ULG's Language Services Blog

Digital Marketing Across Borders: How to Reach a Multilingual Audience



Former Chancellor of West Germany Willy Brandt once said, "If I am selling to you, I speak your language. If I am buying, dann müssen Sie Deutsch sprechen."

Most businesses understand the importance of speaking their clients' language, including the role of language services to the success of their cross-border digital marketing efforts. However, they don't always understand how best to take advantage of those services, which results in everything from wasted time and money to embarrassing translation errors.

The following tips will help your organization maximize the impact and efficiency of your multilingual marketing campaigns to more effectively reach your international audiences.

Best-Practices for Expanding into Multilingual Audiences

1. Incorporate the needs of international audiences from the start

Most problems with the localization process stem from treating it as an afterthought. Businesses will invest time and talent in creating top-notch campaigns for their in-country audience and then expect to just hand it off for translation with a fast turnaround time.

Instead, work with a language solutions partner (LSP) during the initial planning process; that partner can help you design marketing campaigns that are easily adaptable to international audiences. Otherwise, you may end up with source content that's difficult to translate (adding time and expense) or content that simply won't resonate with the intended audience even if it's well-translated.

Here are some common roadblocks when localization is left to the last minute:

  • Too many colloquialisms, which can be difficult to accurately translate
  • Imagery and colors with different meanings in different cultures
  • Content that needs to be culturally adapted— "transcreated"—rather than simply translated

If you are using an agency, that's when you should onboard your LSP. Its team members can train the agency on how to produce content that's favorable to localization.

A good strategy involves the intelligent investment of localization spend. Choose a strategy for each market in advance. Avoid "afterthought localization," which leads to extra work and expense because copy and content will need to be redesigned to suit all markets.

2. Remember that human interpretation can trump technology

Although translation is a key component in your global marketing campaigns, human interpretation is at times essential. Your customers are busy, they're at work, they have a job to do, and they want to do it as efficiently and painlessly as possible.

When someone doesn't speak English, having a human interpreter on the line from the get-go improves the customer experience.

3. Keep multicultural digital marketing consistent using brand and style guides

Does your business have a brand and style guide? It's an often overlooked necessity for better localization outcomes. Your LSP needs brand and style guides to ensure your brand voice stays consistent across languages and cultures.

Again, it's important to provide the information to your LSP as early in the process as possible. Its specialists will need it to ensure they have the right linguists who understand your target customer on standby.

Work with an LSP who actually wants to understand your brand. If your LSP isn't asking about your brand and your goals, you're not working with the right partner.

Common Mistakes When Expanding into International Markets

International markets can be an excellent opportunity for expansion but take care to avoid common pitfalls.

1. Copying Over Campaigns From One Region to Another


You can't simply copy what works in one region and expect it to work in another region.

As mentioned earlier, your content could be difficult to translate properly or even unintentionally offensive or off-putting; that can do real damage to your brand. Poor translations make customers and clients feel slighted. At best, you get lower ROI from campaigns because they are simply ineffective.

Of course, the worst-case scenario is something like what happened to HSBC in 2009. The company's catchphrase "Assume nothing" was translated as "Do nothing" in several different markets. Nobody wants to pay a wealth manager to "do nothing" with their money. It took $10 million to repair the damage.

2. Marketing to Regions Without Proper Support Capacity

When customers purchase a product or a service in their own language, they expect to receive support in that language.

If you're marketing to a specific region and you don't have support staff who speaks that language, translating self-service help desk content and setting up popups on your website to let people know what to expect may be a successful workaround while you're in the process of getting support staff on board who can assist in the target language.

3. Forgetting About Multilingual SEO

If you want customers in your target market to find your business on a search engine, you need to ensure your translated content uses the appropriate keywords for that region.

How to Best Use Technology When Translating Digital Marketing Content

Over the past decade, technology has revolutionized the localization industry. However, many aspects of the process still require a human touch to ensure high quality. Here's how to use technology to your advantage.

1. Use technology to maximize efficiency

Seek an LSP that uses a translation management system or complete language mastery platform designed to maximize efficiency in submitting, managing, and tracking projects.

Don't forget about machine-translation (MT). Although it's dangerous to rely on Google Translate, your LSP should be combining MT with human translation to reduce translation time while maintaining high quality.

2. Integrate connectors to reduce the chances of human error

Work with your LSP to build connectors for your website, content management system, and e-commerce carts. If your teams simply receive translated content from the LSP and update it themselves, you run the risk of errors creeping in. Content could show up in the wrong place or display incorrectly; and if your team doesn't speak the language, the errors might not be caught until the content is live.

Getting your LSP onboard early gives it time to build the necessary connectors to ensure everything is correct. Allow your LSP to do quality assurance checks in the final environment or in a sandbox. Good connectors will also make the process of versioning and updating content smoother and more efficient.

When localization is done right, the payoff is tremendous: increased revenue, increased client satisfaction, and increased client loyalty. By incorporating the best-practices outlined in this article, your organization will be well on its way to global success.