Got milk? The American dairy industry’s wildly successful marketing slogan sounds odd to British-English ears. And it sounded odder still to Hispanics when the campaign was translated as “¿Tiene leche?” – which means “Do you have breast milk?”
Another famous multicultural marketing gaffe: Fartfull. To marketing executives at Swedish furniture giant Ikea, that was a great name for their new kids’ workbench. It means “speedy” in Swedish, but caused gleeful titters when released in English-speaking countries.
To say nothing of Panasonic’s slogan for its new web browser featuring Woody Woodpecker: “Touch Woody – The Internet Pecker”.
Such are the perils of marketing the same product to people in vastly different cultures, whether it’s milk, a child’s workbench or a piece of software.
Amusing mistranslations could potentially work in your favour, by drawing attention to a product that would otherwise have received little coverage. But genuine cultural blunders could alienate many potential customers and knock out a market for years.
Smart chief executives know that the key to a successful global marketing strategy lies in understanding what makes local cultures tick, and creating cool content to tap into that.
Global strategy, local targets
So how do you market your brand to a Japanese engineer or a Saudi prince? Even within Europe, how do you reach out to people in the multiple countries and sub-cultures that make up this (still highly attractive) market?
The key to multicultural content marketing is to combine global messages with local ideas. Think about it: the internet spans the whole world, but the websites people most enjoy are local – for them, about them, and increasingly by them. Speak to people in their own language about issues that interest them, and they’ll not only speak back to you, they’ll help spread your message to others.
Moreover, we all know that Google’s recent algorithm changes reward creators of original, local, topical content and penalise those who copy or churn out masses of irrelevant material. In giving stories a fresh, local twist, you’ll be enhancing your reputation, not just with your target users, but with search engines, too.
Universal themes, local stories
Top hotel brands like Sofitel and Four Seasons are investing heavily in getting the mix of universal brand messages and local ideas right. First, they focus on creating a relatively small amount of top-quality, original content that reflects their brand identity: in Sofitel’s case, French culture, luxury and art de vivre.
They make sure all content not only tells a coherent story, but is flexible enough to be repurposed for different media – from print and regular websites to mini-sites, blogs and presentations. Then comes the multicultural part: adapting that content for specific target markets.
Poor translations – and worse, auto-translations – are not just bad and inaccurate, they harm your brand by sending the message: “You’re not important to us”.
For content to be effective, it has to ring true with readers. It has to be not only in their language but in their dialect, and about things that interest and impact them on a local and personal level.
If you want to tap into a particular market, culture-sensitive localisation is essential. Localisation takes into account cultural values that vary across regions. An emphasis on French wine may go down well with Sofitel guests in Europe, but it will clang clumsily in Muslim countries where drinking alcohol is not encouraged. Mere translation would blunder through and alienate those readers; culture-sensitive localisation would change wine to tea.
So if you’re serious about targeting a particular market, make sure you get not just the language right, not just the dialect right, but the cultural values right. If you are targeting Brazil, make sure it’s Brazilian Portuguese by a native Brazilian who “gets” what makes the locals tick.
Big data, local knowledge
The initial rush of blind enthusiasm for online marketing and social media has abated, and companies are now rightly concerned with measuring the return on investment of their content strategies.
There are a host of ways to track sales, conversions, customer preferences and so on in real time – from website and social media analytics tools to site search analysis and to the tracking of sales steps and the testing of different content. Some call the resulting information big data and get excited by the possibilities.
Others are overwhelmed by the data storm.
When used wisely, this limitless supply of data can help us identify cultural clusters or markets with potential. It can help us show the right content to the right audience at the right time. Real-time data can help even large companies to react quickly to events or changes in search patterns.
But quantitative data, even in unlimited supply, is never enough to explain users’ actions and reactions to different content. It’s vital to pair insights gleaned from data analysis with insights from real people – people who understand local culture, local search habits and social media.
The bottom line
Effective multicultural marketing is not easy, but it is valuable. It combines the good old-fashioned concept of high-quality content with up-to-the-minute marketing techniques, big data, and on-the-ground knowledge of the cultures you are targeting.
“Acting global and thinking local has long been part of business strategy but, irrespective of sector, it is still quite rare to see industry recognising and executing campaigns that incorporate cultural idiosyncrasies and nuances. Multicultural content marketing offers the client the opportunity to create culturally specific content, at a financially accessible level, on a global scale.”
Clare Hill, managing director, Content Marketing Association
Five truths about multicultural content marketing
1. Forget SEO. Focus on creating content that users want to read and share. Google will reward you, and more importantly so will your readers.
2. Regular and automatic translation are out, culture-sensitive localisation is in.
3. Think “multicultural”, not just “multilingual”. It’s not just about languages, it’s about people and their values.
4. No need for mega advertising budgets to push a message – in the age of the web, people are your brand ambassadors. Give them something good to spread.
5. Big data can help you target local cultures – but quantitative information needs to be supplemented by on-the-ground knowledge.
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