I wrote this post less than one year ago. It was November 2016, exactly twelve months after launching a global content marketing program for the IT Business Unit of Schneider Electric.
The same month I presented my experience at NewsCred’s ThinkContent 2016 Conference in London. Today, less than one year later, I have revised and updated the original post, with examples and experiences coming from other companies where I contributed to implement global content marketing programs. I added three paragraphs too (“Definitions”, “Localisation” and “Metrics”), to touch relevant topics that in my view were not properly covered on the original post. The original post was mainly focused on B2B best practices – which is natural if you come, as I did, from 15 years of experience in B2B enterprises. This time it includes B2C examples and considerations. Also, this post partially reflects what I presented at CMWorld 2017, the largest global Content Marketing Conference.
Since last year, my passion for traveling has not changed. In fact, I cannot remember a time in my life when I was not travelling. In a way, it has been a constant whether I was on the road for business or pleasure. My travels have given me a better understanding of the world. But I never knew how much I had to learn until I was tasked to launch a brand new global content marketing program for Schneider Electric. In short: I thought I knew the world, but when you have to develop content for different geographies, well, it feels like you never stepped outside your front door.
My first global content marketing journey started in three years ago, when my team and I began defining Schneider Electric IT Division’s content strategy and the processes that would sustain it. Our goals were twofold: increase leads and marketing opportunities, which were flat and stagnating at that time (marketing opportunities had to count at least for 20% of overall opportunities), and increase brand awareness. After defining our strategy, we spent one full year preparing for the global launch through multiple pilots. We learned an incredible amount from our successes and mistakes. One year later I replicated the same model with global clients once I moved to NewsCred at the beginning of 2017.
What follows is a series of valuable considerations from all these experiences, which should prove helpful to other marketers who are establishing and launching their own global content marketing strategy.
I love the way Pam Didner defines Global Content Marketing:
“Global Content Marketing is the process of developing and sharing relevant, valuable and engaging content with target audience across countries, with the goal of acquiring new customers or increasing business from existing customers globally”.
The issue I found in most of the cases is that content marketers just try to replicate at global level what they have done, in some case with some success, at central or local level. The thing is that Global Content Marketing is not just Content Marketing deployed across multiple countries. Enterprises will need to plan, find the right balance between global and local, pilot and then scale at global level. Failing at one of these steps means usually failing with the full program.
Global Content Marketing is not just Content Marketing deployed across multiple countries.
A few other definitions:
- Central: The corporate marketing organization that sets marketing strategies, provides guidance, processes and tools. Might refers to corporate-only programs.
- Global: Refers to global or cross-regional programs or to the combination of regions or countries where the company has a presence.
- Local: Refers to regions or countries where the company has a local presence – local presence doesn’t necessarily mean the company has a physical office in each local country.
Step 1: Finding the Optimal Balance Between Central and Local
In most regions – take Asia or Europe for example, where there are dozens of countries and languages – it is simply unrealistic to make content work for each individual market. For this reason, creating content centrally and allowing the countries to fill the gaps might represent a good solution. I love the way Pam Didner defines in her book the relation that the central content team has to establish with the geographies: a relation of “servant leadership.”
In general, is the company’s organisational set-up and business model to further define the content marketing model. Centralised and decentralised models work very differently and the organisational setup influence content marketing strategy and programs. A very centralised organisation will tend to create most of the content at a central level and cascade to the countries without providing much flexibility. Also, when local teams are not in place or suffer challenging budget conditions a central content team needs to take the lead. The opposite model is generally in place for decentralised organisations, or within organisations with strong, localised country cultures. A central team might help establishing a shared processes, but the countries will fully own content creation. I have seen both models failing because the enterprises were not prepared for a proper global content marketing launch.
A global content strategy usually reflects the type of business you are working for, the size of the opportunity for your business in each market, and the types of content that your audiences in those markets expects. It also needs to reflect your available resources. Success in global content marketing involves matching the right organisational structure to your content strategy and ensuring you have content-producers where you need them.
In many cases, a global content marketing program represents the very first tentative of collaboration between central and local teams. In these cases a global marketing program represents the beginning of the relation between global and local and is a signal of a much bigger transformation taking place internally. Initial situation usually include one or more of the following challenges:
- There is no documented strategy, neither process established behind content and digital;
- Some elements of the full content marketing program might be in place but without a proper (documented) strategy/process;
- Internal collaboration is a challenge; global-local collaboration is not in place;
- There is no established (content) marketing measurement framework;
- Marketing is not fully accountable for sales results;
- CMO’s global meetings have been established, but no operational editorial boards are in place;
In many cases, a global content marketing program represents the very first tentative of collaboration between central and local teams.
I have been working with both centralised and decentralised organizations. Some organisations have a very unclear understanding of local markets. In addition, there is visible fear that the local teams could make things wrong but there is not enough knowledge and understanding at central level about the local markets to provide directions or taking corrective actions. Central teams are afraid of testing and piloting programs – if programs fail, then the country will be “lost forever”.
Central teams are fearful of testing and piloting programs – if programs fail, then the country will be “lost forever”.
Back to the model, and as with most things in life, the best place to be is usually in between, with the central team acting as a servant leader and the countries adapting the centrally created content to match local customers’ needs. Many businesses, for example, require local languages, which means that countries will need to take ownership of the localisation process.
The role of the central team may shift as the program matures. In early stages of a program, the flow of information is often outwards, with the central team leading content production and strategy. As global content programs mature and flourish, the emphasis of the central team shifts to providing guidance on building local content skills and competencies.
All these considerations lead to a customised content model that has to be prepared with accuracy before going live – exactly as a long trip has to be prepared meticulously to avoid too many unexpected surprises along the way.
At Schneider Electric, the central team owned the hubs for B2B and B2C content. We created content, guidelines, and distribution packages. The countries, then, could further edit the content to adapt to their cultures. The content guidelines link to shared content rooms, samples, and suggestions in terms of timelines for content publishing. In addition, we provided documents with recommended do’s and dont’s.
Example of content guidelines for pilot countries.
Step 2: Establishing Local Editorial Boards
While the central editorial team will generate content at a global level, a local editorial board has to be in place in each country or geography to manage proper planning and distribution. The choice of editorial board members depends on the local marketing organization, which can be complex or lean. In general, I suggest the following:
- A field marketer responsible for operations in that specific country
- A digital marketing lead (or individual channel distribution leads – social media, web, newsletter, SEO – in larger organisations)
- A content lead (assuming that the country has a content lead)
- A strategic marketing lead
- Members of the local agency – if an agency is supporting local operations
The local editorial board will agree with the central team on target personas, lead the decision for adopting content created centrally, contract with local vendors, and engage members of the central team to secure a strong, continuous dialogue.
Step 3: Defining Local Target Personas
This step represents the core of any global content marketing model. For the countries to reuse the content packages the central team creates, there can’t be a discrepancy between personas. The central team and the countries have to reach an agreement on the local personas to target; a joint effort between the teams may be necessary to accomplish that.
To agree on personas, Pam Didner suggests that both sides make an effort to find common pain points and challenges between the global personas and the local personas; this is the “band-aid” compromise, as she calls it. Otherwise, the local team might address the issue by not using the central team’s content and creating their own. The ideal situation would be to find synergies and commonalities across countries. The central team could manage common shared personas and leave to the countries content creation for local personas. This situation might be difficult in a very centralised business model.
Based on target analysis a global PC vendor selected different personas for each geography
To learn more about how to create B2B and B2C personas and map content to the buyer journey, have a look at my recent post.
Step 4: Localisation
Do we need to localise? The majority of content marketers operate today in multiple markets (source: B2B Marketing study, 2017). This is especially true for large enterprises – both B2B and B2C. About two third of those content marketers localise content in more than one language. Only one-fourth in more than five languages. A surprising 23% dismiss it as ‘neither important nor unimportant’ and 26% don’t localise.
Still, based on a recent study from Gala (Globalisation and Localisation Association) it would take 83 languages to reach 80% of all people in the world, and over 7,000 languages to reach everyone. As consumers, we feel pretty unequivocal about brands that send us content that hasn’t been localised. A staggering 94% of respondents say it weakens their impression of a brand, 44% significantly so. 72.1% of consumers spend most or all of their time on websites in their own language; 72.4% of consumers said they would be more likely to buy a product with information in their own language; 56.2% of consumers said that the ability to obtain information in their own language is more important than price.
56.2% of consumers said that the ability to obtain information in their own language is more important than price.
The level of localisation and customisation required will be determined by the places and the people you are trying to reach. Customers’ type and nature will drive decisions. Medium/small sized businesses usually require local languages. Localisation might be driven by the maturity of the content program.
Step 5: Selecting a Content Hub and plan Content Distribution
The choice of the “content hub” (or content destination) usually requires a lengthy discussion with the geographies.
While I suggest going with a dedicated hub for each local audience (I have a strong preference for WordPress-based content hubs because of their extreme simplicity and flexibility but that is just a personal obsession), I understand that countries often lack resources to maintain those hubs. Each country should publish content on a local content hub. Taking that into account, there are many choices – a blog, a landing page, an email-based hub – that could all become effective local hubs with the right effort and dedication. The key is to select a content hub that the countries can easily update at a regular cadence.
Example of a local landing page used as a content destination
In addition to the local content hubs, I recommend adding a global content hub for the following reasons:
- Serves as a best practice example for local markets;
- Builds the global brand for Corporate;
- Highlights existing content in a more compelling way;
- Can house globally relevant content;
- Allows the enterprise to test innovative tactics before the global rollout.
As far as content distribution, when you’re putting so much effort into localizing your content, a big miss would be to ignore engaging your global audiences where they want to consume it. When considering local social platforms, don’t limit your program to just LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Closely study the networks and platforms your audience uses within each country. This is particularly important for brands that want to participate in Chinese or other Asian markets. Going through their social channels is really the only way to play, since those audiences don’t engage in Western social channels at all. For example, Sina Weibo is popular in China, whereas Hyves was popular in the Netherlands.
Example of Content Distribution Framework
At the same time, while it is important to support local-language social platforms, you still want to keep realistic expectations. For example, Starbucks’ global page has roughly 36M likes while its German page has about 600K likes. Just because the two pages vary drastically in likes, the German audience still feels supported and is having conversations in their local language about the Starbucks product and service.
Big Rock content, as defined by Jason Miller, is a substantial piece of content based on the idea of becoming the definitive guide to a conversation that you want to own. Big Rocks can be repurposed into infographics, SlideShare presentations, blog posts, video and then disseminated via distribution channels. “Global Big Rocks” work perfectly across many countries and represent a great addition to a global content marketing program.
Step 6: Launching an Internal Communications Strategy
Whether you work for a large enterprise or for a small and agile company, internal communication is always a critical function. Establishing proper channels of communication from the central team to the countries is the best way to share content frameworks, methodologies, and best practices.
In Schneider Electric, a company with 160,000 people, we had to seriously pay attention to internal communication. My team created, in cooperation with the internal communication division, an internal content marketing newsletter, the “IT Division Content Strategist,” which went out every two weeks. The objective was to increase internal awareness for our new content marketing model, list all new content we’ve created for the geographies in the previous two weeks, and provide continuous visibility on the editorial plan.
Our internal content marketing newsletter became a success after few months: the initial audience has grown 5x and the average open rate was 80 percent. Before I left we started investigating internal podcasts and other ways to reach our population of hundreds of marketers around the globe.
Having a continuous stream of communication helped us to convey the same message across all geographies. This is what AJ Huisman of YContent, an expert in Global Content Marketing programs, suggests, too: establishing clear lines of communications and securing mutual understanding beyond the time zones. A proper internal communication plan will help you get to that point faster.
A large insurance I have collaborated with had to solve the same problem: how to inform local agents about all content produced on a weekly base around the globe? The decision was to go with multiple newsletters, one for each pilot country (the global marketing program started with two countries, one in Europe and one in Asia, before going global). Newsletter’s template and design were created at central level but each country had the possibility to personalise content to secure a closer and more intimate communications with local agents.
Step 7: Educating Marketers About Your Global Content Marketing Program
In addition to internal communication, education is key to a successful global content marketing program. Educating countries before they go live with their own content marketing programs is not just important – it’s paramount.
In Schneider Electric, we leveraged “Learning Week.” This is an initiative where everyone in the company can put together a training module to educate the whole company on a specific subject. My team and I took advantage of this offering and delivered six content marketing sessions attended by hundreds of marketers around the globe. This is just an example, of course. The point is: make advantage of any initiative to share knowledge and educate marketers, especially the ones that will collaborate with you and support your program.
Step 8: Piloting Your Content Marketing Strategy
In large enterprises, running pilot programs across geographies to test, prove viability, and deliver an agreed outcome is common practice. Great ideas often receive resistance; you need to start small, test that your strategy works, get results, and create a proper business case in order to roll out a global content marketing program.
Many companies adopt a phased approach: they introduce a central content program first to develop a foundation of content, and then progressively launch in local markets over time. This doesn’t differ too much from our travel analogy: after a proper planning phase, the preparation will start. You might want to buy the right clothes and equipment in order to be fully ready for your trip, and you might learn some basics of the languages of the countries that you are planning to visit.
Great ideas often receive resistance; you need to start small, test that your strategy works, get results, and create a proper business case in order to roll out a global content marketing program.
In a global content marketing model, you ideally need to set up the pilot program as a test in one or two countries and with no more than two different languages. If possible, you will run your pilot program with a full integration with existing marketing technologies (marketing automation and content marketing platforms, for example). And then, if successful, you will roll out your program to other geographies.
How to select a pilot market? Language, team expertise, willingness of the sales team to adopt a new innovative content model, size and agility of the country and finally the preparation of the marketing team (small and agile should better work) are all criterias for selection of a marketing pilot. My suggestion is to pilot with one country per region (I call it “regional champion”) before rolling out at regional and then global level. Rolling out a cross-regional model without any pilots is a risk that I wouldn’t suggest you should ever take.
Reasons why enterprises always consider a Pilot program:
- minimization of risks;
- creating a culture of best practices;
- testing all content and tactics before going global;
- testing internal dynamics before going global.
Central team and regional champions should create a solid and cohesive team. Champions should be carefully selected. Once the pilot program will be completed, the program will be rolled-out at regional level.
Reasons why enterprises should go with a Regional rollout – instead of immediately thinking Global:
- Regions will benefit from a local champion;
- Culture, target audience, tactics, channels have more similarities at regional level than at global level;
- Also regional clusters will benefit from closer time zones and wont need to rely on central team.
Pilots and regional rollouts should follow a phased approach. The one below is just an example I used with a B2C client in the financial sector:
- Phase 1 (two weeks/1 month): select regional champions for the pilots, based on language, strategic priority, market opportunity, local marketing team’s maturity, budget, local resources;
- Phase 2 (1-2 months): preparation for the selected champion(s) to roll out. Create guidelines, educate champions, establish local editorial boards, local editorial plans, manage global vs. local balance in term of content creation, implement a content hub if missing, implement minimum integration.
- Phase 3 (3 months): rollout Regional champions for at least one quarter. Central team will define guidelines and will establish governance. Champions go live. Weekly reviews will be established. Testing all options in term of content and distribution mix.
- Phase 4 (1 month): feedback analysis and lesson learned; preparation for the global rollout by Region, incorporating the inputs coming from the Regional champions;
- Phase 5 (1 to 3 months): preparation for the Global program, internal education, repeat actions of phase 2;
- Phase 6: go live with global rollout.
Before going global, Schneider Electric piloted five local content marketing programs. We tested different content channels and publishing platforms, based on local requirements: we identified “big rock” content that worked for the countries, ran SEO and paid-search pilots, and tested marketing automation tools. Once the pilots were completed, we collected feedback and results – we wanted to ensure that the program worked and that the countries identified where there was room for improvement. We used a small subset of KPIs to evaluate the pilots: page views, engagement metrics, downloads, conversion rate, leads/opportunities.
We found that our content performance increased 5x (in term of downloads and conversions) versus traditional campaigns.
We also learned that we had challenges and operational issues to solve. In fact, while as a central team we were focusing on content and its quality, we soon realised that day-to-day operational challenges were the most dangerous enemies: issues with resources, people who left (so the pilot had to stop to redistribute the tasks), new hires or agencies coming on board (who had to be educated), internal processes that slowed down the plan, publishing platforms that didn’t work as expected, building Marketing Automation landing pages, and in general, any process that involved other departments (IT, Global Marketing) which dramatically affected and slowed down our initial plan.
If not properly planned and discussed with the countries, all those factors could get the content pilot to fail.
I replicated the same approach with several clients. The large insurance mentioned above went live with two pilots, one in Europe and one in Asia, before they went with a regional rollout. A large European technology company went with pilots in three english speaking countries: USA, UK, India. A global talent recruitment company decided to go live with the most “prepared” countries, from a marketing, branding and content perspective: Italy, Germany, France. I could go ahead with many other examples.
Content marketing takes time, especially if the plan is to roll out the program across different geographies. This is even more true for large enterprises where it will require substantial time and results to get key stakeholders on board with your program. Piloting and avoiding to think (immediately) global will minimise risks and secure success.
Step 9: Metrics
All data is useful. Content success is not just about how many people you reach. It is about how many engage with your content and how much your content can drive (business) decisions. NewsCred’s CEO is used to say that “the goal is not to be good at content; the goal is to be good at business using content”. This is so true. But you need to measure content performance in order to understand how good you are at business.
“the goal is not to be good at content; the goal is to be good at business using content”
The good news is that content performance and its direct impact on the full customer journey can be easily measured today. Software tools like Content Marketing Platforms can help to establish a proper measurement framework and facilitate a unique view where all KPIs of different nature (traffic, engagement, monetisation) can be harmonically combined.
Still, the main goal is to measure what the impact of the new content marketing strategy is on local/regional operations. I usually suggest to define a common shared set of metrics that will be measured for each pilot country and will determine program’s success of failure. The metric set will be based on program business goals.
For example, the following KPIs could be set for a B2B program focused on lead and opportunity generation:
- Traffic: page views, followers, articles/posts viewed, views by channel (social media, search, paid, etc.)
- Engagement: engagement rate, returning visitors, time on site, bounce rate
- Monetisation: total conversions, leads driven by content marketing, marketing influenced opportunities/revenue
A B2C program focused on gaining new audience for a product launch could be measured by the following KPIs:
- Traffic: page views, followers, views by channel (social media, search, paid, etc.)
- Engagement: blog or newsletter subscriptions, engagement rate, returning visitors, time on site, bounce rate
- Monetisation: visits routed to the product pages, purchases (if an e-commerce site is linked)
Attention and monetisation metrics are the most under-used metrics but they are critical to understand content success. The above dashboards should be set up and implemented across all geographies, in order to establish a common measurement framework. A second more detailed dashboard could be in place, managed by the local country.
Step 10: Finally, Going Global
When the central team is in a position to analyse the first results and content performances have been discussed with champions piloting the program; when the inputs from the champions/regions have been understood and embedded into the processes; when all countries have been properly educated on the content framework, model, distribution, and tools then it’s time to go global.
Exactly like it’s time to start your trip, once you’ve completed planning and preparation.
However, unlike a trip, your content marketing journey doesn’t end. You need to closely measure the effectiveness of your program by tracking the selected KPIs. And then you will be iterating based on your learnings.
As you embark on each stage and iteration of your global content marketing program – every adventure – always keep in mind the lessons learned from the pilots and regional champions, and maintain continuous positive dialogue with all geographies to get the best results.
Practice is the best learning experience. But books and articles including foundation and best practices will help to gain a solid background and avoid failures and common mistakes. Here is my personal list:
- “Global Content Marketing“, the book from Pam Didner. This book represents in many ways the foundation of my preparation as a Global Content Marketer and for this reason I will be always grateful to Pam.
- Sophisticated Marketer’s Guide to Global Content Marketing, LinkedIn Sales & Marketing Solutions
- Several articles and posts from Rebecca Lieb, one of my favourite Global Content Marketers and Speakers
- How to create B2B and B2C Personas and Map Content to the Buyer Journey, my post on LinkedIn.
- The content marketer’s guide to universal content domination, 2017, B2B Marketing & SDL
- My original post, How to launch a B2B Cross-Regional Global Content Marketing Strategy, published on NewsCred’s Insight blog one year ago
- Why your Company needs an Editorial Board to Empower Content Strategy, my post on LinkedIn
- The Role of Pilot Programs in Global Content Marketing, my post on LinkedIn
- Big Rock content in a nutshell, my post on Content Marketing Across Borders
Photo by Christine Roy, Unsplash