You've set one goal for your business this year and it's international expansion. You dream of customers and clients from beyond your local borders clamoring for your services and wares.
It all looks simple on the surface. After all, the internet will take you anywhere, right? You've already created a veritable trove of content to promote your strengths and expertise. Now it's just down to the matter of translating those creations for an international audience.
But that isn't so simple.
Before you make the leap across the pond, continent or mountain range with content you've used to fuel your international expansion goals, heed what can get lost in translation. The following strategies can help.
“American companies often assume the world is just like America but with different languages," says Doug Kessler, co-founder of Velocity Partners.
With offices in New York and London, his marketing agency sees its fair share of clients with international expansion aspirations. Operating under the assumption that reaching an international audience is merely about translating words on the page is erroneous, and a path that can lead to less-than-spectacular results.
For Kessler, listening is key for a successful content strategy beyond your own borders.
—Doug Kessler, co-founder, Velocity Partners
“Listen to your own local team members and to customers and prospects in the local markets," Kessler advises. "Listen before you create marketing for them. Even if this feels like 'inclusion theater,' it will change your marketing—or you're not doing it right."
Through listening, your business can extract valuable market data that your current and future content strategies can address. From differences in daily living (think: auto ownership rates vs. public transit usage) to stories in the local news, you can put a finger on the pulse of your desired demographic simply by listening before you endeavor to translate or create.
When you're ready to translate and create, it's important you do the work instead of making your audience do it for you.
Localize (or Localise)
As a globetrotting keynote speaker and author of Same Side Selling, Ian Altman's job is to keep an audience's attention, regardless of geography. His number one tip for those hungry for international expansion through content? Localize. Or, localise.
“If you are presenting a concept and use dollars, but your audience uses pounds, they have to translate what you are saying into terms and figures they understand," says Altman. “When that happens, they don't hear anything you're saying while they are translating."
Truly a lost in translation moment.
Beyond just the units and words you choose, however, there's the question of context.
“You must speak to customers, not just in their language, but in a voice that resonates with them," says Kessler. “Local culture, slang and colloquialisms can all affect how you present your brand in a market. This is especially true in advertising and marketing where you may be attempting humor only to miss [the mark], or relying on metaphors that have no meaning once translated."
To help avoid these snafus, Kessler recommends that brands seek out experts in their targeted expansion markets for a first-hand view of how you can translate current content.
“You may not be able to accommodate every nuance," he says, "but you should at least understand what compromises you're making."
Robert Rose stresses that brands put in the effort to audit where they and their competition stand in the target international market. (He's the chief content officer of Content Advisory—a firm dedicated to helping companies build audiences all over the world.)
“One company I worked with—they happen to be the proprietary eponym of their industry—discovered this the hard way by getting nasty emails from Germans," says Rose. “Not only were they not the 'leading brand of xyz' in Germany as their marketing copy claimed, they weren't even in the top five."
Pay Attention to Layers
When you've listened and then done the work to localize your content, your content strategy still has work to do. Content created for international expansion isn't solely about the words on the page. To become and remain relevant in your new market, your content has to own every one of its onion-like layers.
Your current content strategy, whether you realize it or not, has layer upon layer that will require a thorough translation. Bringing your content to an Arabic or Asian-speaking nation will mean a change in text direction on your website. Can your website accommodate this shift?
You'll also have to consider how consumers in your targeted geography consume content. For example, only nine percent of Indonesians consume content via a desktop computer, according to a 2017 comScore analysis. The other 91 percent? You guessed it. Mobile.
Rose adds that images are often overlooked. But he suggests making visuals a top priority when you begin translating international content.
“Many images that we in the West find completely innocent will be inappropriate for some other countries," says Rose. “That stock art image or big icon you have on the front page of your web site showing a 'thumbs up' means something very different in Greece than it does in Western nations."
And it's not as simple as switching the thumb out to another seemingly innocuous image. You'd do well to skip the thumb-to-forefinger “okay" sign if you're looking to make friends in Brazil.
Listen. Localize. Layers.
Three steps that can lead a successful international expansion strategy fueled by content.
While I'll admit they're easier said than done, they are all work worth doing to help you endear your brand to the people you most wish to reach the world over. And who knows? You just might discover strategies, metaphors and multiple cultures that will add depth to messages for your existing Western audience.
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