2015 Gilbane Conference Day Two: Companies Must Personalize Content for Global Markets

BOSTON — At day two of the Gilbane Conference, speakers said that marketers should tailor global efforts to reach local customers, but to see benefits they should also plan things out within reason and not to go too far.

Large companies who intend to expand—or have already expanded—their operations overseas will inevitably face certain cultural and language barriers. And as customer experience (CX) will play an increasingly important role as a differentiating factor in 2016—the conclusion of an Accenture study highlighted by speaker Mary LaPlante, vice president of client services at the Digital Clarity Group—companies must think about how content is resonating with different global audiences. A challenge those companies face is determining which content to adjust to meet the needs of local markets.

Donald A. DePalma, chief research officer at Common Sense Advisory Inc., suggested that companies not try to bite off more than they could chew and instead evaluate their needs according to internal and external factors. For instance, they should work on discovering which locales and languages provide the greatest return on investment. DePalma identified 14 languages—among them English, Chinese, Spanish, German, Japanese, French, Portuguese, Russian, Korean, Arabic, Italian, and Dutch—that make up 90 percent of global online economic opportunities, noting that for business purposes, the rest "don't matter."

Similarly, not all content under a company's umbrella needs to be translated. Firms that are run centrally in one location should make it a priority to determine which content should be tailored for each region. For instance, Tweets and blogs are not as significant as marketing and training materials, online help sheets, business forms, support emails, and FAQs, DePalma said.

For Nielsen, achieving global excellence means improving local experiences and getting better insights into those markets, said the company’s globalization leader, Bruno Hermann. According to Hermann, the American ratings-measurement provider had to go beyond received wisdom and assumptions. For instance, common sense would dictate that in China, most of Nielsen’s opportunities were in Shanghai, but when the company dug deeper, the data suggested otherwise, pointing Nielsen toward more opportunity in the south of the country.

Blackboard’s localization manager, Marie Hanabusa, had similar goals for her company. The firm, based in Washington, D.C., provides learning platforms globally and in 27 languages, and to Blackboard, "localization is more than just translating words," Hanabusa said. The company strives to create a natural and "holistic" experience for the teachers and students who rely on the site for their work. It wished to adapt its content—which enables those customers to use the platform—to meet the language, cultural, and other requirements of specific markets. To pull it off, Blackboard had to rethink how its departments in the various regions work to specialize content for the local audience. "You don't want to shove an American hot dog down [a Chinese user’s] throat," Hanabusa said by way of illustration. 

Digital Clarity Group's LaPlante opened the day's first session with some tips for companies embarking on CX management endeavors, defining CX as "the totality of a customer's interactions with a brand," and CX management as the combined "strategies, processes, skills, technology, and commitments that aim to ensure positive and competitively outstanding CX."

Echoing advice that Donna Tuths, Accenture Interactive’s managing director and global head of digital content, shared on day one, LaPlante said that to be flexible enough to shape CX as customer expectations evolve, companies must implement plans that aren't pinned to just one manager, function, or executive within a firm.

LaPlante said that managing CX efforts required 10 "core competencies": Customer data and intelligence; a content strategy; technological fluency; experience design; business strategy; physical and digital; change management; user research; measurement; and business process management.

"No organization has all of these competencies," LaPlante assured the audience, pointing to research from Forrester which suggests that in Q3 of 2015, only 1 percent of the 299 U.S. brands surveyed rate as excellent in CX. "It's impossible. We're still really figuring out our way through all of this." 

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