An American marketing executive was asked by his CEO to shape up their brand’s struggling European operations.
“Aaron,” said the CEO, on the top floor of the company’s tall glass headquarters in downtown Chicago, “you are a change-maker. I want you to go to London, align EMEA marketing with our best practice, and double our market share.”
“Consider it done,” Aaron answered.
Aaron decided to hire a business coach to help him navigate the new corporate environment. On a morning call with a London colleague, he happened to mention that he wanted to know about the best local coaches. The colleague insisted on helping.
Later that day he received an email:
It’s a bit late here but I did a quick online search for you. You’ll find attached a list of coaches. We look forward to welcoming you on the other side of the pond!
Over dinner, Aaron told his wife about the email.
“I’m sure London will be terrific, but it does seem a little disorganised out there. The head of HR said he’d email me details of local business coaches, but all there was in the attachment was a list of local bus lines.”
His wife, a famous writer who was often invited to speak in Britain, laughed.
“Darling, in England ‘coach’ means ‘bus’. Words matter.”
This is one of the biggest complications that brands face when they go international. Understanding these subtleties in language is critical when catering to a foreign audience. And if your business is ready, worldwide branding can be a profound decision, as most of the top-ranked websites in the world don’t cater to a single region of the globe. They transcend borders to spread their offerings to international audiences. While English is the most widely used language on the web, focusing only on these English-speaking individuals and not building cross-marketing systems means that businesses are losing out on literally billions of potential prospects.
The best way to reach the masses worldwide is through substantial global social media and international SEO strategies. Other regions of the globe don’t rely on Facebook or Twitter. Google is not authoritative everywhere; China and Russia support different search engines. China’s preferred engine, Baidu, is the 4th most-visited site in the world and requires different tactics for dominance.
To overcome international search engine and social media challenges, marketers must become familiar with overall best practices and then drill down to become an expert. Here is the foundation you will need to take a brand’s message worldwide:
1. Understand Regional Specifics
When going international, there are some fundamental elements that must be considered. First, study the prominence of digital media in your region of choice. Some countries are not as web-friendly yet, so measure your tactics accordingly. You’ll also need to determine which search engine is best suited for each area; in Russia, Yandex is most widely used whereas in Japan, Yahoo is the engine of choice.
Legalities also matter, and every area of the world governs the web differently. The rules for Baidu, China’s search engine, are vastly different than Google’s and by failing to comply, your company could end up in hot water. There are various technical elements to consider too, like domain structure, hreflang tag usage and related details that can make a significant impact on your global SEO campaign.
2. Research Local Keywords
Since this is a vital element to any SEO strategy, it is crucial to adjust keyword choices to the culture you are targeting. When researching, be sure to use the correct search engine for that region, and ensure that words are spelled correctly; failing to apply special characters like umlauts or accents can drastically alter the results. Additionally, because various dialects are used throughout places like Europe and the Middle East, identifying the proper words and phrases that people actually use is imperative, as many translation tools are too formal and the same word can often have different meanings. For instance, when Tropicana marketed their “jugo de china” (orange juice) in Puerto Rico all was well, but when presenting the same product to Cubans in Florida, things went awry as it was interpreted as “juice from China”. Despite the translation’s accuracy, the lack of cultural context caused much embarrassment.
The key here is to consult a native expert, or a company that works with native experts; never rely on online tools to finalise your keyword approach. One Chinese university made this exact mistake on one of its bus stops in 2015 when it relied on automatic translation tools. The translation software decided that “The Sichuan Normal University Chenglong Campus Station” sounded better as “The University Jackie Chan Campus Station”.
3. Marry Search and Site
If you’re serving an international market, you’ll want to have different versions of your website. The best way to do this is either by identifying a visitor’s location through their IP address and loading the correct language, or by providing users with a prominently placed menu to switch languages. Set up country specific URLs and sub-categories to help search engines easily index your site.
4. Translate Intent, not Words
Translating your content and site materials to the proper language is critical for ranking. But if you aren’t applying the right keywords, slang words are used incorrectly, or you in any way butcher the language unknowingly, your efforts are completely in vain. For instance, when JFK gave his famous 1963 speech in Berlin, he told the crowd: “Ich bin ein Berliner”. Unbeknownst to him, “Berliner” is a slang term in Germany which ultimately caused him to say: “I am a jelly doughnut”.
Taco Bell also had a ‘major fail’ in the Japanese market in 2015 when the brand used tools like Google Translate to build their overseas website. The page was riddled with translation blunders like “Beef Crunchwrap Supreme” turning into “Supreme Court Beef”, “Cheesy Chips” becoming “Low-quality Chips”, and in its company history when it states that “A legacy is born”, the translation actually meant something closer to “an obsolete programme is born”.
Intimately understanding the keyword translation goes for social media localisation as well, since it is a massive force for driving website visits. Failing to truly understand the translation could land you in a bit of a pickle, like when Lindsay Lohan unknowingly told her Arabic Instagram followers “You’re a donkey”, instead of the intended “You’re beautiful”.
You should translate everything – from navigational elements to blogs and user reviews. Then, generate new content for the market you are targeting. Other parts of the world will not receive the same value from English posts that have been translated so it is vital to focus on providing value to areas according to their own needs.
5. Speak in One Voice
In order for your company to deliver the full experience and impact, brand consistency is key. This means that translations alone are not enough to optimise a site; marketers must manage SEO efforts to encompass the words most commonly searched for in each region. The tone of your brand will be lost in translation (no pun intended) if some amount of rewriting doesn’t take place. To get this right, it’s wise to employ professional services to ensure your copy is spot on. Remember, UX is a critical component to site optimisation. Lexus failed to take the necessary steps last year when it marketed its NX model car in Lithuania. Due to not conducting the proper market research and implementing rewrites, the company failed to recognize that “NX” is a common abbreviation for “naxui”. In Russian, this is a swear word meaning “f–k”. Needless to say, sales of the car did not go so well.
Multilingual SEO is a challenging endeavor that requires due diligence on research and resources, and it requires patience.
In the end, Aaron didn’t double his firm’s market share. He tripled it. But he never aligned marketing with the US.
“So darling,” said his wife as they sipped champagne to celebrate his promotion to Global CMO and her new bestseller, “did you ever find that business coach you were looking for?”
“I didn’t have time, honey. All I did was make sure the team understood their job was to know our audience better than the competition, and stick to one big brand story. What they did online and with SEO in all those weird languages and cultures was awesome.