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Create Content that Effectively Crosses Cultural and Linguistic Borders

As more of the world gets online, the potential audience for your content grows. More brands are reaching out to customers around the world through websites, social media, blogs, and videos. The rapid growth in internet use in Asia, the Middle East and Latin America is opening up unprecedented opportunities for content marketers.

For global brands, multilingual websites are becoming a necessity. A recent study found that 58 percent of Fortune 500 companies have multilingual websites, and 70 percent of America’s biggest companies have some localized content. If a company already has a presence in a foreign market, content marketing is an obvious next step. But communicating effectively across national and linguistic borders can create unique challenges.

Here are a few steps you can use to create content that won’t get lost in translation.

Identify your core message

Your core brand messages should stay the same worldwide, but may be adapted to fit other cultures. Every company has its own style, brand image, or tone of voice it wants to sell to its customers. Whether it’s young and edgy, or classic and traditional, this should stay consistent.

Coca-Cola recently announced its ambitious new content marketing strategy. While its key values and message — to “refresh” and “create moments of optimism and happiness” — remains the same on a global scale, the substance of its content will vary among cultures.

McDonald’s is another good example of a company that successfully adapts its message, as well as its menus, to different cultures. The same slogan, “I’m lovin’ it,” is used globally, but on the Swiss site, it’s paired with an image of a woman relaxing, alone, listening to music through headphones. On the more colorful Indian site, the same slogan is associated with a family enjoying an outing to the supermarket.

Switzerland, like many Western countries, is seen as having a more individualistic culture, making this image a good fit. Swiss users tend to prefer more minimalist websites with muted colors and fewer images or interactive elements. In contrast, family is extremely important in India, and websites tend to be more colorful and interactive.

Getting the language right

When writing for a global audience, it’s important to use clear language and an easily understood style. Removing colloquialisms and jargon from your English content and keeping your message simple will help ensure that your message doesn’t get lost and can be easily translated into other languages.

Content marketing in foreign languages can be the key to reaching a much larger audience. Figures from Internet World Stats show that English is rapidly losing its position as the dominant online language, with growth in Arabic, Chinese, and Russian far outstripping it. English now only accounts for around a quarter of web users, with Chinese close behind.

While it’s true that English is widely spoken as a second language across the world, research by the Common Sense Advisory found that people overwhelmingly prefer to browse the web in their mother tongue. According to its report, Can’t Read, Won’t Buy, 85 percent of respondents were reluctant to make significant purchases without information in their first language.

A few tips:

  • It’s best to use native-speaking translators who are ideally based in the target country for website translations.
  • If possible, find translators with experience of the subject matter and marketing translations, to ensure the style is right.
  • Don’t forget about differences among dialects — there are significant differences between French Canadian and the language spoken in France.
  • The best option is to create separate websites for each country. This also allows you to secure a top-level domain name (for example for each market, boosting search engine rankings.

A cost-effective way to test the waters is to translate the main pages of your website for a new market. If there’s enough interest, it’s worth translating the whole site.

Simplify content management

There’s no doubt multilingual content marketing can be a time-consuming process. Choosing the right content management system can reduce the strain. There are a number of systems available, such as Drupal, WordPress and Joomla that make it easier to manage content in multiple languages. For example, Joomla supports 65 languages.

Other tools, such as translation memories, terminology databases, and corporate glossaries help to ensure consistency across all content.

Translation memories record all previous translations across a particular language combination. They can be used to identify phrases or sentences that have already been translated, saving time for the translator and ensuring consistency. Terminology databases and glossaries specify the correct equivalent of certain English terms, so these are always used in the target language. These tools help make sure your international marketing stays in tune with your key brand image and message.

To save time and costs, reuse as much content as possible. While Google (and other search engines) penalize duplicate content in the same language, they don’t recognize duplication in translation. This means you can directly translate your English content with a few changes to tweak it for your target market and increase your search visibility at the same time.

Localize, localize, localize

Localization is the process of making the content relevant to a target culture, complete with correct spelling and the use of local and cultural references. It can involve everything from communication style to design preferences. For example, many Asian cultures tend to prefer more interactive, colorful websites, so videos, pop-up text, and a number of different entry points are commonly used in those cultures. In contrast, Scandinavian and Northern European customers prefer more minimalist, text-heavy designs.

Ideally, localization of content should be an integral part of the creation process. McDonald’s involves its international teams at an early stage of product development, ensuring it can adapt their most effective marketing strategies to each individual culture where its campaigns are rolled out. Its in-country translation and localization teams ensure that the content strikes the right note in each country.

Of course, not all content marketers will have the resources for full-time marketing teams based in each country. An alternative is hiring native-speaking translators or localization experts, as required, to ensure the content is tailored for the target audience.

Integrate social media and other content marketing

Converged media strategies — those that integrate content marketing with social media and paid advertising — can be key to engaging consumers, and many brands are successfully adopting this for their overseas marketing efforts.

It’s important to bear in mind that popular social networks vary among countries; for example, Qzone, Renren and Tencent Weibo are social media leaders in China — where Facebook and Twitter are still banned.

F.C. Barcelona recently worked with the Chinese internet company Tencent to develop its localized website, in response to the soccer club’s millions of fans residing in China. It initially tested the water by launching Chinese social media accounts. When this was a big success, it branched out with a dedicated website. With the club’s approval, Tencent is creating branded applications and games for the site that are specifically aimed at the local market. F.C. Barcelona is also working with other organizations, including a partnership with the Catalan tourist board to promote the region, which includes working together on an online competition to promote Catalonia in China. With the football club’s support, the competition website received 6 million hits in a month.

Vogue Paris recently launched an English-language edition, aiming to bring the latest French fashion to American and British audiences. It supported its launch with a dedicated social media campaign and translated mobile apps for international fashionistas who are interested in the Paris fashion scene.

Content marketing across cultures needs a carefully defined strategy, perseverance, and plenty of creativity. For even the biggest global brands, it can be a tricky balance to get right. But as the web becomes more diverse and multilingual, it can be the best way to reach a much wider audience.

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