Top-down doesn't work.
I've been working with a slew of enormous multinational companies recently, spanning the spectrum from appliances to CPG, technology, and a major conglomerate. All are looking at content marketing -- and looking at it from a global perspective.
Content strategy is difficult enough when brands are confined to one region, country, or territory such North America or the U.K. It becomes exponentially more complex when multiplied by Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and all the component countries, territories, and regions that comprise these areas.
The one thing you'd think would be obvious, but is nonetheless still actually practiced by some surprisingly major U.S. brands, is what you might call content cultural imperialism. With the top-down approach, content is created by mission control (generally, in the U.S.), then pushed out to untrained, undedicated staff in regional offices for "translation."
You couldn't ask for an easier recipe for failure.
This type of content doesn't address local interests, issues, or topicality. Content should not, in fact, be "translated" at all. Instead, it should be localized. And what of these regional offices? Why don't they get a say -- and a hand -- in what's created and shared with their constituencies?
Here are some of the ideas and best practices we're sharing with our multinational clients, as well as seeing in the marketplace.
Regional content leaders
We recommend that every major global region (Europe, the Middle East, Asia, etc.) have someone who "owns" content marketing and content strategy. There should also be leaders on the country level. These people liaise with HQ and their colleagues and help shape content strategy on the regional and local level, as well as form and hire teams.
The teams that execute content locally often aren't dedicated employees. This is dependent on the size/importance of the individual territories. They are frequently drawn from social media, communications, and other marketing functions (often, inbound marketing), but they are trained in content marketing and understand the organization's content strategy.
Rather than hire at the local level, many companies, particularly those in CPG and automotive, rely on global agencies to do the heavy lifting when it comes to localizing content on a region-by-region and country-by-country basis. It's still a good idea to maintain brand oversight of the agency relationship on at least a regional level.
Master, regional, and local editorial calendars
Just as one size doesn't fit all in terms of universal content, editorial calendars must differ across regions and at the country level. Holidays, business events, and product launches are just a few examples of where things will differ and must be accounted for in terms of scheduling and cadence.
Shared access to assets
It's critical that regional offices have access to content assets and that they are able to share assets that they produce locally (events, launches, speeches, visits, etc.). When building digital asset management or other shred asset systems, taking into account local needs such as language is an important consideration. VMWare, for example, has a central DAM just for the EMEA region.
It's surprising, particularly with technology clients, how often vocabulary pops up as a sensitive issue. New technologies and new concepts often aren't yet directly translatable into local languages -- much less topics of local discussion or concern -- raising issues far beyond translation, such as initially introducing new concepts into the marketplace before beginning to actually discuss them as if they had always existed.
Simply stated, issues that matter here may not be of burning importance there (and vice versa). Current events, news cycles, local tastes and customs, religion, habits, cultural biases -- all these and more impact content: how it's conceived, created, presented, and portrayed. All the more reason to have feet on the ground creating and refining, not merely "translating" messages from HQ.
Real-time marketing concerns
Even brands that are promoting the same content in the same language may elect to do so via different media channels when they need to harness the dynamism and immediacy of real-time marketing and real-time conversations. HP, for example, sparks English-language conversation on its Indian Facebook page, so the conversation can happen in real-time while denizens of other English-speaking countries are sleeping. Time zones play a part here also, not merely languages and cultures.
Rebecca Lieb is an analyst, digital advertising/media, for Altimeter Group.
On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet. Follow Lieb at @lieblink and Altimeter Group at @altimetergroup.