Reaching international audiences is often crucial to driving growth and expanding the footprint of your business. In fact, Netflix attributes much of its recent success to global growth, and the company predicts that international subscribers will eventually account for up to 90 percent of its customer base, up from 58 percent today. And early in 2019, Nike reported that strong international growth boosted its fourth-quarter earnings for 2018.
Brands that aim to reach significant scale inevitably need to do business in markets around the world. Software companies, in particular, risk missing out on sizable market share if they don’t pursue -- or worse, if they botch -- global marketing efforts. As the vice president of marketing for Akeneo, the France-based product information management company, I knew that if we wanted to become a global leader, we had to tackle not only the rest of Europe, but also the U.S. market.
I’ve found that the biggest challenge facing marketers who are trying to reach global audiences is to maintain the consistency of the brand’s messaging and voice while creating content in a style that resonates with local markets. While it’s not always easy to strike that balance, getting it right can make or break your company’s efforts to go international.
Europe is a perfect example
One-size-fits-all marketing does not work internationally. In Europe, vendors from other parts of the world tend to oversimplify what it means to do business in each country; the reality is that it is still crucial to do business at the country level. Local languages matter: Many Europeans speak English but prefer to digest marketing materials in their native tongues. Even more important than language is understanding the customer's mindset and what matters to them when making purchasing decisions.
In the past, I’ve attempted to hire marketing vendors that work across Europe to simplify continent-wide campaign management, with little success. To launch successfully in multiple European countries, you have to work with a network of local vendors. They bring the firsthand local expertise to help adapt your global messaging into content that resonates with customers in specific countries and regions, not to mention the vital elements of targeting and demand generation.
Market maturity varies from country to country, even in Europe. While it can be tempting to try to replicate successful campaigns from one country to the next, what worked in France will likely not work the same way in the UK or Germany.
Differences between countries go beyond languages and cultural norms. I’ve often found that audiences in certain regions have unique standards and preferences about how they expect information to be presented and received.
I once asked my field marketing team to conduct a survey to assess the relevance and effectiveness of our latest marketing campaign’s message and materials. We found that many customers in the U.S. said the content was too technical; they preferred a summary-level approach that clearly highlighted main ideas and important takeaways. In contrast, many of our German customers said the content was not technical enough. We found the same preference for technical presentation in certain Asian markets, including Japan.
There’s no universally effective approach to marketing. Customers in some countries prefer material that is punchy and holds their attention -- offer too much detail, and they will quickly lose interest. Others discount materials that are too high-level or conceptual as mere marketing jargon.
Transcreation versus translation
Marketing to a global audience goes beyond translating campaigns into local languages. If you want your brand’s message to resonate with international audiences, you have to transcreate -- that is, adapt content with the local culture’s needs and preferences in mind while keeping the meaning and essence of the brand’s broader messaging intact.
Business-to-consumer (B2C) marketers tend to be particularly well-versed in transcreation. Headphone manufacturer Beats by Dr. Dre, for example, worked with the translation service Acclaro to develop a French slogan for one of its products. The literal translation of its English slogan, “Made to take a beating,” would not make sense to French customers. The team came up with the slogan “Conçus pour résister à tous les tempos” (“Made to resist all tempos”), a play on the French phrase, “Conçus pour résister à tous les temps” (“Made to resist all weather conditions”).
Every chief marketing officer (CMO) walks a fine line between keeping a company’s corporate brand messaging and voice intact and giving marketers the ability to create clever messaging that works in individual countries. Managing global content really comes down to trust: Executives have to provide local teams with the freedom, within reason, to adapt content. At the same time, field teams need to trust that CMOs are knowledgeable about different markets and truly want to develop a content strategy that's relevant to customers worldwide, without reinventing the wheel in each locale. It all comes down to intelligent collaboration between central and field teams.
International customers deserve better than second-rate content. If you want to expand your brand’s presence to move successfully beyond your home turf, it is worth investing in customized content that will appeal to customers on a personal level by understanding their cultures, buying expectations and language preferences. When creating branded content for international markets, I’ve found that no amount of research is a substitute for people with local expertise. The initial costs and logistics may seem daunting, but making your brand relevant and appealing to international audiences will improve your company’s image and accelerate its growth.