Earlier this year, our associate marketing director at Fractl, a US-based content marketing agency, returned from a speaking engagement at a marketing conference in Peru. The conference, comprising a mix of international attendees and speakers predominantly from the Americas, focused on global marketing innovations in content strategy and SEO. Besides the beautiful photos, she returned with some intriguing insights.
Considering the rapid rate of globalization, many attendees recognized the potential of expanding their businesses into foreign markets. Simultaneously, they felt their content and outreach efforts were extremely limited within their own countries and would have better luck reaching out to neighboring ones. As US marketers, this made us wonder: Were there characteristics of content that contributed to earning international attention? Were there distinct patterns that could help guide future content creation?
First, we examined 290 of our client campaigns that gained international media coverage in foreign publications to determine what content appeals to international audiences. From a high level, we found successful international content followed the same principles of successful domestic content: emotionally resonant topics and geographic-specific angles earned engagement. But we wanted to explore these themes further.
We turned to some of the biggest and most recognizable brands in the world—some that have existed for over a century, and others that were founded within the last decade. We wanted to know: How had they grown their content strategies for universal audiences? What elements were consistent across successful international content campaigns and strategies? Did they fall in line with our internal findings?
The short answer is the expertise of global–local (glocal) content teams that create highly visual, emotional, and universally appealing content help brands reach and engage international audiences. The longer and more interesting answer can be explained through the three lessons we learned when we examined recent examples of the most successful international content strategies.
A common obstacle to scaling and executing an international content strategy is manpower. Expanding into a new market requires understanding an audience’s online behavior, key influences, native language, and cultural norms. Such barriers require local expertise and careful, regional-specific planning.
Given the cost-effective appeal of a glocal strategy, smaller enterprises making their first steps into foreign markets have especially seen impressive growth results from this hybrid tactic.
Within just eight years, Airbnb has evolved into a $30 billion company with the help of a surge in the sharing economy’s popularity and an incredibly comprehensive glocal content strategy for travelers around the world—now in 191 countries. Most notably, its robust online blog and neighborhood guides, which will soon be supplemented by a print magazine in partnership with Hearst, offers one of the most impressive content hubs of any travel brand.
Creating localized content, especially for audiences in nearly 200 countries, is a daunting task for even the most experienced international content teams. While some of the content Airbnb creates for each location is geographically specific, its brand messaging stays the same across the board. This consistency allows the brand to create wider-scope content, like its community stories, and more recently social media experiment campaign, #OneLessStranger. The former focuses on individuals in various communities while the latter branches out to include millions of Airbnb users on social media.
Both wider-scope campaigns, like the localized content, speak to the brand’s mission to connect travelers to communities to experience a new city as an engaged local, so travelers can belong anywhere. (Airbnb’s latest initiative and service, expanding to connect hosts to travelers for not just lodging but experiences, speaks to that as well.)
An obvious obstacle of creating content for international audiences is the language barrier. Brand messaging resonates more so in the native language of the consumer, however, such language barriers can be overcome through visual content formats. While certain aspects may change when localizing content, the brand’s core message is likely to remain the same.
A recent example comes from Apple with its 2015 World Gallery campaign, or probably known better as its ongoing Shot on an iPhone campaign. This example speaks to both lessons one and two: featured content focuses on user-generated photography local to the area, with glocalization and visuals as focal points.
From billboards to television ads, the campaign can be seen in both developed and emerging Apple markets: US, UK, France, Germany, Turkey, Russia, Brazil, China, Malaysia, and Thailand, to name a few. While the initiative originally began as 57 photos, it has now expanded to countless more, including videos. Within six months, this 15-second clip had 1.3 million views on YouTube—more than some of Apple’s more elaborate campaigns with celebrity cameos.
As an added bonus, the focus on user-generated content adds to the potential of the campaign to appeal to and engage Apple users, and further complements the brand’s persona of simplicity and individuality that’s consistent throughout its messaging. Apple reached out to both influential as well as everyday iPhone users around the world for submissions, proving they didn’t need to drain its massive budget to pull off this highly visual initiative.
Telling a story that focuses on universal human interests and emotions naturally earned the attention of international audiences. Whether it was one we created for a Fractl client or one an international enterprise initiated, we found that countries with very contrasting cultures still featured the same content. The content itself lent a clue as to why common cultural barriers were seemingly absolved in many instances—all of the content with the most successful distribution and diverse coverage appealed to universal human emotions and unifying global interests.
One example comes from Procter & Gamble (P&G). The consumer goods conglomerate already boasts an impressive brand content hub and lifestyle magazine, P&G Everyday, but its Thank You, Mom campaign offers the ideal example for creating content that appeals to universal human experiences. Overall, it focuses on the efforts and sacrifices of mothers for their kids. While the entire initiative conveyed a universal message of a mother’s strength, one installment in particular exemplifies this for a truly international audience at an opportune time.
During the 2016 Olympic games in Rio, P&G released a slightly darker, more emotional video of athletes’ mothers around the world, portraying them as the steadfast rocks every kid needs both on the field and at home. Within eight months, it already had nearly 22.3 million views on YouTube, not to mention exposure to nearly 3.5 billion viewers during the Olympic Games.
The message transcended cultural barriers while once again still staying true to P&G’s brand voice and messaging.
Ultimately, we found the content that did well both locally and globally spoke to highly emotional universal human interests through overwhelmingly visual formats. It’s important to note the specific campaigns and initiatives highlighted all tie into a holistic storytelling strategy for these brands, as they should for any brand hoping to find long-term content marketing success.
Airbnb’s content mix of hyperlocal guides and international social campaigns perpetuates its robust glocal strategy and message of community inclusion. Apple’s user-generated approach complements the brand’s simplistic style and individualism. P&G’s emotional, universally relatable messaging matched its family-centered values.
Building an international team is no easy feat. But while these brands in particular have the resources for global content, doing so yourself is far from impossible. Above all, these lessons reveal creating such internationally appealing campaigns and strategies must ultimately tie back into the bigger picture—your brand’s core message and story.
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