13 Nov 2014

What Content Suits a Culture Best?

Depending on the region and culture your brand is targeting, there are approaches to content marketing that work and ones that don’t.

Below are some examples of content marketing around the world so you can gain an insight into the approaches that might best suit your business.

Time travel allowed: why online video booms in China

Anxious to avoid the serious business of history being treated as light entertainment, the Chinese government banned TV depictions of time travel a few years ago. This isn’t the only restriction TV producers face in the country: creative censorship and the prohibitive cost of TV advertising are both major factors contributing to China’s boom on online video and advertising.

Head to parts of Africa though and you’ll find a very different story. Whilst smartphone penetration may be growing in countries like Nigeria, slow connectivity hinders consumption of online video.

In Tanzania and Zambia, an initiative to get poor communities online grants web users access via simple feature phones to a limited number of basic services including Wikipedia, the BBC and a pared-down version of Facebook. Users have limited capability to view video online.

Technical restrictions, economic factors, and other factors such as censorship all affect the kinds of content that will be consumed by different cultures.

If your business is targeting overseas markets, it’s important to understand not just what messages work but what format that message is most likely to succeed in. That isn’t to suggest you shouldn’t experiment with new types of content in your chosen market – but understanding your market first is key to success.

Each market has its nuances when it comes to what kind of content it consumes most readily. A brand seeking to establish a content strategy needs to understand the landscape and local culture before it decides to reach consumers in different markets around the world.

Getting content right

It’s important not to make the mistake of merely translating content from one language to another as a piece of content is unlikely to have the same cultural resonance when moved overseas. As we’ve seen above, different markets favor different types of content and have different expectations.

Your brand needs to focus on creating content that will be relevant to the consumer in their own cultural environment. If the purpose of your content is to be relevant to the consumer, it needs to be tailored to them, their environment, their interests and concerns.

Take the example of the UK and US: with a shared language, sometimes content can be shared successfully between the two cultures.

If you’re a US-based clothing manufacturer talking about ‘pants’, UK audiences will probably understand that you mean ‘trousers’ not ‘underpants’ – although they may snigger a bit. They’ll probably overlook you spelling ‘colour’ without the ‘u’, and some won’t even notice.

But if you try the same advertising approach in both territories, the unapologetically intrusive nature of the US approach to advertising is likely to seriously put off a British audience that is accustomed to a much more subtle and indirect approach from advertisers. British audiences expect a far softer sell than their US counterparts and there’s a real danger of turning an audience against a brand with an approach that’s too direct.

It’s also been shown that consumers in the US respond more readily to emotional content compared to a British audience. That doesn’t mean a British audience won’t respond to emotive content – sometimes an emotional appeal may just catch the audience in the right way.

But content designed for an American audience should be pushed out to UK consumers with caution and an understanding that the reaction to that content is likely to differ dramatically.

This raises the important issue of testing. Testing your content is always important, especially so if you are trying a new strategic approach or something not previously tried in that market.

For brands operating outside their domestic markets it’s absolutely vital to test new content using techniques such as focus groups. It’s also extremely valuable to have local partners who can input into your content strategy and inform content creation at all stages, from concept to completion.

Expected and unexpected content

If you’re considering how to rethink your existing content for a new cultural audience, you may find it helpful to differentiate between two main types of content: information content and engagement content.

Information content is the kind that users need and, increasingly, expect. Information content is intended to give the reader accurate, useful information at a time when they need it. This includes everything from health advice to washing machine instructions.

Engagement content is neither expected nor needed by the user. Its purpose is to engage the user at some level and ideally to inspire activity such as brand loyalty, word of mouth recommendation, or a change in attitude about a social concern. Most TV and cinema advertising is engagement content.

If your brand is seeking to establish a new content strategy in a foreign culture, you need to approach these two kinds of content differently. Your information content needs to be transcreated with due understanding of language and the reader’s perspective.

This encompasses more than just language translation. Your translation of information content needs to take into account relevant cultural information to help the reader really understand your message.

If you want to translate a French meringue recipe into American English, you’ll want to translate not only the words but also the metric weight of ingredients into cup measurements. You’ll also need to take into account that, unlike Europeans, Americans commonly keep their eggs in the refrigerator.

Your recipe will need to tell the reader to bring their eggs to room temperature first if the recipe is really going to succeed. Move information content into another culture is about more than just translation: you have to understand that cultural background too.

When translating engagement content the aim is to inspire in the user the same action as the original content did in its home territory. This is harder to achieve than you might think. In many cases the change that needs to be made to the source content is considerable if it is to inspire the end user in the intended manner.

KFC badly misunderstood its target audience when it released a piece of engagement content in the UK in the form of a TV ad that featured people singing with their mouths full of food.

The ad inspired absolute horror in its British audience and led to the largest number of complaints about a TV ad ever recorded. KFC really misunderstood the cultural importance of table manners in the UK and misjudged the nature of emotions it was inspiring when it launched the ad in the UK market.

KFC ad (eventually withdrawn)

Creating content for specific cultures

It’s important to have a market-specific content strategy that clearly sets out what your brand is aiming to achieve. This needs to take into account how your business plans to differentiate itself through its content.

Here’s some further advice on how to create content for a specific cultural environment, and make it relevant to the interests, concerns and behavior of that culture:

What content format is most suitable for that market?

You don’t necessarily have to follow the most popular style of content – don’t be shy of experimenting but make sure you have all the facts beforehand. You need to know where your audience is and how they will consume that content. This includes their technical capabilities and preferred devices and formats.

How will your content differentiate you from your competitors?

It’s important that your brand establishes its own unique value proposition and tone of voice in that marketplace. Brands that create unique and meaningful customer experiences tend to be more successful in engaging audiences in both domestic and overseas markets.

How will you produce that content in the right language and dialect?

You also need to take into account your keywords for that market, not only for international SEO, but also to produce content that your target customers understand and find engaging.

How will you keep your content fresh and relevant?

Remember also that your content may need to evolve over time and respond to current concerns, so you may need ongoing support to keep your content fresh and relevant over the long term.


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