The Rise of Multicultural Marketing
Your company’s online and social media marketing efforts have the potential to reach a global audience. But how many of us truly take advantage of this benefit?
One of the challenges in opening your business to a global customer base is effectively marketing your products and services to consumers from different cultural backgrounds. In fact, multicultural marketing is fast becoming the norm and by 2042, no single group will have a majority – according to Carol Watson, Founder and President of cross-cultural talent consultancy Tangerine Watson, Inc. In order to remain relevant, online marketing content must address the needs of a growing worldwide audience.
Everyone’s eye is now on the content marketing industry, with predictions of US$313 billion revenue in 2019, and more than US$1billion alone invested in startups since 2006, what you say - and how you say it - has never been more important. A noticable shift in global content has transformed "ethnic" marketing into marketing for a multicultural world. To break through the noise successful brands are now stepping away from content thats diconnected, disjointed and down-right offensive to a total market approach that is culturally inclusive.
Content on a Global Platform
The Internet’s global reach has catapulted marketing copy onto the world stage. In just under two decades, the number of Internet users has increased tenfold to 3.2 billion people, making your potential audience bigger and more diverse than ever before. To ensure your brand doesn’t get pushed into the backwaters of web-browser history, you need to appeal to a mobile-obsessed, content-focused audience.
Mobile technology has so changed the face of the purchasing process that Google has coined a new term for it: Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT). With instant access to information, people are increasingly making decisions at the Zero Moment – the precise moment they have a need, intent or question they want answered online.
Most dedicated shoppers see browsing as an integral part of the fun, and recent ZMOT statistics from Asia show that search engines are ranked as the most used digital information source by 1 in 3 shoppers. With nearly a billion mobile broadband subscriptions in Asia alone, customer online reviews are influential, measurable and totally unignorable for marketers. An effective digital strategy is now essential to providing social proof in communicating a brand’s unique selling points.
The Queen’s English: Going, Going, Gone…
English is now the “lingua franca” of the international community. Around a quarter of the world’s population (2 billion people) will be learning English by the end of the decade. With non-native speakers outnumbering native speakers 3 to 1, English has quickly become the most widely published language in the world. In fact, statistics show that as of December 2015, nearly 55% of all Internet content is created in English, with the closest contender, Russian, standing at only 6.1%. The exponential growth in English for non-native speakers presents a key opportunity for many companies to build market share internationally.
However, English (as we know it) is evolving. Linguists foresee social media abbreviations, acronyms and lexical changes will continue to have a huge impact on World Standard Spoken English (WSSE) – and writers also need to be aware of cultural differences and sensitivities in each international market. As a result, the effectiveness of content marketing should be measured by the number of people who understand the messages conveyed, not just the number of people who read it.
English speakers across Asia have adapted the language to fit their own cultures, dialects and traditions. Although proponents of the Queen’s English may be horrified, English has taken on a life of its own in Asia – and (in typical Asian fashion) is developing in a thousand different ways as each community puts its own particular spin on the language.
Hiding behind a standardised approach is no longer an effective way to reach audiences and achieve marketing objectives. Although copywriters have been told to think global and act local for decades, in practice it’s easier said than done.
Thankfully, marketing snafus arising from overly literal translations provide endless sources of entertainment. For example, KFC’s iconic slogan “Finger Lickin’ Good” initially debuted as “Eat Your Fingers Off” when Colonel Saunders launched in Mainland China. And hair care purveyors Clairol made a real stink when introducing their “Mist Stick” curling iron to German consumers; blissfully unaware their product name meant “manure stick” in German slang.
But thankfully, some companies get it right. For example, Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches” resonated effectively with global audiences. Vice President Fernando Machado stated the viral campaign was initially only launched in four key markets, but due to its sheer popularity it was rolled out in over 110 countries and translated into 25 languages. Dove maintained the uniqueness of their message throughout the translation process, making it not only a resounding success, but also one of the most successful viral ads of all time.
From Translation to Transcreation
Understanding cultural sensitivities and customs is the ticket to excelling in multicultural marketing. Traditions can be vastly different, right down to the most common local expression, so it’s safer to err on the side of caution when it comes to translating content for international audiences. Concise, literal copy lends itself to being understood by global audiences – but it doesn’t leave much room for flair, does it?
More than words – the meaning behind the message
Adapting content for domestic and international consumers without compromising brand identity is one of the biggest marketing challenges affecting companies across every sector. Poorly worded content can derail sales, damage reputations and in extreme cases, even lead to consumer boycotts. To avoid this, marketers must not only translate the words in their content, but transcreate the meaning.
With the increasing need to adapt content for multiple markets, transcreation is becoming the preferred tool for getting the right messages across to stakeholders. While translation is about providing a word-for-word transcription in another language, transcreation is about transferring the meaning behind the original concept - making it the preferred choice for consistent brand positioning across global markets.
McDonalds proved that transcreating messages across international markets can be done effectively by localising their content in 20 different languages – creating a slogan that had everyone chanting, “I’m lovin’ it!”. While the core of the message remained the same, McDonalds adapted the copy to suit each local market. In French they presented the tagline as “It’s everything that I love.” In Arabic: “Of course I love it”, Portuguese: “I love all this a lot” and in China “love” was taken out altogether, replaced by a more culturally appropriate: “I just like (it).”
Standardising vs. Going Native
Although globalization has opened up markets of previously unimaginable magnitude, maintaining consistency of messages across local markets and cultures is proving to be a more daunting task. What do you do when globally approved corporate messages just won’t fly in your local market?
Most brands struggle to strike a balance between standardised corporate content and local communications efforts. Due to the complexities involved, brand benchmarking firm L2 reports that only 52% of global brands feature the same information architecture on all global sites, while some 15% utilize completely different site architecture in different countries. Regardless of how information is organised, the key is to maintain the essence of the message and present it in the most effective way to reach your local audiences.
Preserving style and tone
As writers, we strive to draft copy that connects with audiences and creates an intended emotional response. Word play, idioms, insinuations and rhymes that work cleverly in one language could be a completely different kettle of fish in another.
This is where transcreation comes in. Mastering the skill requires more than fluency in a foreign language, it requires fluency in a foreign culture – as well as the sense of humour and linguistic dexterity that develops from an intimate understanding of a culture. Words and images that bring tears to French readers’ eyes may fall completely flat in the Middle East, while sentimental, family-oriented Asian branding may be seen as hokey and unsophisticated to Western audiences.
As a regional/global marketing executive, the key is to clearly define corporate messages and the intended emotional response to your brand, and then work with a local copywriter in each market to craft the words that create that desired effect in your target audiences.
Procter and Gamble launched its new collection of dusting products, Swiffer, “When Swiffer’s the one, consider it done”, but found it held little oomph in the Italian market. Translations fell flat prompting copywriters to adapt the message into, “Dust doesn’t linger, because Swiffer catches it” (“La polvere non dura, Swiffer la cattura”). This change effectively communicates the products USP while also maintaining rhyme in another language.
The intricacy of cultural nuances can be overwhelming, but the key is to apply a strategic approach that addresses your communication objectives within local cultural norms. Domenick Cilea, President of Springboard Public Relations claims, “Maintaining content’s original creative intent requires more than just a translation... you have to articulate that a problem is being solved.” Even though your copy is grammatically sound in another language, it may not convey the original meaning and intent of your message.
For example, Microsoft’s punchy “Jump in” tagline for its Xbox game console lost nearly all of its appeal with French consumers because the original copy – translated word-for-word into French – failed to reflect Xbox’s active company culture. Subsequently, copywriters updated the tagline to “Lance-toi” (“Launch yourself”), which delivered Xbox’s playful brand voice and attitude to French audiences.
Writing for Asia Pacific Audiences
In response to Asia’s growing economic power, multinational firms are increasingly dialing up their marketing efforts to appeal to consumers in the East. It’s no surprise, as Asia recently became the world’s largest eCommerce region in 2014 with US$500 billion in annual sales.
Consumers in the East are also turning to the Internet as an important part of the decision making process, with nearly 20% of Asian Internet users saying they spend up to 50% of their shopping research time online – more than consumers in Europe, the Middle East or Africa. Asia’s love affair with smartphones has also helped to fuel growth in mobile shopping, with nearly half (45.6%) of Asian consumers using their phones to make purchases online. Across Asia, online and social media channels are quickly becoming the primary point of contact with consumers.
When it comes to content, Asian audiences appreciate copy that’s emotionally engaging, but it must be relevant, modern and well produced to resonate across markets. In 2014, the Singapore Tourism Board introduced a cringe-worthy advertising campaign aimed at tourists from the Philippines. According to The Telegraph, “The two-minute clip was published earlier this month, but with its terrible dubbing, ear-numbing soundtrack and ludicrous script, it was widely ridiculed on social media websites, prompting its removal from STB’s Facebook page and YouTube channel, with a spokesman adding it ‘was not resonating well with audiences.’”
Although many Asian cultures share similarities in terms of culture and philosophy, there are vast differences when it comes to language, identity and buying preferences. The ultimate consequence of producing offensive and embarrassing content could be turning online and offline audiences away for good. Bad messaging creates bad content – regardless of language, culture or medium. Research your market and your target segments, and craft your copy to appeal specifically to their wants and needs.
Thankfully, some organizations get it right. When Hong Kong Ballet refreshed their branding in 2015, they developed a unique movement graphic and distinctive editorial tone & style to deliver their brand messages in an engaging, approachable and confident voice. The campaign’s “Never Standing Still” tagline captured the dynamic movement of the art in words, which carried through to the visual presentation. Blending Asian-inspired graphics with clean photography and simple copy, the award-winning campaign helped to solidify Hong Kong Ballet’s position as one of the region’s foremost ballet companies.
Copywriting for Asian Audiences: Do’s and Don’ts
Although English has its own twist in each Asian country, copywriters can benefit from a few general guidelines when writing for regional audiences:
Ø DO use bite-sized copy. Simple language and snappy sentences work, and lend themselves to transcreation.
Ø DON’T overuse celebrity endorsements. Regional differences in language and culture means celebrities usually have limited cross-market appeal.
Ø DO give your copy culture. Demonstrating cultural empathy invokes positive associations with your copy. Understand your audience’s identity and convey that sensitivity through your words.
Ø DON’T overcomplicate. Excessive verbiage draws attention away from message. Strive for clarity and simplicity in your copy.
Ø DO use a mixture of emotions. This help builds coherent real-life narrative and audience engagement.
Ø DO use local examples. Regional nuances and anecdotes can be a compelling factor in selling your copy.
Ø DO use fresh, surprising copy. Unanticipated words and phrases improve engagement and recall by employing a psychological principle called The Bizarreness Effect.