Multilingual Content: A Key Driver for Ecommerce Growth

Apr 04, 2017


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Engaging with customers in their language is essential to delivering great experiences. Language is more than just using the right words. It also involves crafting all content that touches the customer in such a way that it demonstrates empathy and understanding.

Creating great content is no easy task in one’s native language. It’s even more challenging to create content in multiple languages in order to reach new customers, while making sure that the language is natural and authentic. For instance, the Spanish that is spoken in Spain may be comprehensible to a Spanish speaker in Mexico or Argentina. However, the Spanish spoken in each of those countries will have differences in vocabulary, style, and colloquial usage. It is imperative to localize every piece of content to be effective.

Furthermore, content needs to reflect the context for each country. Given that winter in Argentina runs from June to September, a global clothing retailer is more likely to see higher sales in that country by advertising winter clothing during that period. Meanwhile, the same retailer would advertise summer clothing in Spain. 

The U.K.-based retailer ASOS is an example of a company that has put multilingual content at the heart of its strategy. The company now earns more than half of its $1.8 billion in sales from international customers. ASOS touts its online content as a key driver for its international success. In its most recent annual report, it notes that the company creates “60,000 pieces of inspirational fashion and lifestyle content” each month.

It’s not just business-to-consumer (B2C) retailers with big budgets that have seen multilingual content have a direct impact on their bottom lines. Martin Engineering, a U.S. company that handles bulk materials, implemented a solution from Smartling. The company immediately saw an increase in global traffic, and its first new customer came out of that traffic within 4 hours of going live.

There is no shortage of technologies and strategies that can be employed for a successful multilingual content strategy. Marketing and content professionals know this all too well, as they have long been on the front lines of championing multilingual content and have traditionally been the ones making the case in their companies to invest in translation and localization resources. Such investments tend to include translating content in-house; employing the services of a translation agency; software-based solutions from language service providers such as Lionbridge, TransPerfect, and SDL; and a combination of the aforementioned.

But despite having made these types of investments, many companies are either struggling to manage global content effectively or to convince decision makers that having a unified strategy for multilingual content is essential to improving customer experience for international customers. A recent report by Forrester (on behalf of SDL) notes that among U.S. enterprises with revenues of more than $1 billion, 62% of respondents had five or more content repositories, and 36% had 10 or more repositories. The same report notes that for those who work with a language translation provider, just 29% had direct integration with their web CMS. The study found that it was not the lack of technology solutions that holds companies back from making the best use of multilingual content.

Rather, it is organizational challenges—such as fragmented budgets and a lack of incentives for cooperating across regions and business units—that stymie growth. There are examples in which companies have experienced the benefits of following a comprehensive multilingual content strategy. But those that truly want to realize these benefits will need to ensure that they have the right organizational structure in place prior to making the investments in new people, processes, and technology.

Nelson Mandela once said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” Companies striving to provide great customer experiences—and engender loyalty and trust—need to communicate in a language that shows they not only understand, but empathize with, their customers.  


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