Understanding Audience Needs is Critical
Some content is easier to scale than others. Small changes may be all that’s necessary to adapt content originally written for a U.S. audience. “A lot of people say, ‘Oh, I have to do a totally different piece,’ but not necessarily,” Didner says. “A lot of times you can say the same thing, but you just have to tweak and localize the text or change the opening paragraph a little bit. Sometimes, it’s not as hard as you think, but the devil is in the details.”
Indeed, Spreadshirt can use much of the same content in blogs for customers in the U.S., the U.K., France, and Germany. But in-country “ambassadors” look for copy or art that won’t go over well with local audiences and should be replaced. “If we want to show funny designs, things that are funny to an American are going to be different from what’s funny to a German or to a French person,” Lasky says. “We try to stick to a unified theme but differentiate within that theme based on country as it so warrants.”
Sometimes, though, larger copy changes are needed. Maël Roth, a content strategies and marketing consultant, says there may be unique compliance questions to address for a specific market, for example. He says a U.S.-based company trying to educate decision makers in Germany about a marketing automation tool would need to discuss not only the benefits and features of the product, but also data security issues. Readers of the piece would want to know if the data would be stored in Germany, he says, and if there’s alignment with German regulations on data storage and policies about gathering personal information.
“The issue is top of mind, indeed,” Roth says. “You might want to include information about [data concerns] in the piece of content in order to reassure the decision makers and not get kicked off the short list straight away because it’s a U.S.-based business.”
Localization Considerations Extend Beyond Words
Successful global content marketing isn’t just about the text and images. Marketers may also need to modify elements such as who the piece will target and how the information will be presented. As Didner explains in her book, healthcare companies looking to get their products into state-owned Chinese hospitals would need to influence Chinese officials. That’s a different audience than the doctors and hospital administrators they would target in the U.S. While the content may be similar, the officials may prefer an alternative content format, she writes.
Roth offers another example of why a company may need to choose a different format for content: Videos and podcasts that work well on mobile devices in some countries may not generate the same success in Germany, even if the content is translated and adapted. “In Germany, bandwidth on mobile is very limited-not in speed, but in volume-and consumers do not stream large files because it would just eat up all of their bandwidth in the contract,” he says. “Therefore, they might save it and see or hear it later, but they often just don’t consume the content via mobile.”
In-Country Teams Play a Critical Role
Marketers can get closer to getting content marketing localization right by having a local team-or even a single copywriter-work closely with headquarters. “What I have noticed is due to budget and head-count constraints and deadline pressure, a lot of times, headquarters teams will move forward on a lot of stuff without talking to a local team, and from my perspective that’s a mistake,” Didner says. “Establish a collaboration process with your local team and get their feedback, and then have a plan for what you want to do with your content.”
For its part, Shutterstock likes having in-house international copywriters who create content for audiences outside the U.S. and run the social media channels for overseas markets. That arrangement is highly valuable, Lange says, because the copywriters are immersed in the company culture and are aware of what’s happening across the business. They also give the company’s content marketing team feedback and suggestions for what works and what doesn’t work in different markets, she says.
Build Global Content Marketing Efforts Over Time
Localizing content marketing can require significant investments of resources. Plumridge suggests companies start small with pilot projects and look at where they can make quick gains. “There’s no point in localizing every blog piece going back 10 years into every language you want to cover-it’s a massively costly undertaking and you don’t necessarily gain a lot from it,” she says. “It makes much more sense to look at where the market is now and come up with a strategy based on what you want to achieve starting from now.”
Lange says it’s important to be realistic about how much time a global content marketing project will take to produce and to stick to that plan. “Our annual [trends] reports are beautiful and powerful, so we dedicate ourselves to them each and every year,” she says. “However, they’re a lot of work to put together. Know what you’re committing to ahead of time, and know exactly why you do.”
It helps to listen to your customers too. Shutterstock launched its annual trends report in 2012, but only published it in English the first 2 years. International customers began asking for the piece in their native languages. These business professionals and creatives abroad are important to Shutterstock. Seventy percent of its business comes from outside the U.S., and it has a global base of contributors who upload content such as photos and videos. Shutterstock began publishing versions of its report in 19 other languages in 2014. That move has increased the piece’s reach and has led to media coverage around the world.
“It’s important to meet your audience where they are and to commit to building something that’s relevant to them,” says Lange. “Scaling content marketing for international audiences is challenging, but we have analyzed the cost-benefit of this and know it is worth the effort we put in.”