Content marketing: it is all fun and games until someone says:
- We don’t have a brief, but you can start brainstorming ideas.
- We’ll start working on the design and then create the copy.
- Just translate it.
Talk about a deal-breaker, right?
To say that any of these phrases is utterly annoying would be something of an understatement. So, instead of turning this into a ranty blog post, I’m going to show you what to do when you’re trying to target an audience that doesn’t speak your language.
Spoiler alert: you don’t need to use Google Translate (or at least you shouldn’t!).
We’ve talked before about what it takes to create a successful content strategy: clear objectives, a well-defined target audience, thorough keyword research and a consistent tone of voice, just to name a few.
Nevertheless, when a brand is trying to reach new markets, following these steps is just not enough. Mainly, because two new factors need to be considered: language and cultural context.
In case you were wondering, yes, that’s the cue for localization in marketing.
But first things first …
What is Localization?
In marketing, localization has different meanings. For the purpose of this article, we’re going to stick to the one related to adapting content. According to SEMrush, localization is the process of taking content already created for your main market and adjusting it to fit your new target market’s needs.
It sounds simple, right? Well, it’s not that easy to create a successful localization strategy in marketing. Most companies just make it to the translation phase and fail to actually localize their content.
To show you how it’s done, let’s take a look at IKEA’s brand content. The U.S. and Mexican versions both present a quick introduction to the store’s evolution and vision.
Even though the Spanish copy is not an exact translation of the English version, they both convey the same message: IKEA has come a long way and it’s now a worldwide store.
Here’s what it would have looked like if IKEA had trusted this job to Google Translate:
Although the Google Translate version is grammatically correct, it sounds stiff and it’s considerably lengthier (111 words versus 81 words in the Mexican version). The lack of personalization and the inadequacy to the website’s design would turn this copy into a bad user experience.
By the way, what is it with the year of foundation? It looks like Mexican IKEA is 10 years older than U.S. IKEA.
When Should a Business Localize Its Content?
A company should localize its content whenever it enters a new market.
But don’t be fooled by the terms. Market is not a synonym for language, so probably a one-size-fits-all localization won’t do the job for different countries.
1. Localization for Market
Take for example Latin America. This region comprises everything from the south of Rio Grande all the way to Patagonia. More than 650,000,000 people live in 20 different countries and they all (except for Brazilians, obvs) speak Spanish.
Let’s say you have a produce business in the U.S. and you want to start selling a variety of fruits in this region. You would think that creating one localized website for all these countries is enough, but as we’ll see in Google Trends this is not always the case.
In these examples, you can visualize the major differences in search terms between Colombia and Mexico. While “banano” is the most searched word in Colombia, in Mexico it’s practically unknown.
So, before choosing a Spanish version (over a Colombian or Mexican localization) think about who you are trying to sell to. You may have the best product, service or banana, but if your audience doesn’t find or get you, you won’t sell anything.
2. Localization for Cultural Context
This leads me to my second point. At the beginning of this post, I mentioned that localization in marketing should consider language and cultural context.
We already covered the first one with the banana example. Now let’s see what cultural context localization looks like.
Let’s picture this scenario: You sell online language courses and you want to promote your English classes to different countries.
Based on these graphics it’d be safe to say that “learn English” (aprender ingles and apprendre anglais) is the best choice for your business. You should create content around this keyword to attract traffic to your Mexican and French sites and let your audience know about your offer.
Now, let’s see how these trends look in the U.S. market:
I know it’s not the exact same search. The point here is that the user intent is completely different. While Mexican and French users are looking for “learning,” American users are more straightforward in their searches, by using the word “speak.”
Not convinced yet? Let’s take a look at one last example.
In the following three images you’ll see the search trends for three different terms in three different countries.
According to Google Trends, French users are most inclined to search for “trouver travail” (find job), while American users are looking for “get job.” Finally, Mexican users tend to look for “buscar trabajo” (search job).
If you do it correctly, they will all end up arriving at your French, American and Mexican job sites. You just have to understand how your potential customers are looking for what you sell.
Even though these little nuances have nothing to do with linguistics or translation issues, they are crucial when localizing content.
What Are the Benefits of Localization in Marketing?
1. Greater engagement.
Users engage more with brands that not only speak their language but understand them. Remember: It’s not about communicating a message (translation), it’s about engaging with someone (localization).
2. Better SEO.
Your site is more likely to rank better and drive more organic traffic if your content is localized (e.g., you’re using the right variant of “banana” or “get job” for the region you’re marketing to) .
3. More global reach.
It’s simple: if you want to reach new markets, you need to adapt your content strategy to match their language and audience’s needs.
4. Competitive advantage.
Imagine this: Your competitor’s sales rep only speaks English, while yours speaks English, French, Spanish and German. Who has better chances of closing sales in Europe?
How to Create a Global Content Strategy Based on Localization
1. Define your target audience.
This is not a copy-paste of your main market audience. While there may be some similarities, I can assure you that you won’t be targeting the same segment in every country. If you don’t know where to start, you can try some tools, such as Audiense, to get a clearer idea of your target audience.
2. Create your brand’s voice and tone guidelines.
Your values and vision should be universal—but the way you convey them? Probably not. Adapt your guidelines to match your target audience’s way of speaking. Your messages and content should sound natural while staying true to your brand’s personality.
3. Get familiar with regionalisms and cultural don’ts.
Do you remember that time Nokia launched a handset and inadvertently named it “the prostitute”? If you don’t want to get involved in a major social media backlash and a possible PR failure, make sure to know regionalisms and cultural faux pas.
4. Adjust your goals.
Your ultimate goal is to drive more sales through your content marketing, we get it. But when you enter into a new market, you should consider that your customers are likely to start the buyer’s journey from the top of the funnel. If they’ve never heard of your brand or service, you’ll need to create a strategy more focused on discovery or education phases.
5. Do keyword research.
Don’t just translate your keywords into your target language—and for that matter, don’t necessarily target the same keywords in different countries that speak the same language (again, I direct to my earlier banana point). Take some time to understand user intent and the way people speak in different countries. Leverage all those free tools available online, such as Answer the Public, to get a better understanding of what you need to write about to reach your new market.
When you’re the new kid in town, some things might seem incomprehensible or even risky. The good news is that your competitors can give you a hand. They have already gone over this path, so they know what works and what doesn’t. Analyze their content performance and learn from their success and failures.
7. Leverage your existing content.
Although at this point I might sound redundant, I’ll say it again: Please don’t just translate your content. Use it cleverly. How? Well, if your Australian audience is searching for “decorating ideas on a budget” and you have already created 10 different DIY decoration guides for your Italian site, you can use those to write a new post specifically for that target language, user intent and keyword research.
8. Create a local calendar.
Your “Thanksgiving recipes” might have been a big-time post on your U.S. blog, but it won’t resonate with your German audience. One important step for a successful global content strategy is to include local holidays and other important trends for the target audience. This will not only help you stay relevant but also help you increase engagement and gain trust.
9. Make decisions based on data.
If you’re making a decision based on what your friend or mom thinks, you’re probably going down the wrong path. Never assume something will work because you like Indian food or once visited England 15 years ago. Don’t want to end up creating stereotypical (and even culturally offensive) content? Make decisions based on data, not opinions.
10. Measure and document your performance.
If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. As simple as that.
Localization and Marketing: Final Thoughts
Shift your mindset. To reach new markets you need more than just translation. A properly translated piece of content may be easy to understand. However, it won’t necessarily respond to your audience’s needs, achieve high visibility on search engines or engage your users.
If you want your business to succeed in international markets, you need to start localizing your content. Get local to go global.