Thanks to the proliferation of digital technology, companies around the world are taking a closer look at globalization initiatives. The impetus behind this shift is the growing connectedness that online platforms, namely social media, have the power to fuel. Now, a business leader can simply post one tweet and reach thousands of followers across myriad time zones and geographies.
Yet, while that strategy is unarguably simple, it’s not always effective. This becomes even truer the more your company expands into foreign and overseas markets. Suddenly, you have to consider how your message will come across to someone who speaks a different language. Will the translated version of your Facebook post still convey the same message, or will the sentiment get lost in translation? Did you use an idiom that’s completely benign in one country but incredibly offensive in another? These questions and more surround every aspect of digital marketing once your target audience expands outside of the domestic territory.
Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to make sure that your communication is clear and consistent across any channel, in any language.
1. Hold cross-cultural training sessions
You can install a plugin to instantly translate your website content into another language, but simply pressing a button and hoping for the best isn’t an ideal strategy. It helps tremendously to have an in-depth understanding of the other cultures you’re marketing to. This is where cross-cultural training comes into play. In short, these are informative sessions that cover the ins and outs of a particular culture. From language barriers to social cues, assumptions, and biases, it’s important to understand how your own form of expression differs from someone else’s and what that means for the content you create moving forward.
Recognize that data gleaned from textbooks or over the internet will only get you so far. If possible, talk directly with persons from the other culture who represent your target audience. Engaging in this open dialogue will allow you to see your own culture from an outside perspective and reveal differences between cultural norms.
2. Research regional laws
If you intend to market to an international audience, it’s paramount that you do your research on restrictions and laws surrounding promotions and advertisements in that particular area. This is especially true if your product or service is healthcare related, as some regions require approval from a governing body before displaying such content. For instance, advertisements highlighting one pharmaceutical brand over another may need to be approved by a local health ministry.
Even if these approval restrictions don’t apply in your case, any product that you sell online to an international audience is subject to local product development legislation. From chemical makeup to packaging design, every aspect of it could be scrutinized, and it’s vital that your business is aware of this inspection to ensure against timely hold-ups.
Another area of special concern should be your use of competitive messaging. While it might be commonplace in America to use phrases such as “best” or “better” to describe a product, some cultures, such as those found in Germany, France and Belgium, are sensitive to such brand comparisons and your message could end up doing more harm than good there. Lastly, check to ensure your promotional engagement tactics, such as rewards clubs, loyalty cards, and sweepstake deals are allowed and approved before deploying them in a foreign territory.
3. Optimize your SEO strategy for local usage
You may already have a local Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategy in place to attract target customers close in proximity to you. This might include creating content with long-tail keywords such as 'graphic design services near Raleigh, NC' if that’s your niche. Yet, how do you expand that reach to an international audience? The answer is threefold.
First, it’s important to select the right search engine. Yes, Google, Yahoo, and Bing are the three monoliths and all are used worldwide, but not all are ideal for reaching your international market. Especially if you’re targeting a select audience in a niche sector, consider which local search engines they’re most likely to frequent. For a foreign language speaker, English-language search engines can sometimes ping for unrelated content, so localized search engines are often preferred.
Next, to ensure quality content, adjust and localize it for the market you’re looking to reach. It’s not enough to use a generic translator and hope that it brings the message across. Rather, take the time to change your message as required to ensure it makes sense and is appropriate. This might mean leveraging document translation to adjust your white papers or data slicks or going through your blog and social media posts with a fine-toothed comb to eliminate any bias and add clarity.
Lastly, stick with native keywords throughout your SEO strategy. This means it isn’t necessary to translate your existing keywords into their foreign language equivalent. Rather, work with search engine marketers who are native speakers in the language you’re trying to reach, and ask them to help you determine which keywords and phrases would best align with the content you’re delivering.
4. Design your site for globalization
You want your website to be as globally-friendly as possible and while content is still of utmost importance, little details such as the colors and design choices you use can also play a big role in how your web pages are perceived. For instance, some areas, such as the majority of Europe and the Americas, associate the color white with purity and cleanliness. Yet, before you integrate a ton of white space into your design to up its minimal appeal, consider that other regions, such as China and Japan, associate the color white with mourning and sadness. In addition to your color selections, check to make sure any symbols or graphics you’re using are appropriate across other cultures as well.
If you are an e-commerce shop with an online purchasing portal, make sure you have currency conversion systems in place to facilitate seamless transactions from anywhere in the world. These often come in the form of exchange rate APIs, and are fairly simple to integrate into your existing portal.
If page loading speeds are an issue, consider making the switch to a Content Delivery Network, or CDN. In short, this is a collection of global web servers. When an international customer clicks on your site, he or she will access it from the closest local server, rather than relying on it to transmit from yours.
5. Leverage social media strategically
Here is where that universal tweet comes into play, and why it’s not a wise idea. Not only could your message be offensive or lost in translation, it could be downright indiscernible and rendered essentially useless. Thus, there are a few guidelines to follow when branching out into international social media territory.
First, if you intend to tweet in a different language, open a separate account for it. That way, you’re not intermingling the two languages and confusing all of your audiences. Yet, not every social media platform works that way. For instance, if YouTube is your preferred platform, you don’t necessarily have to re-do every single video in a foreign language to make it accessible. Simply adding subtitles below the content is likely enough.
Reaching Out and Standing Out: The Cornerstones of International Marketing
Ultimately, globalizing your digital marketing campaign doesn’t have to mean making a major overhaul of your existing content. Rather, it simply means reevaluating what it says, how it’s delivered, and what the reaction could be before you blindly press 'post.' At the end of the day, the overarching goal is user accessibility, and as long as the customer remains top of mind, these five tips can help launch a successful campaign that boosts brand recognition, grows your community, and expands your international reach.