How regional language differences affect your content marketing

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I have been here 50 years and I still don’t quite think like the locals!”

 

Joe Reevy, a native of West Virginia, lives and works in the United Kingdom. He is currently managing director at Words4Business.com, one of the largest suppliers of B2C content for the legal profession in the UK.

Joe and I met on LinkedIn and had a dandy of a conversation about why American writers (like me) shouldn’t write for a British audience (like his).

 

I just despair when I see people trying to write for the other side of the Atlantic,” says Joe. “There is a huge difference between US and British use of English and it is frankly a fool’s errand to think you’d have much chance of getting the ‘voice’ right unless you have spent at least 20 years here.”

 

As much as I hate limiting my potential client pool, I agree. Good writing demands precision, especially when dealing with a high-stakes clientele like Joe’s.

 

Not only is there the technical aspect of law and nomenclature, there are matters like the different spellings of practice and practise – in the UK both forms are used, one as a noun and the other as a verb,” Joe tells me. (Meanwhile in the US, practise would be considered a typo.) “And the same words can be very differently nuanced, with a very different subtext. There’s the famous phrase to table something. Over here it means the exact opposite of what it does in the States.”

 

And the issues aren’t limited to the legal profession. Even marketers of consumer goods have discovered how miscommunications caused by regional differences can have disastrous results.

Marketing fails from overseas

The perils of marketing to a foreign audience are well documented. From translation fails:

When translated into Spanish, Coors Brewing Company's slogan "Turn it loose" read "Suffer from diarrhea."

To cultural miscues:

When Papmers marketed in Japan the sympolism of the stork on their packaging wasn't understood.

To outright PR nightmares:

Disney Japan once translated "A very merry unbirthday to you" into "Congrats on a trifling day" on the anniversary of the Nagasaki bombings.

Yet despite these well-known problems, content marketers routinely outsource content writing to writers overseas. I know this is typically a cost-saving measure. But it’s hard enough to get the ‘voice’ right when you speak two dialects of the same language.

When you definitely SHOULD outsource to a foreign writer

That’s not to say I would never write for a foreign client. In fact, I’m currently writing for a Canadian travel company and an Israeli fashion designer. The difference? Their customers are primarily American.

I can’t stress to you enough the value of working with a content writer who is local to your target audience. Someone who knows the slang, idioms, euphemisms, and cultural references of the people you are trying to reach.

In our LinkedIn chat, Joe Reevy put it this way:

I would strongly recommend using a NATIVE speaker of US English, not someone who had lived there for a few years and thinks they ‘get it’. [British] English is much less demonstrative than US English, so (for example) it is easy to see the British as cold and aloof because they are much less effusive than Americans (whom they see as overly effusive).”

Bottom line? Communication is about more than vocabulary. It is heavily influenced by culture. Your marketing success depends on good communications; ergo, hire content writers who share your audience’s culture.

Do you have a story of how language or culture has affected your marketing? I’d love to hear it. Please leave a comment below.

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5 Responses to “How regional language differences affect your content marketing

  • Susanne
    1 year ago

    My favorite, from Many years ago: GM’s “Body by Fischer” was translated in Japan to “Corpse by Fischer”

  • Wendy Howarter
    1 year ago

    I completely agree and have experienced similar miscommunications living here in Colombia, South America. I currently write for a few Colombian companies which target US clients, one specifically providing legal and investment services. Small nuances make a big difference, for example, US citizens don’t want to be “serviced” by their attorney or broker. My Spanish-speaking clients appreciate my editing which builds stronger relationships with their US clients.

    • AlexaSteele
      1 year ago

      Oh my, no. I wouldn’t want to be “serviced” by my attorney either.

      Thanks for the comment, Wendy. Another great example of little things that can go horribly, horribly wrong.

  • I would hire you anyway, even if we are in different lands. I just don’t have an expectation that my copywriter is a machine of global linguistic perfection and that I would be able to just copy and paste your content into my marketing collateral. I always love your posts – I want to see more.

  • Anonymous
    1 year ago

    This is a very good and short article Alexa. You have nailed it down when you wrote: “Communication is about more than vocabulary”. People think it is about words, no it is about the message the words carry.

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