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Client Education Through Public Relations

Customs Clearance for Your Content Marketing

How to Get Your Message Across the Border

The United States may be the largest consumer market in the world, but did you know that 96 percent of the planet's consumers do not 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 six percent 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 percent 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 correctly translated. 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 appropriately repackage your message.

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: consumers 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

Your team and your counterparts across the table might know why you are discussing a contract, but an external expert brought in for the day won't. What are everyone's goals? Are the stakes high and the situation tense? Think of communication experts as extensions of your team and brief them accordingly. If they know your purpose(s), they can better understand you and transmit your message accurately.

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.

Use these tips as a guide

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.

Author Bio

Matt Baird is a professional German-into-English translator and copywriter specializing in content marketing and corporate communications. Matt also serves as a speaker for the American Translators Association.

The American Translators Association represents over 10,000 translators and interpreters across 103 countries. For more information on ATA and to hire a translation or interpreting professional, please visit

Reprinted in the following print and digital publications:

Home Business (December 27, 2017)
Inside Business: Hampton Roads Business Journal (January 5, 2018)
Article Weekly (December 21, 2017)
Information & Communication Tech Solutions (March 1, 2018)

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