Editor’s note: This is the final post in a series about the Content Era. To read the previous post, click here.

Every day, globalization is changing the content game in a variety of ways. Here in the US, for example, immigration is expanding the pool of non-native English speakers. Content also has to reflect the rise of developing markets and their diversified needs and languages. The fact is that the globalization coin has two sides, and companies need to keep both in mind: globalization’s diversifying power is having a huge impact on our workforce (those who produce content) and on customers (those who consume it). As the trend toward language diversity grows, we can expect big implications for creating consistent content.

Let’s take a closer look at this phenomenon.

If you check out census charts tracking immigration in the US over the past 50 years, a few remarkable differences will leap out at you:

  • In 1960, just under 10 million people in the US were foreign-born, or 5.4 percent of the total population. By 2010, that number had climbed to 40 million, or 12.9 percent.
  • Immigration routes that mostly began in Europe now originate in Asia and Latin America.
  • The population of foreign-born US residents now exceeds 5 percent in two-thirds of the 50 states; in California the proportion is 27 percent.
  • Over 60 million Americans speak a language other than English in the home.

For content creators, these numbers matter. As the US population diversifies, content must do the same. It’s not just that content needs to be culturally attuned to a rapidly evolving US customer base. There’s also the question of making content multilingual, either through translation or by creating content in other languages from scratch. Adding to this challenge is the fact that many non-native speakers who are producing content aren’t professional writers, but rather engineers and support staff.

The culture-and-language challenge that content creators face in the US is a smaller version of what’s happening globally. As the world gets smaller, it also gets more complicated.

It’s important to note that globalization has changed not only where companies do business, but also how. Hundreds of case studies and reports document the experience of companies that adapt their products to the specialized needs of local markets. We’ve probably all read, for example, about how McDonald’s has tailored its menus to suit the diets and taste buds of Indian consumers. Content is no different.

So how user-friendly is your content in the markets where you either currently, or hope to soon, do business?

Translatability: hurdling the barrier

More and more companies respond to the globalization challenge of reaching diverse customers by turning to translation. If you want to connect emotionally with your customers — one of the keys to building relationships with them — then your content needs to speak their language. Many companies that a few years ago translated their content into just one or two languages now translate to more than 20. If international markets matter to you, translation is a must. And, given the importance of the Internet as the global meeting-place for business, this is true for companies regardless of their scale.

In some markets, getting translation right is especially important. For example, China will ultimately become the biggest market in the world, with enormous opportunity for growth. Without a doubt, content directed at this market must be in Chinese. But does that mean Mandarin only, or Cantonese too?

As anyone who’s traveled or bought a product made overseas knows all too well, translation quality varies wildly. Content marketers need to take heed. Reading a poorly translated product manual can make customers wonder how much a company has thought about its product experience, or even what the content says about the product itself. Most importantly, translation quality signals how much a company cares — or doesn’t — about its customers.

As a result, it’s critical to pay attention to the quality of your source content. Whether a translator is a human or a machine, your company should ensure that it prepares its source content with translatability in mind. For example:

  • Continuously improve your source language by finding better substitutes for terms likely to be unfamiliar or ambiguous to non-native speakers
  • Keep sentence structure short and simple
  • Watch for idiomatic expressions that translate poorly into other languages

Yet a lack of resources to get content right compounds the problem of translatability. While translation can be costly, cutting corners can easily result in low-quality content. Fast-paced product development contributes to this dilemma by introducing rapid changes. Indeed, the trend toward agile development, emphasizing speed and lean resourcing, suggests this is a particularly important aspect of the content-generating process to monitor. Technical writers may respond to the pressure by sacrificing quality for speed, a particular concern when you consider that all too often no quality control stands between the content creator and the reader. Thus, source content itself may suffer, leading to difficulties for translators, and putting important details in jeopardy. And details matter. If user interface strings are not accurately localized to particular language markets, for example, you may end up confusing translators and ultimately your customers.

Some content gurus suggest that the best content is clever and cultural. However, the worst content for translation also happens to be clever and cultural. How do you achieve a balance in this contradiction that makes quality content accessible to customers and addresses the impact of globalization on a diverse workforce?

In response to this dilemma, and as high-quality source content increasingly becomes a key to translatability, interest in standardization will grow, too. Every language has parallel grammatical constructions and words to say the same thing. Eventually, companies are likely to find that more standardized approaches to content will help them leap the translation barrier with greater efficiency.

Few aspects of doing business today matter as much as building strong relationships with your customers wherever they happen to live. Content is your passport for getting there, so make sure that you give it the justice that it deserves.