By Ann-Christin Lindstedt published November 10, 2010

6 Things to Switch When Targeting Content for Foreign Markets

Quick question. Which would you rather receive: a form letter addressed to “Dear Friend” with a generic sales pitch, or a personalized note addressing your most pressing concerns and offering tailored ideas to help?

Hmmm. Tough choice, right?

In that case, don’t take a one-size-fits-all approach to your content marketing—especially as you start targeting foreign markets.

In my last post for CMI, I listed some ideas for leveraging locals to create new content for foreign markets.  But of course, you also have existing content you want to use. Before you click the translate button and call it done (*cringe*—please don’t use automated translation software), ask yourself if there’s anything else you can do to localize your content, to make it more relevant and engaging for the local audience.

Switching out key pieces of information can make your existing content much more effective for international audiences. It can mean the difference between an irrelevant form letter and a personal note. So don’t simply translate: target.

Freelance magazine writers do something similar to get the most out of their research.  They “re-slant” articles and topics by changing the focus, writing style, interview subjects, etc. to fit the particular profiles and audiences of various magazines.

You can do the same with your existing content for various regions — both domestically and internationally – by making some important switches.

Switch quotes

For example, if you quote an expert medical professional about a particular health issue or statistic, find a local medical professional to give the same information.  Want to highlight a company employee? If you have staff there, interview someone working in the target region. Quoting the wisdom of Benjamin Franklin? Perhaps there’s a comparable quotation from a well-known historical person from the target region.

Switch stats

Which is more compelling: seeing how something affects people living thousands of miles away or seeing how it affects people living right next door? If statistics are available for the target region, use them. If not, consider being the first to research and compile those data. (That could yield a lot of new content ideas for you, too.)

Switch voice

Tone of voice can carry big implications for your content marketing success.  In some regions, humor isn’t appropriate for certain business situations. In others, people appreciate straightforward language rather than flowery language, or vice versa.  In some countries, humility matters. In others, confidence. Be aware of what emotions or prejudices your tone of voice may evoke in a particular region and tailor your content to convey your meaning in the most effective way.

Switch idioms

Or better yet, drop idioms, clichés and colloquialisms from your international content altogether. Nothing translates worse (or more hilariously).  Imagine the imagery conjured with direct translations of: “raining cats and dogs,” “kick the bucket,” “hog-tied,” “there’s more than one way to skin a cat,” “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours,” and “I’d like to pick your brains.” Make sure there’s a comparable saying in the local language; otherwise, say it in a different way.

Switch visuals

Graphs, charts, photos, illustrations. Check them all to make sure they communicate the right things to regional audiences. Obviously, a picture of a family gathered around a barbecue grill on the Fourth of July with an American flag waving in the background won’t work in Europe. But little things can make a difference, too. For example, does your chart or illustration use a color that has negative connotations in your target region?

Switch units

This may seem basic, but it’s easy enough to forget so a reminder wouldn’t hurt. Make sure you use the correct conversions for weights, measurements, currency, temperature, etc.

Now, all this may seem like too much extra work.  After all, you’ve already spent a lot of time researching, writing, formatting, designing, and otherwise creating the most effective content marketing you can. But that’s exactly the point — you want your content to be the most effective it can be. So don’t stop now. Remember the form letter example?


Make the smartest decision, not the quickest and easiest. Get help where you need it from local experts such as copywriters and localization consultants. And make sure to vet everything through a native speaker who understands your brand identity and content marketing goals.

Are you faced with adapting existing content to foreign markets?  What tools and methods do you find most helpful?

Author: Ann-Christin Lindstedt

Ann-Christin Lindstedt is a Norwegian/American copywriter from Texas living in southern Sweden. As the owner of GlobalReach Copywriting, Ann-Christin blends her Scandinavian heritage and American style to help European businesses create targeted English content marketing and corporate communication. You’ll find her connecting the dots between Europe and the USA on her blog and Twitter at @useglobalreach.

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  • Beth Ryan

    One more thing to add to the list, UK vs. US spelling – we say “aluminum” and the Brits say “aluminium”; it’s very important both for copy (we find what we consider to be misspellings annoying), and understanding that the British taught the world to speak English is key for global search engine optimization. Everyone in Europe uses a UK English spell checker. Two great countries separated by a common language!

    • Ann-Christin

      Thanks for your comment, Beth! You’re absolutely right. There are so many ways to misunderstand each other with our “common language.” (I had a particularly funny miscommunication about biscuits with a friend of mine from London not too long ago:

      The preferences and reasoning for using US v. UK English (or Canadian, Australian, etc.) vary greatly. A significant number of European companies actually opt to use US English for marketing and corporate communication. So a case could be made for using US English in Europe for certain content. The key is to pinpoint your audience.

      You make a great point about SEO, too. So much goes into localizing great content!

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  • globalcopywrite

    Hi Ann-Christin,

    I’ve always been a little confused about the process of localization but equating it to what freelance magazine writers do to get wider publication made it perfectly clear. Thanks for that.

    You’re so right about the importance of understanding cultural differences when developing content. I hosted a wedding reception – my own – in Malaysia and splashed out on white orchids. The management insisted we get the flowers out of the room at the end of the evening. Since my husband and I were leaving on a trip the next morning, I suggested he distribute them amongst his staff. Guess what? White is the color for funerals in the Chinese community and considered bad luck. We ended the evening carting dozens and dozens of beautiful flowers to the bin. No one even wanted to touch them!

    Thanks for an insightful post.

    • Ann-Christin

      Thanks, Sarah! That’s a great example. I can imagine how beautiful those orchids were. I’m surprised the florist didn’t mention anything to you. Colors have such strong emotional and cultural impact, but we don’t often think about how others view them because the emotions are so inherent.

      • globalcopywrite

        I don’t think the florist thought it was in her best interest to clue me in!

        This morning we were treated to another classic example of a misunderstanding between cultures, this time with significant diplomatic impact. The Korean hosts of the G20 Summit have embarrassingly portrayed the PM of Australia, Julia Gillard, in a traditional Austrian costume complete with dirndl and apron. It’s being displayed in the city center along with “larger than life” figurines of all the G20 world leaders in costumes reflective of their country’s traditions. You can read about it here:

        • Ann-Christin

          Wow! Amazing no one caught that at some point during the design or production phases. Lesson: always, always, always confirm with a native from that region before going “larger than life.” This mistake could have been so easily prevented.

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