Doing damage by trying to do well

When companies start to dabble in international sales they typically go through a couple standard steps.  There’s often some product localization (e.g. changing voltage, satisfying local labeling requirements and meeting regulatory guidelines.)  They often assume that much of the marketing material needs to be translated into the local language – and at this early stage they often sabotage their efforts.

(As an aside, what purpose to product spec sheets serve?  Has anyone, anywhere, ever landed a customer because of their product spec sheet?  I dare say no.  However, many great deals have been lost (some known, many unknown) due to (mis)interpretation of product data sheets.  Do you really want to have them floating around in any language??)

Translation & localization

Translation providers all sound the same (here’s an industry that really needs to use inbound marketing to differentiate themselves!)  They all:

  • have well trained staff with impressive credentials
  • use native speakers
  • translate context and idiom – not just the words

Some take it a step further and offer tips on localization.  This may include adapting the level of formality, suggesting layout formats/sizes, colors, fonts, imagery and tone that are appropriate culturally.  (By the way, there is a huge amount of localization required for your marketing to work well across commonwealth countries too – not just find and replace of “or” with “our”!)

But in the end they are working with the materials they are provided.  By definition they are applying a language mask to a design anchored in a different culture & context.

There’s absolutely a place for translation – but not as a fundamental step in your global marketing.  Here’s why.

Marketing fundamentals are culture & market agnostic

b2b marketing translation isn%27t a simple process of matching

Really effective marketing requires some common foundational steps.  First is an understanding of the project profile, environment and pains/value that a product/service can address.  From that, an ideal prospect persona can be built which will guide all marketing efforts so that they resonate effectively with the right people.

And here’s where translation and localization fail.

Marketing execution is completely culturally & market dependent

One might assume that bottom line profit is the common language of all B2B sales & marketing efforts.  And that would be mistake #1.  Not only, for example, do the “black” & “white” books of real vs. reported tax accounting in many high tax emerging/frontier markets distort that, but many other market and cultural factors impact ‘fundamental’ business perceptions.

Let’s use an industrial marketing example – a company which provides manufacturing automation solutions.

Selling domestically they target personas including process engineers & plant managers.  Typically the CAPEX process is initiated at the local facility level and then forwarded to corporate for financial approval.  (see our recent article on mediocre vs. strong value propositions for a similar scenario)  Generally the justification is built around operational efficiency and cost considerations (labor, short run efficiency, increased output, etc.)

Now that same company notes the trend of manufacturing moving from China to ASEAN and decides to target Indonesia.  All fired up to “localize” their effort, they engage a capable translator to convert their data sheets and eBook on manufacturing efficiency into Indonesian.  Let’s assume the language is perfect.  Idioms are adjusted and tone is proper.  Let’s even assume that localization was considered with hybrid units observed and imagery and layout adjusted to local standards.  Should be a great tool, right?

Wrong!!  What if no plant manager in Indonesia would be:

  • comfortable presumptively suggesting to the Managing Director that they make a large investment
  • focused on labor cost reduction as a primary decision driver
  • interested in creating labor strife

Instead, the motivating pain points considered by the MD might include:

  • assurances for Western buyers of consistent quality through automation
  • demonstration of sound manufacturing practices to avoid buyer concerns of child labor abuses
  • ability to maintain continuous production rates during Ramadan when many employees will be focused on their fast
  • more concerned with manufacturing space requirements as property prices skyrocket

It’s easy to see where even properly localized translation would result in fruitless marketing in this situation.

So what’s the solution?

To build your B2B inbound marketing properly, in a prioritized manner.

  1. Build as close to a perfect program as possible for the domestic US market (planned well, executed consistently, based on robust personas and their buying journey, continuously improved, mutli-channel awesome optimized content, great lead nurturing, complete social media & PR promotion, integrated CRM for closed loop tracking & sales enablement tools)
  2. Let it run – over the course of year you’ll begin to see some very clear traffic, engagement and lead patterns
  3. Select & prioritize markets – this must be driven by corporate strategy, NOT by marketing preference (factors such as strength of sales channel, political and currency risk, diversification & demographics should drive this)
  4. Build the infrastructure – TLDs (top level domains e.g. .uk, .de, .vn, etc), local hosting, multi-language CMS, content creation resources, trademark registrations, etc.
  5. Create the localized B2B content marketing strategy – just as you did with your initial US effort, build detailed personas, buyer’s journey and other fundamental building blocks (with particular attention to localized NOT TRANSLATED long-tail keywords based on local market pain points and conditions)
  6. Transcreate content – per the example above, don’t translate.  Build it properly and optimize it based on the target market conditions and personas
  7. Nurture and sell in a persona and culturally appropriate way – since you already selected markets based on corporate strategy and resources, and ensured that the infrastructure was in place, this won’t be a problem!

Sound like a lot?  It is.

Is there some way to get started without a full program?  Sure, but recognize that it is a 20% solution.  Don’t fool yourself into believing you’ve got properly built international content marketing.

Here’s how to shortcut the process – Create a step 4b.  Create some market specific subdomains.  Then relying heavily on your local sales channel for general guidance on personas and conditions, create some localized landing pages with a caveat that the offered content is intended primarily for US market conditions.  If you’re feeling ambitious, perhaps you can create lead nurturing work flows with local language emails.

But whatever you do – don’t fall for the translation quick fix early in the process.

image – perceptral