Your content strategy helps your brand showcase who you are and what you do. Getting this messaging right is challenging enough in one language. Multilingual content marketing goes a step farther by reaching audiences not only where they are but also in the language they’re most comfortable with.
Multilingual content marketing is about how you create and distribute content across more than one language. You might be trying to target audiences in your local area in multiple languages. Maybe you’re entering markets where the local language is new to your brand. Or you might simply be trying to reach existing audiences in all the languages they regularly use.
Multilingual content marketing is a tremendous opportunity to get closer to your target audience, and it’s also easy to get wrong. We’ll show you common mistakes to avoid and tell you how you should think about your strategy.
Marketing That’s More Than Translating Copy
Every brand is trying to speak effectively to its audience. In the U.S., most brands default to American English. But that’s not the only language your audience is speaking. Have you considered how you’ll reliably communicate to those people? If so, do you understand the potential cultural differences of marketing in other languages?
About 1.35 billion people speak English globally. That’s a huge number but only about 20% of the world’s population. That means at least some of your ideal audience isn’t getting your message.
To reach this wider audience, you need to do more than just plug copy into Google Translate. After all, what makes sense in American English might come across very differently in other languages because of differences in language, culture and circumstances.
Multilingual content marketing requires you to be thoughtful, intentional and strategic in your implementation. Your written content, audio, video and visuals must align with linguistic and cultural norms. Just as you wouldn’t launch a marketing campaign without researching your audience, you shouldn’t produce multilingual content without doing your homework.
3 Common Mistakes Marketers Make
Even the most experienced marketers can make mistakes when working in multiple languages. What matters most is identifying these mistakes, preventing them when possible and learning for the future.
Here are three common mistakes seen in multilingual content marketing.
Ignoring Content Localization
Content localization is commonly thought of as translating content from one language to another. That’s not wrong, but it’s incomplete. Localization could mean changing a piece of content’s wording, tone or style for cultural distinctions, but it also includes local imagery and other contextual clues. For example, a U.S.-focused article on hiring regulations would need to be rewritten for another market’s laws and regulations.
Content localization for multilingual content marketing is about learning not only the language but also cultural nuances and the user experience. If you’re looking to market to a new audience that’s based in Italy, then of course you’re likely to create content in Italian. In addition, market research can tell you what messaging works and what communication styles are preferred.
Whatever your project, start by researching the market and the people. Build your ideal customer persona in that market to ensure your content is on point.
Localization goes wrong when it only focuses on translation, fails to account for local preferences and isn’t a priority from the very start of the marketing campaign.
Overgeneralizing the Language You Use for Specific Audiences
When we think about marketing to different countries, it’s easy to imagine a homogenous population speaking the official language. This assumption leads to generalizations that ignore the many vibrant differences that make up countries and cultures.
For example, there are 55 countries with multiple official languages, and that doesn’t account for different dialects or slang within communities. Each of these factors — location, dialect and context — could affect which words are used or what a word means.
Smart marketers don’t assume that the official language or languages are the dominant way people communicate. Some demographics prefer to use one language over the other, or they understand one more than the other.
Sometimes the differences are straightforward. In the U.K., for example, if you’re talking about a “schedule” for your services, you would instead say “timetable,” but “schedule” isn’t necessarily indecipherable. But in Latin America, the word “chapa” has a many different meanings depending on what country you’re in.
You can’t connect with your audience if you don’t use the words they use. Overgeneralizing can easily to reduced engagement and lower trust with your audience.
Not Aligning Audio, Visuals and Video With the Market
Multilingual content is also about the visuals you use and whether they meet audience and cultural expectations.
For example, Pampers in Japan developed new packaging for diapers to sell in Japan. This packaging carried an image of a stork carry a baby. In the U.S., the childhood tale of storks delivering babies to families is well-known, carrying on the European folklore. However, Japanese folklore tells a different story that doesn’t involve birds at all. These ads merely confused their audience.
Audio and subtitles should also be scrutinized for new markets. While a video might be useable across languages, you might need to rewrite the script and redo the voiceovers to accurate convey your message. If you aren’t gathering insight from local stakeholders or hiring local talent, you’re more likely to miss these cues.
4 Examples of Multilingual Content Marketing
Here are three large companies that have found success marketing across languages, as well as one content channel that’s increasingly being used for communicating in more than English. Even if you don’t have the resources of a multinational company, you can still learn from these approaches.
Netflix Creates Localized Programming
Netflix is a U.S.-based streaming service that combines global ambitions with localized content.
Netflix starts with research on local markets and makes sure to source localized content rather than simply redistributing what is available, say, in the U.S. Netflix also localizes content through expert dubbing, subtitles and closed captioning.
Coca-Cola’s “Share A Coke” was a global campaign that was customized to reach more than 80 countries. Teams across the company — marketing plus product, legal, design and more — worked to understand every possible local pitfall and opportunity. This effort included holding thousands of stakeholder conversations, collecting banned words and deciding on core demographics (millennials) and targeted channels (social media, among others).
The campaign, which originally focused on distributing bottles with popular first names, found success because Coca-Cola took a distinct approach in each country. In China, bottles contained nicknames instead of first names. A later U.S. campaign focused on song lyrics, while a U.K. campaign listed vacation destinations on bottles.
Nike Reinterprets “Just Do It”
Nike’s famous “Just Do It” slogan didn’t easily translate to every market, including China.
Nike finally cracked the code in 2016 by telling viewers why they don’t have to do it in a commercial that features Chinese athletes wearing Nike gear. This is a high-level campaign, but it establishes awareness of a powerful global slogan while helping this localized audience understand what it means — and doesn’t.
Podcasts Look Beyond English
Podcasts have been dominated by English-language productions, but podcasts in other languages are increasingly popular. Some U.S.-based podcast publishers and platforms are creating or producing podcasts in other languages. Some of these are translations, while others are localized for country and language, and still others are localized spinoffs of popular programs.
How to Improve Your Multilingual Content Strategy
Now that you know some of the common mistakes, here are some tactics you can employ instead.
Hiring Local Talent
Expanding to new markets without having a presence there will only make it more difficult to deliver meaningful and effective content marketing. You’re also more likely to struggle with aligning your brand to the nuances of the language, the culture and other unique aspects of the market.
Acquiring local talent can mean hiring full-timers for content services, especially if you have offices in the market. Or you can turn to freelancers and gig-work platforms such as Fiverr or Upwork. Working with local talent improves your chances of making accurate and culturally resonant content.
Committing to Your Audience
Tokenism is the practice of making only a perfunctory or symbolic effort. For content marketers, tokenism would include only creating content in a language during holidays or big events, rather than making a consistent, ongoing effort to communicate with and understand your audience.
If you’re going to create content marketing in more than one language, create a long-term plan that delivers impact rather than looking good for appearance’s sake.
Empowering People Instead of Google Translate
Google Translate is fine for a rough look at messaging, but it’s not sufficient for executing a marketing campaign. At the very least, hire a reliable translator. Even better: Hire or contract with content creators who are fluent in the language you’re marketing in. Conduct focus groups and other research in these languages so that you can catch any potentially confusing or embarrassing content before it publishes.
Don’t forget that creating content specifically for a language includes more than just articles. Your visuals, audio and subtitles are just as important.
Assembling a Diverse Team
Content marketing in different languages inherently requires new perspectives. A team of people with many backgrounds and ways of thinking is better positioned to recognize (and comprehend) the nuances of multilingual marketing. Even if you hire locally as part of your multilingual content marketing strategy, your core team should be diverse, too.
Good Content Marketing Transcends Language
Ultimately, content marketing is about delivering valuable and relevant content to defined audiences, spurring them toward action. This goal remains when you expand into other languages.
Multilingual content marketing. can help your brand reach new audiences and connect in deeper ways — but only when done with care and planning. Learn from other marketers’ mistakes to create a strategy that’s respectful, localized and shows how your brand is part of the community.