Although content marketing is a tactic in use in countries all around the world, it’s rarely approached with a global mindset. In fact, most content marketers create content with only their local audiences in mind, and seldom think about how their messages should be customized for international audiences. Instead, many of them take the easy way out, hoping that their one-size-fits all approach will work. Not surprisingly, when it comes to translating and localizing their content, it’s a similar story. Given the high costs and administrative burdens associated with these activities, they’re done as seldom as possible.

The result is that the content we create doesn’t always work well with global audiences.

While it wasn’t all that long ago that this wouldn’t have mattered, today, thanks to technology and globalization, even small businesses often have international customers, making it a very real problem. And while English has become the lingua franca for much of the world, that’s no excuse. We certainly can’t expect everyone to understand English well enough to grasp all of its nuances and intricacies. Nor can we assume that anything we say in one language will be valid in another.

Anyone familiar with Kentucky Fried Chicken’s foray into the Chinese market will understand what the potential implications can be when you fail to think globally. While the company’s well-known slogan “finger lickin’ good” has been successful in the United States for years, it was far less effective in the Chinese market, where it translated into the rather unappetizing “eat your fingers off.”

The implications for content marketers

The takeaway for content marketers is that you can’t ignore how your content is going to be perceived in other cultures. In fact, going forward we need to develop content that works globally and to view content marketing as a global activity.

That means ensuring that your content gets translated into all of the right languages and, doing everything that you can to optimize your content so that translation becomes a more efficient and cost-effective process. It also means thinking about how your messages could be perceived in other countries.

So what can you do to get ready as content marketing goes global? Here are 5 tips:

  1. Identify which languages matter for reaching your target audience. Once you’ve done so, prioritize them based on the size of the opportunity in terms of the purchasing power of the potential customers who speak that language. Then make your business case to justify the costs of translation by comparing the potential new opportunities that translating your content creates versus the expense of doing so. Nelson Mandela may have made the point best when he explained, “If you speak to a man in a language he understands, you speak to his head. If you speak to him in his language, you speak to his heart.”
  1. Utilize machine translation when necessary. To the extent that you can’t afford to translate your content into other languages, consider using machine translation as an alternative. While tools like Google Translate aren’t yet capable of providing perfect translations, they are steadily improving and can serve as starting point for your translations.
  1. Adopt a simple style. To the extent possible, adjust your writing so that it lends itself well to easy translation by, for example, avoiding complex sentences, jargon, and colloquialisms. Writing content that’s easy to translate won’t always be possible since writing that’s too simple often isn’t as effective, however, there are things that you can do to help such as creating a library of preferred terms and phrases as noted below.
  1. Develop a library of preferred terms and phrases to aid in translation. Once you’ve gone to the trouble of translating a particular term or phrase, take note of it so that it can be used time and again. Every company has standard terms and phrases that it uses to talk about itself. The more of these you capture in a library, along with their corresponding translations, the less arduous it will be to translate your content.
  1. Take advantage of your employees’ language skills. If you have employees who are native speakers of the languages you are translating into, ask them to review your translations to make sure that they are both accurate and that the messages are going to work in the local country. For example, you might ask them to check the content for any local cultural sensitivities that you might otherwise be aware of.

As content marketing continues to become an increasingly important business driver, smart content marketers need to be thinking about how to create content that will resonate with global audiences.

What are you doing to make your content global?