So you’re deciding on what languages your website will feature in Africa. Someone at the meeting says, “How about Chinese?” Chinese? In Africa? You’d likely laugh and ask for a more serious response. However, when Alan Porter, Content Marketing Manager at Caterpillar, studied customers in Africa, he discovered that migrant Chinese workers comprise a significant amount of the workforce. After his analysis, the business case clearly showed that Chinese was a must for their content. Thus, Caterpillar decided to make Chinese one of the four languages they used for their African website content.
As this example shows, translation as part of an international content strategy has moved far beyond literal translations and picking one language per country. Instead, Porter points out that Caterpillar uses a set of languages per international region to account for its customers’ complex multilingual needs. In this interview, Porter discusses how an international content strategy differs from a typical content strategy, how studying users in-depth helps you better understand your content’s context, and how to measure and evaluate your international content efforts.
First, it’s about understanding your audience and realizing you can’t really build a global content strategy just by translating content on your general website. The global workforce is very mobile, and research shows that 50% of people in the world are multilingual. Multilingual people think about different subjects in different languages. For example, the Swiss also speak German and English. They may look for information about their car in German, their finances in Swiss, and entertainment in English. You can’t make a blanket assumption that everyone in one country speaks the same language. Instead, you need to understand the culture and the way people think about particular subjects for each service area. As a result, we’re approaching our international content strategy more regionally. Previously, we’d have a German website in German and English. Today, each European country sees product content in nine different languages.
Also, parts of the world completely skipped the desktop and went straight to mobile. For those environments, we need to build our strategy around content that’s mobile-friendly and yet not too resource-intensive. You don’t want many PDF downloads if a region has limited bandwidth or people don’t want to pay expensive roaming charges. So it’s not just the content; it’s the entire cultural aspect of the channels through which we deliver the content.
Context is everything. Simply translating words doesn’t mean you’re providing the right context in a region. The same goes for visuals and photography. For example, we shared some content about a customer using one of our machines on our website. It looked great to us, but people in Australia didn’t like it. Why? Because his sleeves were rolled up. That’s a huge safety violation in Australia. It’s one of those reactions that we couldn’t have anticipated.
To translate means understanding how people use language in culturally specific ways, such as slang. That means really engaging with people in those regions. Because we have offices and facilities all over the world, we leverage our international presence through our customers to find out what works. If we develop content, we test it out in the region before we roll it out.
For technical content such as manuals, we needed to focus on our install base. We looked at sales figures for the last six years to find out where we sold the most. Then we came up with our top 20 languages and wrote technical content in those languages.
However, from a marketing point of view, I was interested in a more forward-looking approach. So, I also looked at data from our dealers about sales opportunities for the next 3 years for machines and parts. I took that data and did some analysis to uncover the best content opportunities.
From that analysis, I found we had nine languages where we really needed to focus most of our efforts. We also looked at what languages we supported in the past and came up with another six languages for a total of 15 languages that would support our online strategy. Out of those 15 languages, we use three main languages in North America, two in South America, nine in Europe, five in Asia, one in Australia, and four in Africa.
In Africa, one of the four languages is Chinese. At first, that seemed illogical. But migrant Chinese workers comprise much of the workforce in the African construction industry. It’s a good example of understanding the regional opportunity, the market, the existing customer base, and the future customer base. We also tie dollar amounts to each language to make a business case. For example, Chinese represents a certain dollar amount of opportunity for machines and parts over the next 3-5 years. We then map Chinese content against that opportunity.
We have two goals for our online international content strategy. It should either generate a sales lead or sell a product through our online parts store. We have a process where we track a lead from the website to a sale, and we can map and attribute the sale back to the content on the website. That’s a powerful metric. We’ve definitely seen a massive uptick in sales as we roll out content globally, and we’ve seen interesting patterns as people seek and more easily find international content in different languages.
To help with lead generation, we’re developing content modules and campaigns for international dealers to use. We’re also doing a lot on the back end of our website to develop content feeds so dealers can easily use our content on their website. And we’re encouraging dealers to contribute back with their own content. And by building a good taxonomy and tagging system around our content, we know what pieces of information and content belong to what markets—all the while pulling from the same data source.
We’re also leveraging technology for translation. My research shows that if people go to a website that’s not in their language, 25% will ignore it and 75% will put it into a machine translation tool such as Google Translate. If you aren’t doing translation, your customers do it anyway. And if your customers translate your content, you’re losing control of your brand and messaging. We’re piloting some technology to speed up our translation velocity. We can’t get everything at 100% right now, but if machine translation gets it to 80%, that’s better than 0% and buys us time while we go through the slower human translation to eventually get all of our content up to 100%.
Porter’s work with Caterpillar demonstrates the value of taking a strategic approach to your content for global markets. If you’re tackling an international content strategy, consider:
While your audiences might speak in different ways, you’ll reach them all by grounding your efforts in the language of content strategy.
Experience Caterpillar’s content for yourself at their website, no matter where you are in the world.
Originally published on the now-archived Content Science blog in June 2014.
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