Customs Clearance for Your Content Marketing: How to Get Your Message Across the Border

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December 8, 2017 by atacompass

The U.S. may be the largest consumer market in the world, but did you know that 96% of the planet’s consumers don’t live here? With purchasing power on the rise across the globe and the internet making our world smaller than ever, there’s no better time to market your products and services abroad.

But before you attempt to cross the border, consider this: less than 6% of the world’s population speaks English well enough to shop or do business in that language. Research shows that the vast majority of people prefer surfing online in their native language—and that includes Millennials, history’s first “digital natives.” The message is clear: offering more local language content increases the likelihood of purchase.

Today’s “digi-savvy” marketers know that paving a smooth customer journey is much more than clearing a path from product to purchase. You have to invest in the story and turn customers into fans. Creating content that is relevant and valuable is just as important in most foreign markets as it is in the U.S. A survey of shoppers in some of the world’s largest economies showed that now nearly 40% of online shoppers use social networks to get inspiration for their purchases.

So, if you want to take your online shop overseas—or any product or service for that matter—you’d better pack your story along for the ride. But when you transport anything across borders, you have to make sure it clears customs. The same goes for your content marketing. It has to pass through the language and cultural barriers. And much like the customs clearance process, proper preparation is the key to smooth and rapid market entry. Here are some tips to get you started.

Translate it…but

This may seem obvious, but you can’t tell a story if people can’t read it. So, the first step is having your content translated correctly. And that’s the caveat. You’ll spare yourself a lot of wasted time and frustration by seeking out translators who specialize in content marketing. These language geeks can capture the nuances of your content and avoid embarrassing—or costly—mistranslations. As native speakers of your target language, they’ll point out culturally sensitive subject matter and offer ways to repackage your message appropriately. While a bilingual colleague or an eager and inexpensive college student may help you understand something written in another language, they probably don’t have the skills to produce high quality content in that language.

Resist the machines

There’s certainly a place for technology, but it’s not in marketing, where your goal is to engage human beings and elicit a human response. When you cut to the chase, even translation technology vendors will tell you that it doesn’t pay to use their machines for creative materials. The simple fact is that consumers who are left scratching their heads won’t be clicking on LIKE, SHARE, or BUY. Translation technology will continue to make headlines, but remember this: even one of the world’s most famous (fictional) robots, C-3PO, said, “Sometimes I just don’t understand human behavior.”

Build locally, and they will come

Once you’ve put your story in a new language, it’s time to go deeper. Avoid the mistakes of others who build captivating content marketing campaigns that lead to a brick wall of English text. Every step of the customer journey must be in their language—from the Facebook post to the landing page to the BUY button. The industry term is localization, which means converting everything—from language, currency, and dates, to the look and feel of your sites—to match local preferences. Even the right colors can make a difference. The entire experience should feel native. And be sure to keep this in mind: marketing channels vary across the globe. While Facebook dominates the Western world, it’s nearly nonexistent in China, where WeChat and Weibo are the places to see and be seen.

Take it slow, and talk to the experts

A truly global content marketing campaign is serious business. Take it one step at a time. Talk to localization experts to learn the tricks of the global marketing trade. For example, if your company is business to business, there are ways to reduce the entry barriers and reach more markets with (nearly) the same content. You can probably get away with publishing your white papers, case studies, and blog articles in English in Norway, Sweden, or Denmark, German in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, and universal Spanish in the nine Spanish-speaking countries in South America. On the other hand, if you’re targeting consumers in specific age groups on social media, you’ll need to adapt the content for each individual country.

Depending on the size of your international marketing aspirations, this may only be the tip of the iceberg. But don’t be discouraged. With such a sea of potential customers, you’d be well advised to take the plunge below the surface. Use these tips as a guide to get you started. Focus on your message, work with professionals, and keep your sights on creating a native customer experience in each country.

The lesson to be learned from the many pieces of content that don’t really resonate with their intended target audience—that don’t “clear customs”—is that you not only have to speak the local language, you have to do so in a voice that the locals can understand. If you can appreciate that difference, then you’ll be well on your way to seeing your content arrive perfectly packaged on the doorsteps of potential customers around the world.

About the Author

Matt Baird is a professional German-to-English translator and copywriter specializing in content marketing and corporate communications. He also serves as a speaker for the  American Translators Association, which represents over 10,000 translators and interpreters in more than 100 countries. Along with advancing the translation and interpreting professions, ATA promotes the education and development of language services providers and consumers alike. For more information on ATA or translation and interpreting professionals, please visit www.atanet.org.

For a list of other articles by ATA members, please see: www.atanet.org/pressroom/client_ed_article_index.php.

For more information on ATA or translation and interpreting professionals, please visit www.atanet.org.

One thought on “Customs Clearance for Your Content Marketing: How to Get Your Message Across the Border

  1. Good points. To learn what happens when these content marketing rules are ignores, check out “Certified Translation Services: Translation Blunders with Major Consequences” https://www.languagealliance.com/resources/translations-with-major-consequences/

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