How to Balance Global Messaging with Local Relevancy: A Guide to Globalisation

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Originally published in Brand Quarterly Magazine.

For global organisations, embracing market diversity, attitudes, and cultural preferences has long since ceased to be a ‘nice to have’ element that sat passively behind the global brand strategy; it is now an essential part of any brand program. The rise of ‘glocal’ (global vs local) campaign preparation and localisation has become the imperative. There are clear financial drivers, particularly with digital commerce. In 2014, the economic potential for online communication was in excess of $45 trillion.

However, it’s estimated that today roughly 90 per cent of all online business is done in English. The reason this figure should be causing some concern amongst global organisations is the fact over 70 per cent of web users are not native English speakers.

The obvious question is whether this apparent lack of localisation is having a noticeable impact? The simple answer is, yes.  Nearly 75 per cent of non-native speakers will not buy from an English only platform, and only 20 per cent of non-native speakers even feel comfortable with an English-only platform.

In 2014, the economic potential for online communication was in excess of $45 trillion.

Despite the effect that a lack of localisation could be having to businesses, only 10 percent of all content is even being translated, and the process of true localisation and transcreation goes beyond just translation. For online content to be impactful it has to be locally relevant.

The traditional ‘spray and pray’ approach to marketing just won’t work anymore. Consumer expectations have dramatically increased; beyond marketing segmentation they expect personalisation. In 2009, you could reach over 90 per cent of customers online using 37 languages. Just three years later, in 2012, a further 11 additional languages were required to reach the same audience.

Brands need to be able to speak to customers not just in their language but in a voice they understand. The challenge for marketers is to find a way of striking a balance between core global brand objectives and creating, or adapting, content so it speaks to consumers in market. The problem is that this can often be seen as a complex and time consuming process when it doesn’t need to be.

There are a number of steps that can be taken to ensure that this process becomes as straight forward as possible. At Lionbridge, this is what we refer to as ‘globalisation’.

Firstly, we need to be clear on what we mean by globalisation. In this context, globalisation means if your company wants to conduct business globally, its digital presence is optimized to incorporate multilingual options. This allows you to transform processes to support customers in preferred languages and locales.

Below we’ll look at our globalisation strategy tips for:

  • Deciding what content to create and how to adapt it for your markets
  • Planning ahead for globalisation
  • Creating globally ready content

Decide what content to create and how much to adapt it

The first step to globalisation is to develop a framework for deciding the types of content to adapt and what level of adjustment is needed.

By identifying the business drivers and key performance indicators (KPIs) you can begin to define your success criteria. Pinpointing your business objectives – driving revenue, reducing costs, increasing productivity – lets you determine how globalised content can help you accomplish your goals in key markets.

You can then focus on what kind of content will resonate with your audience to hit these targets. Different types of content require different levels of customisation. Keep in mind that “feature rich” often means higher complexity and cost, while simpler programs can be just as effective.

More importantly, assess cultural drivers that affect how people respond in different regions. Leveraging in-market cultural expertise to determine what adjustments need to be made before you begin will save time and resources further down the line.

Leveraging in-market cultural expertise to determine what adjustments need to be made before you begin will save time and resources further down the line.

Plan ahead

Now you know what type of content you’re going to create and how much you’re going to adapt it, you’re almost ready to start planning your program. But first, it’s helpful to familiarise yourself with the market requirements. This allows you to build a global-ready program and avoid stumbling blocks later in the process.

  • Content: Make sure the content elements will be appropriate and relevant for all audiences, also accounting for cultural and legal differences between countries.
  • Languages and display: Your target language may have different character sets and text orientation than English. This will affect your design, layout and even content length. This can have a technical impact if you are planning on using video.
  • Technology: Make sure the technologies you are planning to use are compatible with regional capabilities, like available bandwidth and end-user devices. For example, if you are planning a social media campaign, remember that some platforms do not operate in certain markets. Is your Facebook campaign adaptable for Sina Weibo in China?
  • Assessment and feedback strategies: Cultural and legal differences apply here, too. A globalisation partner in-country can be a great resource for identifying any further possible issues. Once you understand how these factors could impact your project, you should identify the global team that will help you develop and execute your program.

Create global-ready content

Once your background research is complete, it’s time to start producing your base version of global-ready content. Creating global-ready content reduces localised complexity, costs and timelines; enhances results for non-native speakers; and improves the overall usability of your content.

Creating global-ready content starts with:

  • Ensuring that your writing is simple and straightforward.
  • Eliminating culturally specific references.
  • Using culturally neutral and flexible design elements to accommodate different character sets and text orientations.

When your content team begins writing with globalisation in mind, the result is clear, concise, and grammatically correct source material that cuts translation costs and timelines, and improves the quality of the finished product.

It is important to keep in mind that global-ready language is neither “boring” nor “dumbed-down.” Using these techniques will help you create controlled and regulated content that not only makes it easier and less costly to translate into other languages, but also improves the usability for English speakers as well.

A great example of globalisation in practice, and how it can improve an organisation’s profitability, is the eBay cross border eCommerce strategy. As one of the most recognisable brands on the planet, eBay needed to keep a standardised visual identity. They implemented an advanced language automation solution that allowed the localisation of their inventory, into language and currency, for different markets, in real time. The result was a seamless experience for customers regardless of location and across borders. The removal of language as a barrier, in this case, gave eBay the ability to sell all inventory to all consumers anywhere and everywhere all the time.

eBay globalization strategy

Go global, think local

Planning for a globalisation strategy is critical to ensuring the best outcomes for any brand activity, whilst keeping costs under control. When you need materials that will have an improved impact in your target markets, success means starting every project by creating global-ready content but thinking locally. By following these steps you will have a culturally neutral, global-ready brand plan, and an in-market team to help you globalise it for the various languages you are targeting.

About the authorpaula-shannon-lionbridge-headshot

Paula Shannon manages Lionbridge’s global sales forces and account management teams. In this role, she drives new services and sustainable solutions, develops strategic accounts, and ensures the continued delivery of innovation and execution excellence to a broad range of Global 1000 customers.

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