Translators & international content marketing – Planning phase

Part 1 – Planning


Over the next few weeks we will be publishing our 4-part guide how to use translators on international content marketing. While each content campaign differs in approach to a certain degree, we have distilled the most likely approach for professional marketers, from planning through to measurement and show exactly where and how language and cultural experts and agencies should be used to ensure their campaigns are planned and successfully executed in new territories.

The very essence of a successful content marketing campaign is based on a thorough understanding of who is being targeted and what they want to read, understand and experience from a brand. Getting it right leads to deep engagement, which in turn leads to increased sales and higher profit for the brand.

Small errors, big consequences

Multinational brands that successfully use content marketing know that each country is different in both obvious and subtle ways. What works in the US may not work in Japan for example. Sounds obvious, but these lessons have been learned the hard way by some very large brands who’ve launched new marketing campaigns and got it wrong. Sometimes this is due to a failure to understand the political and social background of a new territory, such as when Orange launched in Northern Ireland with their slogan “The future is bright… the future is orange’’. The was not received well by pockets of the Catholic community in Ireland, who associate orange with the ‘Orange order’ and led to the slogan having the secondary reading as ‘The future is bright, the future is Protestant loyalist’.

You may think that this type of cultural insensitivity is a thing of the past but a very similar error was repeated only a few weeks ago by Mcdonalds when promoting their deserts. They ran the slogan “Sundae Bloody Sundae” in a somewhat crass wordplay on the U2 song about the 1972 incident in Derry, Northern Ireland where British Soldiers shot and killed 28 unarmed civilians protesting Operation Demetrius. It did not go unnoticed. Read more here

As embarrassing as these high profile examples are, they are actually relatively rare. It is far more likely that smaller mistakes are made in the different stages of planning and executing an international campaign, which in turn lead to small misalignments in understanding the target personas and subsequent content. We will aim to highlight these areas by segmenting the content marketing approach and showing where and how language solutions can be used in each stage.

Typical content marketing approach

Most content campaigns can be split into four phases:

  1. Planning – Research, preparation and ideation.
  2. Execution – Creating and publishing content.
  3. Promotion – Promoting a piece of content.
  4. Measurement – This includes everything involved in analysing performance

A better way to view it is as follows:


From the earliest stages of planning a campaign, consideration should be given to what language resources can be called on and deployed. It needn’t be a drain on your budget or time but the key aspect is to use what you have. Something is absolutely better than doing nothing at all.

Translation: considerations & recommendations
  • If you have the budget, include a translator or language and cultural expert on your team from the earliest possible moment. An in-house translation department is great, but even better, include them at senior management and VP level. After all, if you want your brand to have a specific ‘voice’, you need a language expert to make that happen.
  • If you don’t have an in-house option, engage and appoint a translation agency with specialists in your target market. They will be able to flag cultural issues and ensure your message remains on point.
  • Finally, if your budget doesn’t stretch to permanent staff or agency contracts, hire freelance translators or consultants to enter the project at specific key points to translate your content and provide vital advice about the direction you are facing. Do not use colleagues or friends who happen to be bilingual, unless they are test-subjects in a usability test. Unless they are employed as translators, do not use them as such.
Audience Research

Typically the first step in the planning process is to understand who the content is being created for. This involves asking what problems does my company or service solve, who are our current customers and who is the competition.

Translation: considerations & recommendations
  • Use a local expert to advise on the most appropriate language to use in your surveys. The official language of the country may not be the right choice for your target market (eg: China has 297 living languages amongst its 56 ethnic groups.)
  • Make sure the translator you hire to translate your surveys and questionnaires has experience in the version of the language you need. Do not use a European Spanish translator to translate the questions for your new Mexican market, for example.
  • For any online research, use translators or language consultants to advise on the variations in spelling or slang that might be used instead of ‘official’ or ‘correct’ words that would be listed in dictionaries. This will also be vital when you come to do your SEO.
Developing Personas

Creating personas is vital for understanding who is being targeted. A persona is an in-depth character description of an average customer or audience member. They are used to ensure that only relevant content is being created for the correct target audience.

Translation: considerations & recommendations
  • Don’t assume the same persona exists across all countries and just ‘translate’ it into the new language. Consult with a translator or use an agency in-country who can advise on the similarities and differences and help you create new personas if necessary. Only experts with local knowledge can advise on the specific cultural factors that come into play in your target market: age, sex, gender, economics, class, religion, geography.
  • Even if you’re breaking into a country with the same language as you, there will still be cultural and language differences to take into account. Use a native-speaker translator or an in-country agency who can advise and localise your personas. Eg: Australians typically find swear words less offensive than Brits.
  • Do not skip these steps. Who your persona is will determine the language you use when targeting them. Everything starts from here and you should involve a translator from as early a stage as possible. If you have the budget, include a language and culture consultant on your team. If not, contract an agency or freelancer who can consult on an ad hoc basis.
  • Bring the translator into your office (or use email if that’s not feasible) and share your persona information with them. If they fully comprehend the personas ,they will produce much more convincing translations of your content further down the line.
Content Strategy

This is a big area of focus but we can break down content strategy into 5 straightforward elements to include: What is going to be created? What kind of content is it and the channels to deploy it? Why are you creating it? How to measure success? What metrics will be tracked?

Translation: considerations & recommendations
  • When you create your content, consider whether you will want it translated into other languages before creating it. If so, discuss with a translator whether it will be more appropriate to keep location or culture-specific references out of it, so that it can be more easily translated. This will inform your ‘voice’ and your brand.
  • If the content already exists or you have made the decision to keep local cultural references as part of your brand, consult with your translator in each new market as to whether it is relevant to your new target personas before getting it translated. Better to write new content than regurgitate content for which there is no appropriate persona, or where the cultural references simply do not apply.
  • Remember the key point that visuals are more effective than writing and so you might not need to translate text or dialogue at all. Do make sure the visuals are localised though.
Generating Ideas

Another key early stage is generating ideas for projects and campaigns with quality creative concepts that are connected to the overall goals of your approach.

Translation: considerations & recommendations
  • Bring translators into the heart of this process so they can flag any early cultural or language issues or misunderstandings.
  • Liaise with your translator about the implications of the new language on your design brief – i.e the space or character limit on a web page or product description, or the limited space for a subtitle.
  • If you bring a freelance translator at the end of your process, they will have a lot less flexibility to produce a superb piece of copywriting than if they are involved in the above planning stages, where you can use their expertise to design accordingly.
Next time

In the next post we will look at the execution phase of the campaign but if you cannot wait until then and want to access the guide in its entirety please download it here. Alternatively if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to contact us

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