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 the founder of Global Copywriting and co-host of the Brand Newsroom podcast. She develops content marketing 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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