How to plan a multilingual content strategy in 2020
Let’s say you’re a brand which has pretty much nailed its English language content marketing strategy. You have all the essentials in place:
- A clear purpose as a brand publisher – you know why you are publishing content and are not merely publishing random content for the sake of it
- A set of audience personas based on data and insight to guide your content creation and media planning
- A coherent editorial calendar across channels based on logical content pillars related to your brand proposition
- A defined content governance framework with clear roles and responsibilities and a streamlined sign-off process that manages to avoid the dreaded “content by committee”
- A plan to distribute and promote your content to ensure reach and hopefully engagement
- A measurement framework to track the impact your content is generating
(If you do have all the above in place, well done – you’re probably already ahead of the game compared to your competitors.)
But here’s the challenge – your entire content strategy is in English but as a brand, you have ambitious plans for international growth. You need multilingual content but don’t know where to start. What do you do?
It’s certainly not an easy task but it’s not impossible either. Here are five things to consider:
Step 1: Decide which languages to target
Normally the target markets will be shaped by the broader business strategy – e.g. a fashion brand which is opening physical stores in a new market, or a sightseeing operator moving into a new city. So, decide which languages are relevant to each market. It’s not always as obvious as you think – to use the sightseeing example above, in a city like Dubai, German would be an important language to consider as Germany is one of the largest source markets for tourism. Focus on the languages which will generate the biggest impact first.
Step 2: Carry out local market research
Keyword research is an obvious place to start. Don’t simply take your English keyword research and translate it – instead, carry out keyword research by market. The way your product, brand and sector are perceived will likely vary by market. So will the search behaviours and your buying personas. Take the time to understand what your target audiences in each market need and expect so you can shape your strategy accordingly.
Step 3: Devise a plan for curating and commissioning content
Decide which elements of your English language content can be re-purposed for other markets and localise it – don’t simply translate it. Based on your local market research, devise an editorial plan by market, which meets the needs of your local audiences across channels. Using auto-translate or translation software can lead to costly mistakes. Try to think ahead by creating content that’s easier to localise – e.g. by avoiding slang or idioms where possible. Oban’s advice is always to use LIMES – local in-market experts – to lead this process for you.
Step 4: Keep a grip on the process
Content governance in any language is a challenge. At one end of the spectrum, brands with weak processes can end up allowing multiple stakeholders to create haphazard ad hoc content for different purposes on different platforms with no real overarching plan to structure it. At the other end of the spectrum, some brands can have lengthy sign-off and compliance processes that make it difficult to publish content at any real scale or speed. Once you factor in multiple languages, the process can become more complicated. Ensuring you have a logical and realistic process for publishing content across languages is a key success factor. We often find it helps to appoint an editor in each language to ensure tone is consistent. Equally editorial guidelines tailored to each market will help.
Step 5: Understand the relevant digital platforms by market
Google isn’t necessarily the leading search engine in every market – obvious examples of market variations include Yandex in Russia, Naver in South Korea and Baidu in China. Similarly, social media usage varies around the world, which means it’s a mistake, for example, to have the same social sharing buttons on your blogs when your target audience might be using WeChat or Xing rather than Facebook or LinkedIn. Regardless of search engine or platform, pay attention to detail: remember to localise your metadata, including meta titles and image alt tags. Failing to do this properly might seem unimportant, but it’s the kind of omission that can undermine brand trust and familiarity in your target markets.
Step 6: Gather on-the-ground cultural insights to uncover opportunities and avoid costly mistakes
Localising the words on a page rather than merely translating them is important but there’s a range of other factors to consider too. Are your images appropriate for each market? If you’re running promotions in multiple markets, are you compliant with local laws or regulations? If you’re offering a prize such as a gift card, is it redeemable in the relevant markets? Even the simplest things can catch you out – e.g. address formats vary by market, so a one-size-fits-all address form field will create a jarring note unless it’s localised. One of our clients – a major UK fashion retailer – had the UK call centre hours listed in the customer service section of their Australian website – not taking into account the sizeable time difference between those markets. Local in-market experts can guide you through the potential maze.
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No one is pretending it’s easy to run a successful multilingual content marketing programme – it’s not that easy to get it right in English, let alone multiple languages – and success requires time and resource to plan and execute your approach. If you would like to discuss this in more detail, please get in touch.
Tom Montague | Head of Content, Oban International
Oban International is the digital marketing agency specialising in international expansion. Our LIME (Local In-Market Expert) Network provides up to date cultural input and insights from over 80 markets around the world, helping clients realise the best marketing opportunities and avoid the costliest mistakes.