We live in strange times right now. Western nations seem to be undergoing acrobatic feats of existential soul-searching on if the future lies in greater or less global collaboration. Brexit sent shockwaves around the world, and ongoing discussions about immigration and free trade are bringing the value of globalization into question for some.
While it’s hard to suggest that any definitive historical changes are taking place, it’s an important reminder that national identity and diverse regional cultures remain strong forces. Even while technology has made the world smaller and more interconnected, global enterprises and organizations must manage their story across a variety of highly diverse cultures and environments.
For marketers managing global content programs, the key challenge is simultaneously:
- Maintaining a consistent message and corporate story
- Accounting for the content’s reception in a multitude of markets
- Across multiple media channels (earned, owned, paid and social)
According to work by academics Sriramesh and Verčič, there are three core environmental variables to communicating successfully in a foreign market – country infrastructure (political system, level of economic development and activism level), media environment and societal culture. They contribute heavily to why a piece of content laden with messaging, search terms and pop culture references will “play in Peoria” but just doesn’t seem to “cut it in Cape Town.”
Building a Better Process
Meeting these environmental factors will ensure that content resonates, but it might not deliver the right message or protect the brand. A structure is needed that maintains the spirit of the message while allowing it to be translated – both linguistically and culturally – to fit multiple different markets.
1. Create an internal global think tank, separate from the domestic team
Pool some of your most talented writers, researchers and storytellers. Then arm them with the most relevant data you possible can via a global SEO audit, social analysis, topic modeling and competitor positioning. This team should centralize developing major thought leadership platforms that can be rolled out in each and every market. This role requires big picture, creative thinkers that can deliver content that differentiates itself from the staid topics that competitors have already beaten to death.
Global focus is the key. They absolutely should not be, for example, simply the U.S. team charged with rolling out content globally. Create a separate global team. The domestic team at HQ (see point 2) should work with the “global content think tank” team in the same way that every other market does.
2. Get experts on the ground
Couple the centralized team with individual teams on the ground whose responsibility it is to apply the filters of infrastructure, media environment and societal culture. For these roles to perform optimally, you need people who are intellectually curious and widely read about current affairs at home and their own industry. They also must be able to act with a global mindset as content flow can be quickly disrupted when a region does not feel connected to the global team’s goals or working style.
It’s a big investment to assemble local expertise, but critical to properly appropriate top level content for a specific market for maximum impact. Tailoring content is not simply about avoiding the unfortunate translations/idioms that cause brand damage and red faces. A local expert team will also be able to optimize the content and make it more engaging.
3. Collaboration and communication, not global edict
So far, this might all sound a little hierarchical, if not even imperial. However, the communication cannot be top-down and one-way. Each separate territory must feel empowered to raise concerns about existing content strategy, suggest new ideas to the global team and generally collaborate. Open dialog is critical to the success of a global content strategy.
4. Create a league table to track each geography on content roll-out and defined competitive metrics
Sometimes it’s not easy to compare apples to apples, but incentivizing regional teams to engage with the content via competition can be a good way to ensure it is leveraged to its potential. However be mindful of the fine line between competition and pushing teams to forcefully distribute content, which can lead them to sub optimal due diligence and content that is not appropriate or optimized for their market.
5. In market message testing
If you are the CMO or the executive responsible for global content management, it’s very difficult to understand how content is performing on the ground. Standardizing reporting around set engagement and conversion metrics is a first step and hugely important. But it won’t help you understand the brand perception that your content is creating, thus making it difficult to assess the long term impact. Surveying customers, prospects and general audience on brand perception is the next stage, and then measuring how that changes over time in line with your evolving content.
Setting up an infrastructure for managing marketing content globally as described above is costly and hard work in the short term, but having seen this approach in action, it pays dividends relatively quickly and can bring order to a chaotic world!