Localizing Marketing Content Beyond Borders

Localizing Marketing Content Beyond Borders
November 9, 2016
Content may be king according to most B2B marketers today, but how do you keep the king from losing its power when multiple markets and dozens of different languages are involved? Excellence in localization and compelling content are the answers.
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Renato Hi, I am Renato Beninatto.
Michael And I am Michael Stevens.
Renato Today, in our program, we’re interviewing one of the founders of Velocity Partners, one of the leading B2B content marketing agencies in the world.
Michael And we know they are leading because they were recently just awarded the Content Marketing Agency of the Year by the CMI, the Content Marketing Institute.
Renato That’s good.
Doug Okay. I’m, Doug Kessler and I’m the co-founder and creative director of Velocity Partners which is a B2B marketing agency based in London, soon to be in New York as well. We specialize in technology markets, all B2B, some global clients. So, I think that’s why you guys invited me onto the podcast.
Renato Absolutely. And I’ve been a fan of Velocity for a long, long time. I read your B2B manifesto several years ago and I built several marketing strategy documents for the companies that I’ve worked for and for my consulting clients around that concept. But, you regularly come up with these creative ways of looking at B2B marketing. You have recently also a whitepaper or presentation called Crap, what was that about?
Doug That’s right. Crap was a few years ago now but it’s actually broken three million views which I actually couldn’t believe, the other day. It’s basically saying why the biggest threat to content marketing is content marketing. It was done when content marketing was just starting to take off and the worry was it was working so wonderfully for the first people in any market who did it, it conferred huge advantage and it was magnificent. Then, the worry for everybody who was in early was what happens when everyone’s doing it; will it ruin it when we’re all surrounded in crap, when people are doing it not particularly well?

And I think it hit a nerve because it wasn’t like people said “oh, I never thought of it that way”. Everybody who responded said “that’s exactly what I’m worried about; what are we going to do when everyone’s doing this?” So, I think it hit a nerve and just kind of took off for us. Now, we’re known and the Crap People which I should have probably thought about before I came up with the name!
Michael I don’t know. How many millions of flies are attracted to that every day.
Doug Right, but that’s not our target market. So, if you start putting Velocity Partners in the Google search bar I believe it comes up with Velocity Partners Crap, for someone who didn’t know there must be some very angry clients out there.
Renato You also shared a great story recently about insane honesty which was another twist on the content marketing approach and how you can use honesty to communicate your brand more efficiently. But, what we’d love to talk about today is…
Michael Let’s take a step back, too, because some of our listeners are probably wondering, they understand what marketing is and they think of the guy outside of the circus trying to draw people in and that sort of thing. But, when it comes to content marketing there may be a disconnect. Are there particular pieces, particular elements of content marketing that it would be helpful for people to know?
Doug Yes, I think a lot of people say “well, there’s nothing new about content marketing; it’s been done for ever”. Really, for me, it differs from normal promotional marketing in that it starts with the target audience’s needs and agenda and what you are doing is, especially in B2B, you are harnessing the expertise within your company to help your target audience do their jobs better and to share your expertise to provide a service to them, really, in the form of this content: useful, relevant, entertaining, hopefully intelligent content; which makes them lean towards you and start to engage with you earlier in their searching. So, I think it took off as the internet took off and digital took off and B2B vendors were realising that buyers are educating themselves, they’re not coming to us anymore.
Michael That’s it, we talked about that on our sales podcast, actually; that by the time a prospect is talking to a sales person, they are 70% of the way decided, or something like that.
Doug Yes, they’re way down the path and we all do that so one of the great things about content marketing is it gets you engaging in that conversation way earlier. It’s also, there’s all the other disciplines, search marketing, social media marketing, they all independently discover that content is what works so even if we do old-school advertising which is as traditional as marketing can be for our clients, when we advertise a piece of content “come and get this guide that will help you do your job” it outperforms a product ad many times over. If we say “come learn about our product” you just might get a few people who are just about ready to learn about that but if you say “come and get this piece of content that will help you do your job” it outperforms. So, even in traditional marketing advertising, content is what works.

So, it just kept growing, and growing, and growing, and became a real juggernaut and in a way it’s eaten B2B, they’re almost synonymous business to business marketing and content marketing are practically synonymous.
Renato The beauty of this for us, we look at this from the perspective of global business and international marketing, of course, there is a language component to this and content marketing was a breath of fresh air for the localization industry because, all of a sudden, you have this explosion of new content that has developed that needs to be communicated in as many languages as possible. How does that become a challenge for marketing departments?
Doug It is a big challenge and part of it is that one tends to get input from a single market and then base your content on that. What we try to do with clients is say “look, if this is going to be used globally why don’t we get input from different markets and try to make sure that we’re reflecting the needs of many markets in this piece.” If we fail at that we can still say don’t just translate it for a new market, figure out where it fits in the mix, figure out what the needs of that market are and localize it properly. It certainly multiplies the complexity and it raises the bar.

One thing we have noticed is some people get intimidated by that, the globalization/localization challenge and so they go vanilla, they try to be “let’s make a piece that will be fine everywhere; nobody will object to it anywhere”. And it becomes kind of lowest common denominator content and it’s stuff that doesn’t delight anyone but doesn’t offend anyone. We try to say to clients, think of your content portfolio as a menu. Some markets may not want some pieces; that’s okay, it doesn’t mean you kill them. Another market might love that piece, it could be perfect for them. So, we like to think of the whole content mix as the way to address a global audience and not try to make every piece meet every need.
Renato I think this would be a good point to introduce one of the things that I love about your blog, it’s how you are constantly bringing up new concepts and new ideas. You had an article about the centre of content excellence which tries to look at content marketing from a non-traditional perspective. How successful have you been in convincing people to adopt that approach and how does that apply to what you just described of not having a vanilla approach for content marketing?
Doug Yes, it’s a really good question. So, that post is about introducing the content centre of excellence of the centre of content excellence, I still haven’t decided which is the better phrase, but the post was written about three years ago and it was a pain we saw coming. It was content proliferation in a large, especially global, organization, where every team everywhere wants some so they make some; it’s not that hard, you know. So, then, what the company finds is “oh my God! There is everybody everywhere is making content and they’re all doing it differently; different departments are doing it; different disciplines are doing it; different regions are doing it.” And this has led to a big mess and some real waste and inefficiency and just not optimized.

That shaped problem, for other disciplines and industries, has been solved by something called the centre of excellence; and that part we didn’t invent. Centre of excellence exists all over the place, in IT, in HR and you could have one for negotiation for a huge company, any skill, anything, CRM centre of excellence; and really it’s just a team or some kind of shared facility that provides leadership, best practice, research, support, training, for a focus area. That’s just the generic centre of excellence. And for content marketing that’s the focus area.

So, it’s saying instead of trying to own and control marketing from the centre let’s do something at the centre that enables and facilitates best practice across this huge organisation. At the time, it was really early and I thought this was going to really hit and be one of our best most shared posts. And it was kind of met with crickets and tumbleweeds and very little engagement. But, it’s now.
Renato One of the interesting points there, it’s very similar to what happens in the localization industry, this ebb and flow; it’s the centralization/decentralization; it’s the… and what I love about the post is the concept that you can have centralized and decentralized and still have state-of the-art content factory, let’s put it this way.
Doug Yes, absolutely. And I think what I love about the concept, I think done right, it’s a kind of a light touch enabling function, not a traffic cop policing function. Brands have this problem with too many people doing brand work and it was all getting fractured and this ebb and flow to the centre, the centre would panic and grab everything back to the middle. So, there is kind of a brand police and there is compliance police in other areas like security. And for me a really good centre of excellence doesn’t come at it from a traffic cop standpoint but from a coach standpoint. It’s like we’re going to help people do this really, really well, and we’re going to share successes with each other.

For me that’s when it starts to work and a few of our clients have started with that, like, Kimberly Clark Professional has this really cool centre where they’re publishing stuff all the time, they’re holding workshops and webinars; another client, Xerox, is doing this for global teams to say “let’s do a session on personalization; let’s do a session on just what is content marketing”. That’s what I like about it, is that instead of trying to stop that centre edge dynamic it rides it in a light way.
Michael So, you have seen this change since you first posted this blog,that it seems to be getting traction with clients.
Doug Yes. And attention beyond clients. So, I think, finally, it’s now and it doesn’t surprise me because we’re seeing our clients hit the problems that that post was saying “it’s coming; it’s coming”. And, of course, people don’t tend to leap when you say “there’s a headache down the road” they’re like “I’ll call you when I’ve got a headache”. And now they’ve got the headache. And I think so many people do and they see it. So, now is the time when I think people are taking it seriously. We haven’t geared up or helped a client gear up a complete, full on state of the art content centre of excellence yet. But, people are starting to rip pages from that playbook and do those and it’s working, it’s very rewarding.

For Xerox we had a really aggressive launch deadline to do content for a lot of lines of business for a new website in a very short time. The client team, without us, we had input but they ran these workshops for their lines of business, “this is what content marketing is; this is why it’s important; why you need it; what we’re going to be doing; how the process works”. They paved the way. And I think if they hadn’t done it there’s no way we would have made the deadlines and got the content produced to quality and on time but that work, ahead of time, was hugely, hugely helpful.
Renato I think that one of the lessons from this concept is that localization is not very different from content marketing. We’re dealing with localization. It’s also one of those functions that it’s done in geography, it’s done in a centralized manner, it depends on the department, it depends on who owns the budget. I like to say follow the money, follow the content; if you follow those two things you are going to understand who has the power in the organization. But, your challenge is much bigger because you’re at the source while we are down the path in the process of publishing content. It’s a consequential activity; it’s not at the core.

But, what lessons could we learn from your experience in the localization space? Let’s say I am the localization manager of one of your clients and I need to deal with this type of change that is happening, not only in the content marketing but on the product literature, on the softer interface, on the website updates and things like that.
Doug You are right. There are tons of parallels. In both cases you’re talking about transformation. So, the localization world is going through these huge change. Everyone is on this steep learning curve together, which is an exciting time for a market and a community. And it’s the same for content marketing. We’re all in it together; we’re all in the foothills, really. So, the greatest expert in content marketing is not that much further up the learning curve than someone who’d just discovered what it means today. We’re all early there and I think it’s happening, too, with the transformation going on in localization is that way too. I can feel the kind of community developing that I’ve experienced in content marketing.

So, what it is, it’s about change management; it’s about driving change. But, it’s guided transformation that’s colliding head on with this Wild West proliferation. So, the localization is happening everywhere and yet you’re trying to guide the transformation. Maybe some of the lessons… so, we share when we talk about the content centre of excellence, and the blog post does this, it lists some of the verbs that we feel the centre should be doing and I think they’re very similar to what a localization centre of excellence should be doing.

So, one is learn, so the centre is there to capture and spread best practice. So, you are out there learning to bring that back and share with all your localization teams, for instance. Or guides with setting high-level policy and processes and stuff like that; shares, so letting teams know what works, what the others are up to. Refreshers. For us it’s about make sure you retire out of date content, renew stuff. That must apply to you guys too. Extending; so, for us, producing content for local teams when they don’t have the resources, do it centrally. So you guys must have that too where, sometimes, the centre has to step up and do the work instead of just guiding others.

So, there is a lot of the verbs of a centre of excellence which are really facilitator verbs, they’re enabling verbs as opposed to policing. I think that probably applies. And we find that that approach is really, really helpful in getting buy-in—of course it would be. And accelerating change management. So, for instance, if we do a tone of voice guide, our guides are not about “don’t do this; don’t do that; don’t do this” they’re all about “go for it; get your best writers with your best jobs and here is our voice; and we want you to really bring your best game here; and here’s what we mean”; so, an example of turning from cop to coach that I think would work in a localization centre of excellence as well.
Michael I like that, “turning from cop to coach” that’s really good advice for localizers and marketers who are dealing with the global issues.
Renato And I like this approach. Now, out of curiosity, Doug, do you ever think about localization when you’re doing these strategies for large corporations that are going to go B2B? Is that part of your playbook; is that part of your thinking about creativity and great content?
Doug It is but not enough, I have to admit; I wish it was more. It ought to be. Sometimes, we get in trouble like we did a… we knew we were doing an animated video for a global audience and we wrote a good script and we got it over and the team talked about it and we really wanted to do kinetic type. Kinetic type is those great things where the actual whole script is on screen and moves around in ways that mimic the content. And it’s exciting and sexy.

It was only about half way through we realized “whoa! This is not going to localize very easily”. If we had kept the words off screen we could just swap in a new voice over; I mean, really stupid, we really should have known but it’s an example of what happens when you don’t build in localization thinking right up front. We would have said “look, we can animate beautifully but let’s just keep the voice-over out of there; keep the words off screen, and we can crank out versions that are high quality”. Whereas, now, and we did try, we tried to swap in, let’s say, German to a kinetic type, it’s 30% longer. It doesn’t work. All of the animation is broke. So, there is an example of getting it wrong.

Each time you stub your toe like that you kind of start thinking of these things earlier, and earlier. And part of that for us is, well, if this is four or five markets can we have a phone call with someone in each market so we get their needs, we get their way of talking about their business, and their challenges; and they’re going to recognize some of that in what they get; they’ll welcome it more.
Renato One of the metrics that I like to use is the percentage of international revenue of the company. So, if you look at a company like Xerox, I bet, I don’t know the exact numbers, but I bet that more than two thirds of the revenue comes from outside English-speaking countries. I know, for example, that Intel gets over 70%; Microsoft over 60%. So, if your audience—and this applies to everybody in international markets—if a big chunk of your audience speaks another language it’s not a bad idea to think about that up front.
Doug Yes, it’s shocking to me. It’s funny because I’m an American, we’re famous for being insular and thinking we’re the whole world; and yet, I live in the UK and have for 26 years. So, I have both experiences. I have the DNA of a Yank and we just think the world revolves around us, and even the phrase “rest of world – ROW” that you see in a lot of business plans in America, it’s like America and ROW the rest of the whole world! It’s typical.

But, now, in the UK we deal with a lot of US clients, generally at headquarter-level but sometimes not, and so we see both sides. It is incredible short-sighted and what kills me is that you spend a fortune developing a beautiful piece of content, the strategy for it, the writing of it, the research, the design, the production, and then this last mile which is for, as you say, two thirds of your audience in many cases, is left to this low-quality, low-cost, last-thought afterthought effort of “yeah, go ahead and translate it.” And we think “are you kidding!” So, two-thirds of the people who experience this are going to get a really crappy version of it because of that! You did 90% of everything right and you fell in the last mile. That to me is extremely frustrating. I think one of the only things that can make it happen is because, “well, they’ll never know”.
Michael That’s why we exist. That’s why localization as an industry has been growing and I’ve seen just in the 10 years I’ve been involved, more of an awareness coming from companies but it is so typical for this to be an afterthought and the tail of the dog and someone saying “hey, we just spent 10 times what you now have to get this in 32 countries around the world.” And you’re like “what!” And then we need it in two weeks!
Doug Exactly. It is crazy. And for me it’s just this weird thing because it could be such a forced multiplier when you get it right. One thing that surprised me and still disappoints me is how little the regions tend to push back and say “this is no good, this localization”. I think they’re used to getting crap for so long that they think “yeah, yeah”, but, for me, why isn’t there more noise about it? You guys would know; I don’t know, but I’d expect people to say “sorry, not good enough.”
Michael One of the things I’m taking away from the conversation on content marketing is it’s continuing to grow. And we’ve re-emphasized for translators that are listening and there’s this constant fear that they’re going to be replaced by automation but when you see the rate in which content is growing, there is going to be work for people.
Doug Oh yeah.
Michael Do you have that same optimism?
Doug Absolutely. I mean, we’re really in the foothills. I think the hype curve, we may be passing the peak. And I think we are because it was over-hyped. But it isn’t a fad. There’s no way that helping your target audience do their jobs better is a bad idea. There is no way that’s going away. Yes, I think we’re in many ways in the very, very beginning, the tip of the iceberg of what content marketing can do.

I think there’s going to be a backlash. There will be some who are practicing it very poorly who will start to determine that it doesn’t work and maybe go some other route. But, I think what they’re really saying is they weren’t doing it very well. And that will always happen. But, for me, I think people are just discovering the power of it and so I’m very, very bullish about content marketing in the next decade.
Michael Cool.
Renato As we were speaking I was realizing that our crafts are very similar. We deal with words, we deal with communication.
Doug Yes, there is a lot to be learned in both directions, yes, it’s more than I had thought about. I was coming at it from localization as its role in content marketing but as we talked there are a lot of real parallels.
Renato Yes, and this concept of the centre of excellence should apply exactly the same to the localisation industry. We should have centres of excellence of localization in different organizations.
Doug That really makes sense.
Renato Absolutely.
Michael Alright guys, thank you very much. Take care.

End of conversation

Doug Kessler

Doug is the co-founder and creative director of Velocity Partners, a London-based B2B content marketing agency. The Content Marketing Institute recently named Velocity the “Content Marketing Agency of the Year”. Doug has more than 30 years of experience in the industry, and he started his career at Ogilvy & Mather, New York. Soap and fabric softener bored him, so he jumped ship to specialise in B2B. Doug is a content marketing junkie and a copywriter at heart, but with a secret jones for analytics. And Lagavulin.

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