Are You Speaking the Same Language?

Are You Speaking the Same Language?

5 ways to create more effective marketing for international customers

By Liz Elting

The New York Enterprise Report - July 2, 2012

For businesses to successfully expand their customer bases internationally, localization must be a key part of their marketing processes so that they can better engage their target customers. What may sound like the right tone to American markets can sound abrasive, or “foreign,” in another market. Businesses should localize all the content that drives customer behavior, including websites, marketing campaigns, and branded content. The majority of this falls under advertising, marketing, and business development. Reaching prospects in their preferred languages creates positive experiences and strengthens the brand’s international image.

Businesses should be thoroughly versed in a target market’s language, customs, and cultural habits. This includes everything from effective language adaption or translation for your company’s taglines to providing desired shipping preferences to identifying the most relevant search keywords. Translation mistakes are all too common, especially when relying on machine translation, and customers will spot them instantly. In a real-time society, a company’s translation mistake can be spread across social media channels and news outlets in no time, instantly damaging a brand’s global image and discouraging brand loyalty.

By following these five steps, companies can move toward building more positive customer experiences for international clients.

1. Relative content is king

The importance of content marketing cannot be understated. Creating compelling content for your audience is the best way to build relationships, but in addition to building a resource for prospects and customers, companies must be sure to follow localization and translation best practices and insist upon a quality assurance process that is certified by third-party auditors to industry standards like ISO 9001 and EN 15038. This helps ensure that content, both text and images, is accurate and resonates with the target audience.

Translating site content is a good first step, but it is not enough. Just as an upscale boutique wouldn’t hang a discount store’s sign over its front door, businesses operating in foreign markets must choose the words that best convey who they are, what they do, and why customers should care. Images count, too, and must be selected carefully to resonate in target markets; otherwise, they might broadcast unintended messages abroad. A beautiful photo of a new bridge in one city, selected by your creative team, might elicit highly negative responses from local markets if the bridge funding was a contested, controversial local debate. Employing this kind of knowledge can ensure the success of your localization efforts—which extend beyond the written content.

2. Develop an ISEM strategy

Companies can develop a successful international search engine marketing (ISEM) strategy by entrusting ISEM to skilled translation and localization professionals who understand the nuance of regional dialects, colloquial speech, and cultural preferences. These professionals have the most current knowledge of word usage and local trends. For example, one word in Spanish means something different to people in Cuba than it does to people in Puerto Rico. Knowing that difference can significantly impact the success of your localization effort. When deciding on international digital strategies, keywords must be optimized for these factors. For example, a young person in one part of the world may search for shoes using a slang term, such as “kicks,” not the literal translation of the English words. These experts can also identify the preferred search much of the world, it’s not always Google—and help businesses define regionally relevant keywords.

Once the most effective keywords are identified, businesses can kick off ISEM strategies in new markets. This might include targeted pay-per-click ads, relevant landing pages, multilingual rich media, adapted banner ads, out-of-home advertising, experiential marketing with people on the ground, philanthropic community involvement, events like launch parties and networking functions, and social media outreach. One company wanted to expand its market in other countries by focusing on the health benefits of its product: a snack bar for children. It emphasized the lack of sugar and amount of fiber, and said nothing about the snack being tasty or a treat. In many countries, the fear of sugar is not as high as it is in the US— and the childhood obesity rate is not an issue. Children’s health is a concern in every country, but to appeal to markets in some countries, a treat would be more effectively marketed as something tasty.

3. Provide choices

Don’t assume you’re choosing the best language for your customer.

Residents of many countries speak more than one language. Automatically translating content into French Canadian when a customer might prefer English can cause frustration for prospects. A simple but highly appreciated solution is to offer customers a drop-down menu of language choices. Businesses can demonstrate deep cultural awareness and breed customer satisfaction and loyalty.

4. Don’t rely on machines

Machine translation technology is a great tool to aid in a translation strategy, but it is not yet developed enough to rely on for accurate translations. For example, translating English copy about a pen, “It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you,” into Spanish could appear as, “It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant.” Such an error can mark a company as half-hearted in its multicultural marketing efforts, and consumers are quick to publicize these errors across social media channels. Mistakes like these can be avoided by using a mix of human and machine translation.

5. Value your customer

Any customer-facing business knows the golden rule of business: respect the customer. This principle should still be followed when developing a campaign for international expansion. Too frequently, consumers encounter websites or marketing materials that are not available in their native languages. Even worse, they are faced with careless translation or dated and stereotypical information about the countries they live in. This understandably turns consumers off and does not inspire any positive brand image. Far too many brands do not make the effort to localize their marketing efforts. In fact, 73 percent of the consumers who participated in a survey of international businesses and the customers who buy their products said they encounter ecommerce websites that are not available in their native languages. Companies need to realize that consumers want to be spoken to in their native languages, and they will take their business elsewhere to have that option. By following these international marketing best practices, companies can build strong customer relationships and experiences, and stand out among the many other companies that fail to localize.