sarah Mitchell is Director of Content Strategy at Lush Digital Media, co-host of the Brand Newsroom podcast and founder of Global Copywriting. She develops content marketing and community engagement strategies for clients in a variety of industries. Sarah works in Perth, Western Australia and frequently speaks on topics related to Content Marketing and Social Media. She's also the Australian editor for Chief Content Officer magazine. Follow her on Twitter: @SarahMitchellOz.

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  • Scott Abel

    Thanks for the mention. I’m excited to be bringing a global content strategy track to Content Marketing World this September. This is a huge growth area for brands (and content marketers). As the world becomes more connected, the only thing separating us from one another is a common language. Although we may think of English as a bridge language, the best language to communicate with prospects and customers is their own.

  • 344kellogg

    Does CMI translate all of their blog articles?

  • Scott Abel

    No, of course they don’t translate all of their blog articles. That’s not practical. But, I predict, as we try to expand our reach across physical borders, we will see a move (already underway in high tech circles) to internationalize our English. In other words, we’ll refine our writing rules (and get our tools to enforce those rules) so that the content we create is world ready so it may be localized (made more meaningful, appropriate, and effective for a particular culture, locale, or market) with minimal rewriting, redesigning, or reengineering. When we do this, we make it possible for machines to provide on-the-fly translations. Are there challenges. Yes, but usually it’s people that are the challenge, not the rules or the technology.

  • globalcopywrite

    That’s great news, @scottabel:disqus. I’m speaking on globalisation at Content Marketing World Sydney in April. I think it’s a super important topic for anybody that’s interested in doing business outside their local region. I really enjoyed your presentation at CMWorld last year so it’s awesome to hear there will be a whole stream in 2014. (And Kevin Spacey!!

  • Ed Marsh

    there’s lots of this sort of content, mostly created by translation services, floating around. but it ignores fundamental points.

    1. a really well optimized content marketing effort will generate a number of leads (including some well qualified) – so build it properly just for the US, and it will create global leads

    2. inbound marketing is about much more than a page of local language content. if the spectrum of activity is to attract, convert, close & delight the right folks – then it starts with personas and a clear understanding of where your product can be sold and why people will buy it. Buying decisions, product localization, persona roles and characteristics, buyers journey and other factors vary by market. They must be understood and developed based on deep, local experience. Then keywords, social media channels and behaviors, prevalent device type for content consumption, pain points, etc. can drive the creation of content – and by definition the content will be different than in one’s domestic market. So simply translating content optimized for one market to a different language is generally fruitless.

    And very few companies are willing to manage multiple TLDs, mutli-language CMS, complete parallel marketing automation and campaigns, etc.

    So a far more effective approach is to create awesome and really well optimized inbound marketing for the domestic market. Monitor metrics to determine pockets of interest and begin to create some local language CTAs (if you’ve got a way to serve dynamic content based on various factors including prospects IP address) and local language landing pages. Serve your basic content with the caveat that you understand it’s specific to one market but has some applicability and ask them to offer insight on how the conditions are different in their market. But make clear that communications will be in English – translating web pages and then having no clue how to correspond in the same language may frustrate buyers.

    And when you know which market (or couple) are really active, create microsites which are locally optimized with transcreated content – not simply translated!

    • globalcopywrite

      Hi Ed,

      In principle, what you say is true, except it’s often not. As someone who has lived and worked in a lot of different places, I can tell you content that looks and feels ‘American’ often is rejected out of hand. That’s the last thing you want. By all means, create great content for your local market. If you never plan on doing business beyond your local area, you’ll be fine. But globalisation is a lot more than just translation – as you point out. But it’s also a lot more than just creating really great content. If you’re not resonating with your target market, or even possibly unintentionally offending an audience, you’re going to be disappointed.

      • Ed Marsh

        sarah – thanks for reply and discussion. it sounds like we’re both formulating opinions based on extensive global experience. And it sounds like we are converging on agreement.

        content has to look and feel global – in imagery, style, fonts, and even admin details like whether a pdf is formatted for A4 or US letter.

        the problem that many encounter with translation is complete market disconnect. i’ve seen lots of automation companies, for instance, take content written around labor savings which target a plant manager level buyer (empowered to initiate and approve capex in some places) and translate it to sell into other markets where only an MD would entertain any new investment and where labor cost is essentially irrelevant. so local language translation was a waste of money.

        if however they had understood the target market even superficially from cultural and business perspectives, and created a piece targeting MDs and speaking about the value of automation in allaying concerns about child & other labor practices, ensuring consistent quality and quick lead-times for various large export markets, they would have a message which would resonate.

        my point was that you have to have great localized content to succeed globally – otherwise you’re better concentrating on optimizing what you have first.

        • globalcopywrite

          I agree completely, Ed. Too many companies think translations is the same as globalisation. There’s also wide-spread practice of using automated translation tools under the misguided belief that it’s ‘close enough’. Really, translation is just the first step in a considered approach to an international content strategy. Many, many companies would benefit from a focus on localisation, as well. I can’t tell you how irritated the British Commonwealth countries find American marketing copy. (But then you probably already know.)

          This article was originally written for CCO magazine and was constrained in length by the printed page. I could go on and on and plan to delve further into this topic on my own blog and at Content Marketing World Sydney.

          I appreciate your thoughtful comments and passionate view on the topic.

  • Churchill Madyavanhu

    Interesting topic. We are working on an international micro jobs site where services will be provided in 7 languages – Even choosing the name for our platform was not an easy task. Most English speaking people that we reached out to for feedback told us that the name is not catchy, etc., but they forgot that we need to take cultural, language and other differences into consideration. I hope to hear more about this topic here in the future.

    • globalcopywrite

      You’re right, Churchill. Often the hardest part of a global project is to get agreement on the right tone of voice, phrase or overall vibe. It can be very hard to translate any of that. It’s why it’s so important to have people you can call on in each region where you plan to distribute content.

  • Sue

    Good post. I still wish marketers would focus on either having the “local” expert in house or partner with someone locally prior to content distribution. This important point seems to get glossed over a lot and treated as an after-thought. Taking some time to ensure all i’s are crossed and all t’s are dotted on the front-end will help to minimize issues on the back end.

    • globalcopywrite

      I agree, Sue. As someone who has done a lot of localisation on English language documents, I can tell you it make a huge difference to your readership. Unfortunately, localisation is a lot like good service. When it’s there, no one notices it. When it’s absent, a whole lot of people get very disenchanted with your company.

  • Alexandra Petean-Nicola

    Great article. I find it hard to believe that you could create pieces of content that all of them would satisfy the global consumer but you can build a strategy in which your content reaches the global community through different pieces on your site.

    • globalcopywrite

      That’s one way to do it, @alexandrapeteannicola:disqus. I would argue every piece of content isn’t appropriate for every locality. Still, it depends on what you’re selling, Coca-Cola is a good example of a global brand with wide appeal. But even Coca-Cola changes their content for different regions to attract a wider audience.

  • Amy Nickson

    Indeed a great article! It’s true that in order to create a niche within the present content marketing industry, it is necessary to design content that is globally acceptable. This might be a tough endeavor for all those who write content but again it is necessary for them to boost their visibility and be accepted by everyone. One should learn by the way in which Coca Cola changes its content according to the different kinds of people residing in different regions.

  • patrickwillis111

    Innovative Post,,,brand are service related products populated when it was user friendly way of appearance.then it will be identified because business peoples they will think not for western countries point of view product will be recognized by global market then its generate better revenue for an industry(organization) point of view.

  • socialnmp

    I have created a social bookmarking site (like Pinterest, Digg, Delicious, etc) but for JUST network marketing and marketers. Its free for you to post links to blogs and create groups, etc. Its called SocialNMP dot com.