Going global: preparing for international communication

So you decide to take your business global. Wonderful! You see no need to change a winning formula, so you simply translate your slogan, ads, website, brochures, etc. Let us stop you there for a second. Have you considered whether your communication translates well – literally? Expanding to new markets can be enticing, but the cost of doing so without vetting your international communication will outweigh any potential benefits.

If you are thinking about going global, you have to be willing and ready to adapt your communication. Yes, sometimes that means eliminating some things you really like.

The good news is that it can be done, so don’t be discouraged. Here are some helpful tips that will get you started:


It’s worth talking to native speakers about your (product) names. For example, when car producer Honda wanted to introduce  its new “Fitta” model in Sweden, it found out that “fitta” was an old word used in vulgar language to refer to a woman’s genitals in Swedish, Norwegian and Danish. It’s now called the Honda Jazz.

Idioms, puns & metaphors

The same applies to idioms or puns. While some languages share sayings that are similar, in many cases you risk confusing your customers when you use them. Just think of how phrases like “that costs and arm and a leg” or “speak of the devil” could be grossly misinterpreted when translated literally. Of course, a loose translation is never quite as powerful.

Oh, and that sports metaphor that works so well in your country? Make sure your target audience in another country will get it. Football, for example means something different to Europeans, Americans or Australians. And none of the different types of football mean anything in India.

Photos too

It makes sense that words can be a bit tricky. But what about images? After all, they don’t have to be translated.

Well, there are some pitfalls here as well that need to be navigated.

While a picture may say more than 1,000 words, even that can get lost in translation. In Germany, for example, pigs are a symbol of good luck. But German companies would be well advised to not use that imagery when doing business in the Middle East.

In addition, the role of women differs greatly across the world. So that beautiful model showing off some skin will not be seen the same way in all markets.

Authenticity is also an issue. For example, European hard hats look funny to Americans but a photo of people at work in the US might violate all sorts of Swiss safety and environmental regulations.

The same holds true for an ad campaign that is supposed to show diversity or tolerance. What works in Scandinavia or the Netherlands can quickly backfire in less liberal places, i.e. pretty much anywhere else in the world.


Even colors don’t mean the same thing across the world. Red is a very lucky color in China but not in Africa while orange has positive connotations in Asia but not in the Middle East.

International communication? Yes, you can.

Obviously, none of this is supposed to discourage you from expanding to other markets or to try to create an international/global communication campaign. We merely want to caution you that you should do so after careful research, which includes all communications.

A “one-size-fits-all” international communication approach is perfectly feasible. But the only way to transcend the differences in cultures is to know about those differences.

The case against communication BS

Communication BS, it is everywhere. It even has its own “corporate bullshit generator”. It produces beauties such as: “Should companies continually brand an expanded array of channels by collaboratively aggregating client-centric deliverables and synergistically harnessing leading-edge quality vectors?” At some point, the drive to describe new technologies, theories, methodologies and gizmos veered straight into parody territory. And it’s making an entire industry -ours- look silly.

The new Latin

The way many communication experts, real or perceived, have come up with their own language that often does more to confuse than clarify, sometimes reminds me of medieval Europe.

Back then, the clergy and, to some extent, ruling aristocrats had a monopoly on Latin. That was a big deal because it was the language bibles were printed in. This meant that those who knew Latin had a monopoly on religion. Now, consultants are the gatekeepers of the promised land, i.e. communication that leads to greater profit. They wield words such as “customer engagement” and “fulfilment”. Just the things we need! Right? If only they had any real meaning.

Innovation versus communication BS

Of course the communications industry needs its own language. We often operate on the leading edge of technology, so it helps if there are new and easy ways to describe what we do.

However, the key word here is “easy.” These words are supposed to simplify and improve our and your business. For example, the concept of “page views” is not difficult to understand and the term is self-explanatory. But all too often, there is a tendency in the industry to also create meaningless buzzwords that either obfuscate or hide a lack of substance. Omnichannel that!

A good idea speaks for itself

The drive to offer something new is positive. Innovation is the name of the game, not just for our industry. But it has to be real and not just shiny new made-up words that help sell a book. No wonder growth hacking and guerilla marketing did not survive their 15 minutes of fame.

Usually, a good idea will speak for itself. I’m reasonably sure that, when Henry Ford described the revolutionary concept of conveyor belt assembly lines to people, he didn’t talk about “embracing the uniquely seamless integration of end-to-end just in time production processes.”  Instead, he probably explained that it would be cheaper to manufacture cars by moving them along a production facility and having specialized workers assemble them with standardized parts.

It might have sounded like this: “Instead of training each worker to build the entire car, why don’t we teach them how to do a few things really well and fast and then we bring the car to them? That’ll save a lot of time and money. We can reduce the price of the cars but sell a lot more of them and increase our profit.”

In most cases, good ideas speak for themselves and great ideas are easy to understand. That’s part of what makes them great.

It’s the same with communication. Good communication isn’t overly complicated and doesn’t get bogged down with terms nobody understands. And one characteristic of great communication is that it seems so simple and effortless.

Just think of a saying or a tweet you really like. In most cases, their insightfulness is only one part of what makes them stand out – and simplicity is the other. In other words, great communication is when you think to yourself: “I wish I would have thought of that.”

The elusive B2B contact: building trust online

“I just don’t get any facetime with my customers anymore,” a B2B sales director recently told me. “It’s all about the RFP now.”


When I started out in B2B communications many moons ago, it was said that salespeople were the most important communication “tool” in B2B. After all, they had had the number, the ear and the trust of their contacts. If customers needed anything, their sales reps were just a phone call away. That personal contact is often still a deciding factor, from the personal click to earning customers’ trust by using product and market knowledge to find the best solution for them. But that personal contact now comes much, much later in the purchasing process. Fact is, the B2B purchasing process has changed dramatically, from the increasing number of parties involved (hello procurement) to the online research that now precedes any commercial contact.

The key is to reach all parties involved at your customer, even if you don’t get invited into their office (yet). That is where online content comes in. You want to provide the information, arguments and stories that your stakeholders find relevant, in all phases of their decision-making process. This is not a production exercise though. You don’t want to create content just to clutter up LinkedIn or Facebook even more. Or because content I what you are supposed to be doing now. For the love of god, no more “5 tips to…” meaningless articles. In the end, it is about building your brand and forging relationships, just like before. Now you just try to connect with your customers where they are now: online.

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Keeping it real: the power of authenticity

Every day you see the power of authenticity at work on facebook.

Last week, the teenage son of a high school friend got hit by a car while riding his bike. The hit and run accident left him with a skull fracture and a severe concussion. His dad, obviously distraught about the fact that the driver never stopped, posted a request for witnesses on facebook. Less than a week later, his post has been shared more than 4,500 times. His story made the online media the same day, print the day after. Luckily, his son is going to be okay.


The same week, a woman wrote a post on facebook about her mother and many other residents being stuck inside her nursing home for 4 weeks after the only elevator in the building broke down. The next day and hundreds of shares (many to media), the story made the newspaper: “Faulty elevator holds entire nursing home hostage.”


UPS Dogs is a facebook group with almost 1 million followers. Its admins are a group of UPS drivers who post pictures of their daily interactions with the friendly dogs (and other animals) on their routes. Judging from the thousands of “who is a good doggie” and “aww, I love driver Dave!” comments, it might just be UPS’ main source of goodwill online today.


What are the lessons businesses can draw from these examples? Here’s 3:

  1. Word of mouth has always been the most convincing and powerful form of communication. Authentic, emotional stories have always had legs. Social media made those legs much faster. So tell real stories that move people (to share). Yes, everything has an emotional side. See: elevators, shipping companies.
  2. If you are not telling or shaping your story, someone else will tell and shape it for you. Usually (ask the elevator company), this is not in your benefit.
  3. Contingency plans have always been a smart PR move. Now that crises form and move faster, they are an even better idea.


Communication is not about “creating content”, it is about building relationships. Real stories, real connections will do just that. It’s the power of authenticity, use it wisely.

SEO for beginners

It’s been said that the best place to hide a dead body is on the second page of Google search results. Or the first page of the results of any other search engine. That might be a bit of an exaggeration, but once the name of your company fails to appear on that first Google page, WWW might as well stand for wide, withering wasteland. And that’s why search engine optimization (SEO) is so important.


SEO by the numbers

While results vary depending on what people are searching for (and who is doing the searching), there are some ballpark figures that apply so online searches:

  • Roughly 75% of all searches are done using Google
  • More than 33% of people click on the first link on the first page of results
  • About 50% of all people click on one of the top two results
  • Only about 10% ever get to the second page of results

These figures are not supposed to discourage companies from using SEO. Instead, they are meant to encourage them to really think about their SEO strategy and then implement it the right way.

Another key takeaway from these figures is that anybody who wants to use search engine optimization has to really commit to it. There is no way to successfully dabble in SEO.


Gettting started – SEO for small and medium-sized businesses

For small and medium-sized businesses, one key strategy to success is focusing on the right search terms. Aiming too high is counterproductive. For example, a company specializing in high-end gowns should not try to optimize its site for the search term “clothing” or even “women’s clothing.” Go for something like “high-end eveningwear for women.”

As with all other aspects of marketing, it helps to know your company, your products and your audience. While that sounds like a given, many businesses spend way too little time and effort on finding the answers to questions such as “What are our customers are looking for?” or “What are the best features of our products?”

If you have not thought along those lines for a while (or ever), do so now and try to answer the two questions above in five words or less. Whatever you came up with would be excellent candidates for SEO optimization … and the first step out of the barren wasteland that is anything not included on the first page of Google search results.



Fight the half-life: maximize social media exposure

Want to get the word out about an idea or product? Here’s a hint: purposely maximize social media exposure. The amazing thing about social media is that there are many different platforms with billions of users. The downside to social media: there are many different platforms with billions of users. They all want to be heard, retweeted, liked or followed. And that is why, a mere minutes after logging on to Twitter, coming up with an amazing thought, putting it in 140 characters and submitting it… that tweet has already started its descent into the vast nothingness of Internet oblivion. So then, how do you maximize social media exposure?


Conquering the half-life

Depending on who you ask, the “half-life” of a post on Twitter is somewhere between five minutes and half an hour. In that time, half of all users who will ever engage with that Tweet will have done so. After a few more hours, the chances that your target audience will see what you wrote are slim to none.

Facebook’s half-life is nearly as short. On LinkedIn, a submission has a fighting chance to be seen for a day or so. On YouTube, videos have a half-life of a few week and blogs are forever (not really, but a couple of years).

These are obviously not numbers that the social media giants like to advertise.

“Join Twitter and write things your target audience likely won’t see unless they are logged on at the time you post” is not a winning slogan. And, with more people worldwide having access to social media, the half-life of posts is more likely to go down than up.

None of this means you should stop using any of these platforms. You just have to be smart about how you use them. Recognize their respective advantages and limitations and maximize social media exposure.


Maximize social media exposure

Twitter has the shortest half-life of any major social media platforms. This means that logging on, writing a single Tweet and hoping it reached a large part of followers is not a recipe for success. However, since the platform is easy to use and people see so many messages, there is no harm in tweeting a similar message multiple times throughout the day.

That is also a good way to measure engagement. Is your target audience more likely to like or share a post in the morning, during business hours or in the evening? Will there certain words get a better response? What if a Tweet links to the company blog or a press release?

Also use more than one medium. Effective communication takes place across multiple social media platforms. It might start with a Tweet and a Facebook post. Then another tweet later in the day plus a LinkedIn article that is shared on Twitter and Facebook again. Since all of these platform have a fairly short half-life, the same article can be posted to the company blog where it can always be found.

The bottom line is that the key to using different social media platforms is to recognize their respective potential and limitations. The more information a user has, the more effective their communication will be.



It is easy to get B2B social media right

It really is. Just choose wisely and commit.

There are a billion social media channels out there. At least that is what it feels like. So which social media are right for you? We get the question all the time. Especially for B2B companies, social media can be intimidating. “Facebook? Is that not too frivolous, unprofessional? How about Twitter? What do we do with that account we have not updated since 2011? Do we share news? We don’t really have all that much. One of our sales people uses LinkedIn all the time. But the rest of us not so much.” In other words, how do you use B2B social media wisely?


What is your (social media) goal?

Instead of asking which social media you should do, ask yourself what you want to do with social media. What are the business goals and challenges you can take on with communication? And how can social media help?  Don’t choose a social media tool because it is new and cool and hip. Choose it because it works for your business. Do you need to start indvidual conversations, establish yourself as a thought leader, spread the word,…? If you know your communication need, you know which type of social media you need.


The Conversation Prism 5.0

One of the visual tools that can help you is the Conversation Prism. First created in 2008 by by Brian Solis and JESS3, the Conversation Prism is a visual map of the social media landscape. Sure, it is a snapshot of an industry in continuous motion, an ever evolving menu. But its categories are a handy reminder of how you can choose your B2B social media wisely. All those logos still look overwhelming. In the end though, it is not about the number of channels you should be using. Instead, it is about reaching and engaging your stakeholders.


B2B social media: commit!

Which B2B social media are right for you? The ones you are actually using. We have all done it. Created a social media account,  out of curiosity or with the most earnest intentions to update regularly,  and then let it sit there. Keep in mind though that every social media presence says something about your business. If it’s there, your stakeholders expect you to use it. So when you pick a social media channel, commit. It’s better to have fewer and to use them consistently than to have many and leave them unused and an audience unserved. Whether it is discipline or a habit or a smart allocation of time and resources (or another trick. Do share!), keep going!

To print or not to print: Is the brochure obsolete or still useful?

Customers ask us all the time: does it still make sense to print that brochure? After all, we have communication migrating online – and a near unlimited range of tools to do so. Plus, personalized, one-on-one communication is increasingly crowding out the traditional one-to-many tools. And then there are the printing costs…. Still, the answer can be a definite “yes”. Brochures, flyers or fact sheets remain a great way for organizations to communicate with their customers … in the right circumstances.


Still, it is a question worth asking. Brochures, for example, are often a legacy tool. Companies produce  them because they have always done so when rolling out a new product. Or simply because that’s what everybody in the industry does. That alone is obviously not a good reason to continue the practice, and companies have to assess whether print is still worth the cost.

The benefits of print

A well-made brochure is a thing of beauty. Copy, images, format and paper work together to inform and seduce. They are handy to pass around, for example by salespeople starting a conversation, and are useful tools for comparison. Paper is a physical presence that has some benefits a website can’t match. When looking at a brochure, a reader’s attention isn’t diverted by incoming chat messages or the other distractions a computer offers. In addition, they last longer than a shared link and are often easier to find.


An email with a link to a website will get lost in the flood of incoming messages, even if it is marked as “Important” or “High Priority.” A brochure handed from one colleague or another or from a salesperson to a potential customer won’t.


Different Audiences, Different Preferences

Still, brochures are probably the wrong tool for a hip online startup  trying to sell a new product to millennials across the globe. In that case, anything on paper will probably be ineffective.


But not everybody is an Internet-savvy computer wizard who appreciates all of the bells and whistles of an amazing website or social media platform. There are still a lot of people who are much more old school. Due to their age and seniority, they are often in decision-making positions. They still like to use brochures in their decision-making process and appreciate a handy, well-made print product.


Geographic and cultural differences come into play too. Some countries, or even regions, have gone fast and far in the digital conversion. Other have held on to the tools they know and trust.


Brochures and branding

“Touch” is an important keyword when building a brand. Sure, appealing to customers with audiovisuals is important, but brands become richer if they involve all the senses. Haptics matter.


Just think back to a time you picked up a wooden or metal object and were surprised because it weighed more than you anticipated. You could immediately sense that the materials were of a higher quality than you expected.


That’s why a good brochure still works. It tells people something more than the information it contains right from the moment they pick it up. And it’s not just the paper that is used but also the quality of the print, the images and its contents.


Brochures done right

As with everything, getting it right is key. A poorly made brochure filled with factual or grammatical errors is going to leave a terrible impression. Authenticity is one of our six criteria of outstanding communication and that is a key factor here. To do a great brochure, everything has to fit. Even something as seemingly minor as a stock photo can make the entire product appear “off” somehow. Relevance also matters. Readers want to see themselves, their needs, their aspirations and goals in a brochure. A self-indulgent long read will be discarded in 20 seconds.


So does it still make sense to use old school paper products? Sure, but only if you are willing to do it right – and we can help you with that.