Localization is the Key to Going Global with Content Marketing

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Article ImageIf you have a piece of content marketing that worked wonders on audiences in the U.S., you might think it can also be effective with international decision makers. You figure translating it is the next step, but is it the last step? Not likely.

Truly localizing content generally requires significant attention to cultural nuances, brand consistencies, and the unique demands of audiences. Effective collaboration among cross-border content specialists is another piece of the puzzle.

"Localization is taking something that is already local for one market and making it local for another market," says Kevin Cohn, senior VP of operations at Smartling, an enterprise translation management platform. The holy grail, he says, would be for a Texas company to localize its content so well for the German market that customers there feel the company is actually based in their own country.

Many companies have trouble even getting close to that goal. After all, content marketing begins as a challenging endeavor, and the complexity only grows as marketers try to scale and adapt white papers, ebooks, and other content efforts for new audiences.

Pam Didner, author of Global Content Marketing, finds that budget constraints, deadline challenges, and a lack of buy-in from top executives all contribute to struggles with localizing content. The content marketing strategist says there's also a mistaken assumption by many U.S. companies that English will work just fine in pieces abroad.

English, while a common language of business, isn't for everyone. "A piece of content, no matter what kind, is so much more likely to resonate with someone if they can engage with it in their native language," says Robyn Lange, curator at the stock media provider Shutterstock. That creates an imperative to either produce fresh content in a new language or translate existing copy. But for localization, not all translation services are qualitatively equal, and what is produced by an automated service can fall short for content marketing efforts.

"There is a bit more thought involved than just looking at the source text and doing an equivalent version in the target language," says Lisa Plumridge, chief content officer of the content marketing agency EVG (EnVeritas Group). "Localization is all about bespoke content creation or rendering."

For instance, while more literary and flowery text may appeal to a French-speaking target market, the agency wouldn't use that writing style for content aimed at English speakers in the U.S. or the U.K., Plumridge says. Likewise, there may be French cultural references in a marketing piece that EVG would need to swap out because they wouldn't resonate with American or British readers.

Here's another example: When EVG creates pieces for Sofitel hotels in Arabic, it chooses not to focus on the properties' bars and cocktails, as it might for Western audiences, since many readers may not drink alcohol. Instead, it might emphasize an area's shopping and nearby sites in Arabic. "It's about making sensible decisions and using the right people to advise on those decisions as you go-that's what localization for us is all about," Plumridge says.   

Brand Challenges of Localization

Not taking into account nuances to better resonate with audiences abroad could have various ramifications on a brand and its attempt to continue a relationship with customers or prospects. "I think our customers are smart enough to be able to see when a human is communicating with them or a machine, and I think if we rely on machine translations, we lose that authenticity, which is one of our brand pillars," says Adam Lasky, global head of marketing communications for Spreadshirt, a custom apparel company with global content marketing efforts that include blogs in different languages. "If we're not authentic in that relationship, then that relationship ends, and customers then see themselves as simply a transaction number."

Likewise, the human touch is often necessary to ensure marketing messages stay precise. "Think about the effort and energy that marketers put into figuring out exactly how they want to describe their product or service in English," Cohn says. "Now imagine the challenges involved in taking that carefully honed message into all these different languages. You want to maintain that brand resonance and feel, and that's not something a machine can do."

Humans also need guidance to stay on the same page. Cohn recommends that companies invest in linguistic assets that translators can use similar to a glossary with brand terms and a style guide. Smartling prefers to adopt consistent terminology across multiple languages. For example, the company likes to use the phrase "native brand experiences" in its content marketing even though "brand experiences that are native" has the same meaning.

"If we were to translate ‘native brand experiences' into German, we'd want the translation to be exactly the same every single time-not sometimes the equivalent of ‘native brand experiences' and other times the equivalent of ‘brand experiences that are native,'" Cohn says. Uniformity is important for branding purposes and for SEO, since frequency of term occurrence is an important driver of search rankings, he adds.

Likewise, when Shutterstock publishes an annual creative trends report in 20 languages, a team of internal reviewers makes sure outsourced translations are not only comprehensible, but also in line with the brand voice, Lange says. "It adds a layer of a personal touch to the report that we know goes a long way," she states. For instance, Shutterstock doesn't want the piece to sound too technical and wants to cater to the creative-minded members of its audience, she says.

(Image Courtesy of Shutterstock.)

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