Consumers will seek out brand content, but only if it appeals to them on a local and personal level. That's why your content strategy needs to factor in context as well.
Despite the challenging economic times, organizations everywhere are still taking their business global. While there's no question that going global opens doors for many companies, who ever heard of a global consumer? Today's interactive marketing efforts need to be local, personal and focus on everything from consumption patterns to the weather.
Meaningful starts with "me"
Maybe it's because digital content is delivered to me on devices that I consider to be extremely personal: my iPod, my laptop, my smart phone. Unless I think that a marketer is truly speaking to me, the content they offer will not gain access to my wired world.
Montrealers and Parisians both speak French, n'est-ce pas? But as I have witnessed firsthand, while Quebecers "understand" brand communications aimed at their overseas brethren, they don't necessarily respond to them on an emotional level. In digital media, where the goal is to interact with your audience, a marketer needs to speak like a local.
Digital media is local -- and personal
Local terms and language are also key to a successful search strategy. Think about it: The keywords and expressions people type into search engines reflect the natural language of their region or community, not what a bilingual dictionary (or heaven forbid, Babel Fish) suggests. The takeaway? It's probably not a good idea to tap an American writer to adapt content meant for a U.K. audience.
Consider this example: A tourist board that communicates worldwide wanted to create a Spanish-language emarketing campaign. The writers in Madrid came up with teaser copy in letter-perfect Castilian. But during tests, the target consumers -- Mexicans -- said the words for "nightclubber" and "shopping" didn't correspond to local usage. The vocabulary was adjusted so it would resonate with the target audience.
You may have heard that Italians equate translation with treason in a pithy aphorism ("Traduttore, traditore"). When rolling out online marketing campaigns in multiple markets, global brands need to pay attention to the content adaptation -- or else their audiences won't pay attention at all. It's not just the words that require translation; nuances and "flavor" require adjustment as well.
Paco Rabanne just launched 1Million, a new fragrance for men, with a slick online buzz campaign in three countries: France, the U.K. and Spain. The campaign content included scores of tongue-in-cheek buzzwords and allusions to celebrity lifestyles, which demanded painstaking transposition for each local market. A straight translation simply won't do justice for a word-of-mouth campaign.
Content strategy is context strategy
Brand content that speaks to your target like a local is just the first step toward relevance. Working in markets all over the world, we've learned that an effective digital content strategy is a context strategy that factors in not only language and cultural references, but also bandwidth, technology, media consumption patterns and even climate.
Case in point: Recently, tire manufacturer BFGoodrich sought a way to connect its brand with young-adult Canadian males. How does this segment spend time online? Gaming and socializing. Given the audience and the context, it made sense to create an interactive racing game and place the application on Facebook, where players could invite their friends to compete. To make the game feel even more authentic, it was designed to reflect the harsh winter driving conditions that Canadians know so well. Successful content marketing entails approaching consumers in their contexts with content that both satisfies them and engages them with the brand.
Marketers need to meet the challenge of developing digital content for a broadening range of contexts because connected consumers now expect to interact with brands on demand: "on my terms," "in my timeframe," "on my preferred device." Ever-smarter devices and clever, specialized apps further stimulate those rising expectations.
Technology, tastes and regional behaviors also determine a user's context. If you were to map out a mobile content strategy, for example, you wouldn't take the same approach in Tokyo, where it's not uncommon for people to watch sitcoms on their phones; Paris, where passengers in the Métro can talk on their cell phones; or New York City, where people can do neither, but instead download podcasts to while away their commutes.
Once you have a handle on how, when and where your audience chooses to experience digital media, you can start creating content that your customers desire and is in line with what your brand can credibly provide. (Honestly: Do I need Lexus to teach me how to pack a picnic?)
Why serve ads? Serve content
We know from experience that consumers all over the world will welcome -- and seek out -- brand content that is valuable, targeted and offered at the point of need.
In Beijing during the Summer Olympics, wine and style enthusiasts consulted dining and nightlife recommendations offered by Australian winemaker Jacob's Creek. Celebrity bloggers recruited for the occasion wrote reviews of Jacob's Creek partner restaurants, and users were invited to post comments as well. Thousands of visitors took advantage of this useful, entertaining service provided on both web and mobile platforms.
In France, to coincide with the release of the iPhone late last year, L'Oréal Paris debuted a custom iPhone site that makes the brand's expert beauty content -- from skin analysis to product recommendations, from customer support to how-to videos -- available to consumers at their point of need, whether in the store, in a car or in front of their mirror. This is the way forward for brand communications: providing desirable digital content in a personal context, on demand.
In North America, interactive content can be a key differentiator for ecommerce sites. In a move away from a strictly utilitarian approach, successful online merchants are building relationships with online shoppers before, during and after purchase with user-generated online reviews, interactive buyers' guides, auctions, clubs, video demos and project how-to demos. Initially developed to boost SEO rankings, branded content -- particularly the bloggable, shareable kind -- is proving to be a traffic driver as well.
Get creative with content services
Think about it: Doesn't it make sense for marketers to offer consumers content rather than ads? It's a win-win situation. Consumers benefit -- for free -- from the expertise and brand-relevant services that companies can provide around their products. On their side, brands can free up the advertising dollars devoted to hiring models or filming TV spots and devote those funds instead to creating digital content services that consumers actually want and willingly connect with.
The next time you sit down to brainstorm with your interactive agency, focus on coming up with fresh ideas for content services aligned with your brand. The process is just as "creative" as coming up with a catchy tagline, but the result is far more satisfying to your audience.
Sheila Mooney is director of content development at Nurun.