Multilingual Marketing Strategies: Necessity or Luxury?

There has been a recent trend of businesses transitioning from offline to online, but the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated this transition. This article will answer the question of whether a multilingual marketing strategy is a necessity or luxury, especially in the conditions of today’s world.

As people began working from home due to the imposed lockdowns, businesses have adapted to a remote working environment to continue business operations. Companies are even utilizing remote work tools to adapt to this relatively new way of working. The change in business operations and consumer spending habits can also be seen as a new opportunity for growth. Of course, changes in consumer behavior mean that you need a change in your marketing strategy for your business to get ahead.

Digital commerce has blurred borders for trade and has bridged the gap between time zones, but language still remains a barrier. One technique is to utilize multilingual marketing to skyrocket your sales, or at least not lose your sales despite the economic downturn. The health and safety measures that the world has been taking to contain the spread of the virus have impacted the economy significantly. 2020 has seen the worst recession since WWI. However, the large firms that continued operations during the past four recessions have seen a 14% increase in sales and EBIT, according to Harvard Business Review. Despite the recession, digital businesses, especially those in the ecommerce industry, are thriving. A survey by UNCTAD and NetComm Suisse reveals that online purchases have increased by 6 to 10%, with cosmetic ecommerce topping the charts:

% of active online shoppers conducting at least one online purchase every 2 months

Source: UNCTAD and NetComm Suisse

Multilingual Marketing: The key to digital growth

Ecommerce does not have the same geographical limitations as physical stores. Whereas physical stores are bound by location and time, digital stores can be accessed by consumers wherever they are in the world. Since digital stores live on the internet, they are always open as well. This allows ecommerce brands to have a wider consumer base and serve a global audience. However, with the cross-border advantage comes a challenge: the language and cultural barrier. To save you time, as early as this paragraph, I’ll answer the question: multilingual marketing is a necessity in today’s world.

The countries that have the highest number of internet users are those that do not primarily speak English. The countries with the most internet users are China and India, based on statistics from Internet World Stats. Both of those countries have more than 1 billion users. Each. Comparably, the US only has around 300 million users.

Take note that according to a survey conducted by Common Sense Advisory, more than 60% of internet users rarely or never buy from English-only websites and 75% prefer to buy products that have information in their native language. These numbers show how native language content is a key factor in the sales funnel -- from awareness all the way to conversions.

Utilizing a multilingual marketing strategy also improves brand-audience resonance. This is because creating audience-specific content helps you connect with your audience emotionally. According to B2B International, 41% of B2B marketing and insights professionals consider resonating with customers on an emotional level to increase brand engagement as a major challenge. You need to synchronize the content you put out with the needs of your audience. When marketing to a global audience, one of those needs is tailoring your content to a foreign market’s language.

Since the majority of companies have yet to fully utilize multilingual marketing, businesses still have the opportunity to capitalize on this strategy in the global marketplace. Multilingual marketing does not only mean translating words into another language. It means creating content that makes consumers from foreign markets relate with your content. Your target audience must not only understand the words, but also feel emotions behind those words. A survey conducted by Statista shows that 71% of digital marketers say emotional marketing builds brand recognition and 70% say that it builds brand trust and loyalty:

graphic stadista 2020

 Source: Statista

Great marketing is resonant

Now that we have established how great marketing is resonant marketing, how can you create a marketing strategy that resonates with a global clientele? Simple: create a brand story through localization.

Let’s use Coca-Cola as an example since almost everybody knows the company. Coca-Cola is an American brand that is globally recognized, and the company’s logo is already familiar to us all. The only countries where they don’t sell Coke, their most famous product, are North Korea and Cuba. How did this company successfully enter the international market? Well, through localized marketing efforts. I’m beginning to sound like a broken record, but stick with me. Here are the three factors that made them successful:

  1. The first factor is their packaging and branding. Their packaging varies in the year depending on the local holidays. For their ads and billboards, instead of sticking to the same kinds of faces, they use the faces of locals. They also change their brand logo depending on the country they distribute their products to. In China, their Chinese logo reads “kekoukele”. Ke for permission or can, Kou for mouth, and Le for happiness. It can also be translated as “tasty fun”. This is a good technique because it appeals to Chinese locals but “kekoukele” is still pronounced as “coca cola” when spoken. They even revise their slogans slightly, depending on the local culture and political environment of the target market.
  2. The second factor is that Coca-Cola alters their products to fit different cultures. The basic ingredients they add to their drinks remain the same, but the taste varies because the type of water and sugar varies in different countries. The result is that the taste usually fits better with the local culture.
  3. The third factor is emotional. In 2011, Coca-Cola shifted their marketing towards content creation. They share a lot of video commercials that revolve around their narrative of sharing happiness. The commercials usually tug on our emotions. Their ads give the sense that Coca-Cola does not only sell drinks, they also sell happiness. Sharing happiness is their global narrative, but they tell it in different ways to different countries. This develops a relationship between your brand and your audience.

Another example is Nike, an American sneakers and sportswear company that sells to 170 countries. Let’s look at the three factors that made them successful:

  1. The first factor is adapting their products and marketing to appeal to a certain audience. Sports usually cut across culture and language since you are talking with your body and not your mouth, but fashion and clothing norms vary. Since Nike also sells sportswear, they made hijab for Muslim women participating in sports. To appeal to a wide demographic, another technique they used is the introduction of their “If you have a body, you’re an athlete” slogan. This encourages people who are not professional athletes to also buy their products.
  2. The second factor is politics. Marketing Dive says that 68% of consumers now prefer brands to be vocal on social issues. In light of the recent 2020 Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests all over America, Nike released their “For once, don’t do it” campaign urging people not to ignore the problem of racism in America. Although joining in political discussions gives you not only praise but also criticism, it adds a new layer to your brand’s voice. Just make sure that your stand reflects your brand’s core values.
  3.  The third factor is, you guessed it, emotional. Nike does not only sell sportswear; they sell determination, hard work, and achieving your dreams. In other words, Nike sells possibilities. This can clearly be seen in their advertisements with slogans such as “Just Do It”, “Rise. Run. Rest. Repeat.”, and “Find Your Greatness”.

What do these two success stories tell us?

To raise brand affinity, you have to create a message that personifies your brand and make it resonate with a specific locale. Besides language, they localize their content in accordance with their target market’s culture as well. They also adapt their strategies depending on the political environment of the target market. Consumers respond better to localized marketing efforts, which makes a multilingual marketing strategy so effective.

Creating a holistic multilingual marketing strategy

A multilingual marketing strategy involves creating content and translating it into different languages as well as considering the local contexts of your target market while still retaining the original message. Creating a multilingual marketing strategy will help you avoid getting lost in translation. Literally.

A holistic multilingual marketing strategy involves adapting your content in these three areas:

  • Website

Think of your website as the outside of your house. To attract visitors, the outside of your house must look welcoming. There’s nothing more unwelcoming than a website wherein you don’t understand the words. For an effective international marketing strategy, website localizationdoes not only include text translation. It involves adapting all areas of your site in a way that makes your target audience enter your “house” and stay there for a while. You will also be modifying your UI design such as the colors and images to fit the societal standards of your target market. For example, red is a good color choice when marketing to a Chinese audience because the color red symbolizes fortune and success. For an ecommerce site, the payment processing system that you use must accommodate different currencies.

  • Social Media

Social media is a helpful tool in reaching a global audience. However, people from different countries use different social media platforms. This means that you will not be able to leverage the full power of social media if you only use one. Facebook has the most users worldwide; but WeChat, QQ, and Douyin are some of the famous social media platforms in China. Here is a graph that shows the top social media platforms according to user base (in millions):


Source: Statista

After choosing which social media platforms to utilize, your next step is deciding what content to post. Share content that entertains and touches your target audience emotionally. Use pop culture references that they will understand. You cannot recycle the pop culture references you used for your Indian market to your French audience because the latter will not be able to relate. Utilize slang and idioms that resonate with your target audience to make them feel that your content is geared towards their needs. In that way, you are able to promote your products and services effectively. Finally, tailor your content to the cultural sensitivities and political context of your target audience as well to avoid offense and criticism.

  • Public Relations and Advertising

The goal of public relations is to improve reputation and brand awareness. A successful PR campaign can be judged by how much people trust your brand. You can make your target audience trust you, starting with using their native language for your PR materials. You should also partner with local celebrities and influencers for your campaigns, especially those who have a huge local following because it can encourage their fans to buy from you too.

The goal of advertisement is to generate sales. Advertisement focuses on promoting your products and services instead of building trust. There are different ways to advertise. You can go traditional and advertise in the newspaper, radio, or television. Study your target demographic in order to know which to use. You should also consider whether to optimize for mobile or desktop. A report shows how consumers spend more time browsing and window shopping using their mobiles phones but make more purchases on their desktops. So only focusing on mobile ecommerce could make you lose potential sales.

Recently, there has been a surge in digital content advertising. In a survey conducted by Statista in 2019, 94% of respondents used social media in their marketing campaigns and 80% utilized blog posts. Translating your content to the native language of your target market will give you credibility and skyrocket your sales. Another tip is to create location-specific content because this will help you rank in Google. Of course, the best way to boost your sales is to combine both PR and advertising campaigns because consumers are more likely to do business with brands that they trust.