Top 8 Multilingual Marketing Challenges & How to Overcome Them

Multilingual marketing challenges

Let’s face it. Multilingual marketing is a challenge… and as things become more globalized, the importance of multilingual marketing becomes increasingly apparent.

However, a lot of marketers struggle with multilingual marketing campaigns and 95% will just do the best they can (which is never good enough) or ignore the need altogether.

Both “strategies” are going to do you in sooner than later.

The biggest challenge you’re going to face is that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work when you’re trying to reach a global audience.

Language barriers, cultural differences, and different marketing practices can all lead to failure if not dealt with properly.

You need to adapt your brand to suit different target markets worldwide.

If you’re not familiar with the nuances of the language of each segment, it can be impossible to create effective marketing materials that will reach your audience and persuade them to buy your product or service.

This post will discuss the top multilingual marketing challenges and how to overcome them.

8 Multilingual Marketing Challenges & How to Deal w/ Them

Multilingual marketing can be a challenge for any business – large or small.

But… with the right approach, it can also be a huge opportunity to drive long-term success.

The good news is you’ll be good to go if you’re able to dodge the following challenges.

1. Inaccurate Translations

One of the biggest multilingual marketing challenges is making sure all your marketing materials are translated correctly and accurately.

If you’re not careful, you can quickly lose money and customers with mistakes in your translations.

Seriously, any brand that cares about creating a positive impression and acquiring multilingual customers needs to prepare a well-thought-out business translation strategy that maps out its approach, goals, and priorities.

This involves examining the branding materials from every angle, starting right at the company name.

Case in point, potato chip company Lay’s is known as Walkers in Ireland and the UK, Chipsy in Egypt, Smith’s in Australia, Sabritas in Mexico, Margarita in Colombia, and Tapuchips in Israel.

The company decided to advertise with different versions so they could appeal to local audiences.

Obviously, the tagline and other elements of the brand’s linguistic identity needs to be assessed as well to ensure it all translates appropriately into all your languages and cultures.

The best way to go about this is by working with quality translators.

Everyone knows this yet I still see people misusing translation technology.

Yes, I understand it’s a struggle finding translators who are also native speakers of the languages and that have experience translating marketing materials… but that’s not a reason to rely on translation tech (I’m looking at you, Google Translate users).

In some cases, you might be able to get away with using quality translation software if you can properly access and review your translations but if not, you risk losing customers because of inaccurate or mistranslated information.

I have a post called How to Reach a Latino Audience w/ Digital Marketing where I write about different ways you can disrespect other cultures without even realizing it and how a big chunk of the multilingual market won’t hesitate to dismiss your brand if they feel dismissed themselves.

Once you’ve translated your website content, don’t forget to add the language tag (hreflang) so search engines display the content in the language preferred by the prospect.

PRO TIP: The hreflang tags will also protect you from Google’s penalty for duplicate content if you post the same content on a different page with UK vs. US spellings.

2. Losing Cultural Essence in Word-for-Word Translations

Nothing says “Google Translate” like word-for-word translations.

A good translator doesn’t use word-for-word translations because people don’t write and express themselves the same across cultures.

People in different countries and that belong to different cultures think differently.

Even regionally, a phrase that works in one place may not work the same way in another and that’s the danger of word-by-word translations.

What happens is the cultural essence of your marketing message is literally lost in translation and customers won’t understand what you’re trying to communicate.

For instance, in English, we say “The customer’s always right” but the translated version of this phrase doesn’t have the same meaning and impact in different languages and cultures.

For Spanish, the correct translation would be, “El cliente siempre tiene la razón” which is actually “The customer always has a reason”.

Similarly, for French the correct translation is “Le client n’a jamais tort” which word-for-word translates to “Customer is never wrong”.

These nuances are the simplest of the simple, but they show how critically important it is to know and why it’s crucial to work with translators who aren’t only well-versed in linguistics but also understand the cultural context of your target market and can create accurate and culturally relevant translations.

3. Overcomplicating Messages

One of the biggest challenges you’ll face in multilingual marketing is keeping your advertising messages clear and simple for your target audiences.

This typically happens because the marketing message was overcomplicated in the first place and so once it gets translated, it’s impossible to not be overcomplicated still.

Something to keep in mind (that helps me) is understanding that shorter, more concise messages are stronger and work better.

People want clear messaging.

Minimal content with short simple words conveys what you’re trying to say and keeps people at ease and allows them to really connect with your words.

Here are some tips to help you keep your communications with a multilingual audience clear and with a brand voice that’s consistently yours.

  • Use simple words and phrases so everyone can get your message; when marketers use big words and lots of acronyms, they’re trying to convey intelligence (and that’s not the point of marketing)
  • Use consistent vocabulary in all your brand marketing / messaging to establish a strong brand identity through every language
  • Always assume the same message in different languages can vary wildly (this becomes an issue when you’re trying to keep all the translated versions the same length); clear and concise messaging in all languages needs to be your only priority

4. Choosing the Wrong Distribution Platform

Content distribution plays a critical role in the success of a multilingual marketing strategy.

If you choose the wrong distribution platform, it’ll negatively affect the performance of your advertising campaigns regardless of how well-designed and executed they are.

Below are the must-have distribution channels you need to focus on when trying to attract a multilingual audience.

  • Owned Content – all content you own and control such as your website, your blog, your YouTube channel, etc.
  • Earned Content – all content written about you or your brand that you didn’t pay for or create yourself
  • Paid Content – all content about you or your brand that was paid for (can include text, articles, graphics, video, and downloads); usually copyrighted
  • Shared Content – all content that about you or your brand that someone else created and you share (can include news stories, funny gifs, memes, cool videos, etc.)

Once you’ve mastered a distribution channel, move on to the next using what worked in the previous one.

That said, remember what works in one language might not work in another.

Lots of marketers fall into the trap of thinking what works for one, works for all and don’t give much thought to the idea that different cultures and languages may favor different platforms.

For example, WeChat is huge in China, while the Japanese population loves LINE, Twitter, and Instagram.

Always check which platforms are the most used in a particular country or in the language your campaigns are targeted at and come up with a strategic content distribution plan to get the results you want.

5. Improper Analysis of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

A key performance indicator (KPI) is exactly what is sounds like.

It’s a metric, or metrics, that let you know if your campaign is performing up to your desired benchmarks.

For example, a typical KPI for a video campaign I’m running is video completion rate (VCR), viewability, and invalid traffic (IVT) and if any of those metrics are below my benchmark (75%, 80%, and 3% respectively), then I know there’s something wrong with the targeting and I can quickly go in and optimize without any wasted ad spend.

Bottom line, you can’t have a successful campaign without defining, monitoring, and analyzing KPIs.

A lot of marketers however make the mistake of disregarding KPIs when running multilingual and multiregional marketing campaigns.

Many marketers, 88% of them, reported that their top goal was to create brand awareness meanwhile 50% of those respondents really only wanted to build loyalty among existing customers.

You need to make sure you know what your goals and priorities are when targeting a specific population.

In addition to brand awareness and building loyalty, you could also focus on other targets like:

  • Leads
  • Customer engagement
  • Sales
  • New audiences
  • Subscribers

Once you’ve defined the goals of your multilingual marketing strategy, you can start tracking KPIs so you can monitor the progress of your campaigns.

Some KPIs for common marketing and advertising goals…

  • Impressions
  • Views
  • Clicks
  • Video plays
  • Video completions
  • Valid traffic
  • Measurability
  • Brand awareness
  • Brand safety
  • Engagement
  • Specific actions
  • Shares
  • Calls
  • Leads
  • Sales

Proper analysis of KPIs will help you modify your multilingual marketing strategy, so it gets your desired ROI / ROAS.

6. Working Around Cultural Differences

If you’re like most brand marketers, you’ll struggle working around cultural differences as you expand your business into new markets.

This will create major challenges in your multilingual marketing campaigns.

Big brands like Pepsi and Nivea and many in between, made mistakes and had very embarrassing moments in front of the world.

Nivea got serious backlash for an ad that said, “white is purity“.

They had to pull it after people in the Middle East, Africa, and other regions went onto social media expressing how it was racially insensitive and discriminatory.

You must keep in mind that a multilingual audience has cultural differences from you but even within the audience.

If you want to portray your business in a positive light in every language, you have to go above and beyond to make sure your ads don’t contain anything controversial or insensitive that the culture you’re advertising to won’t find offensive.

Here are a few tips you need to follow to turn around your multilingual marketing challenges.

  • Conduct thorough research about the culture, moral values, and beliefs of your targeted audience
  • Hire in-country / in-language culture experts to review your marketing materials before putting them out
  • Collaborate with in-country / in-language, bilingual content creators to make sure your marketing strategy is aligned with your target audience
  • Keeps tabs on social media channels in the targeted country / language to gain insight into the mood and temperament of your audience during cultural events and festivals

7. Conducting In-Depth Research About New Territories

Advertisers that run multilingual marketing campaigns without research expose dangerously themselves to a lot of challenges that’ll guarantee your campaign’s performance.

To avoid this, identify your ideal customer and create a buyer persona to help you define your targeting and future optimizations.

The profile must include:

  • Background and demographics
  • Fears and goals
  • Objections and challenges
  • Hobbies and interests
  • Platforms they use the most (to determine the best ways to reach them)
  • Days and times they’re most active

You can conduct customer surveys, web surveys, exit surveys, and interviews to collect data on your audience.

If you have a customer service or help desk support team, they’ll be a great source for this info as well.

Using this info, create a customer empathy map to better understand what your audience thinks about throughout the day.

This map needs to be a collaborative tool.

This means you’ll have to work closely with your sales and support teams to assess feedback.

Also, you can pull customer insights from web analytics (i.e., Google Analytics and similar) and even user information.

Here’s the issue. No one likes doing this critical work.

Try to make it a fun process as be as creative as you can.

Maybe try sticky notes in lots of bright colors (proven to attract attention and get people looking at the messages).

When the entire team is committed, on the same page, and knows the customers in a better way, the random unexpected opportunities that pop up are endless.

8. Choosing the Right Talent for the Job

You might not realize how many people there are out there with very specialized skills that WANT to do the tasks, required for successful multilingual marketing, that you probably don’t want to do yourself.

Of course, finding this talent isn’t always easy but understand that if you’re investing in marketing and you want your campaigns to be successful, then why drop the ball and nickel-and-dime the work?

Translating marketing materials that work and working around cultural and regional nuances so your campaigns are successful, requires experts with a native-level mastery of the language you’re targeting.

Working with less than fluent marketers will always [negatively] impact performance and your advertising / marketing efforts will go to waste.

​One solution is to outsource your work to a 3rd party agency with the experience, talent, skills, and desire needed to reach your multilingual markets.

If you’re marketing a somewhat larger brand with resources, this is a no-brainer but even if you’re a one-person operation or run a smaller marketing operation, there are still many options for getting affordable help.

At the end of the day, you’ll save money AND ensure optimal campaign results.

You’ll also get your campaigns launched quicker and bringing in positive results sooner when you have others that have done it before helping you out.

Alternatively, if you’re interested in positioning your brand as a market leader in another language and want to do everything inhouse, know you’ll need to invest considerable time and money to hire the best talent.

A lot of marketers hire freelance consultants while they grow their inhouse team. This is a great strategy.

That said, you can also leverage tech designed for multilingual marketing.

One of the nice things about globalization is that every good a content management system will have integrated features, installed by default, to make multilingual website architecting easier.

At the end of the day, your needs are going to depend on your own unique requirements, preferences, project scope, and budget.

Whichever way you go, consider all variables before onboarding.

This’ll save you lots of time, money, and headaches that are inevitable as you build out your multilingual marketing team.

Reach a Global Audience w/ a Solid Multilingual Marketing Strategy

Post 2022, multilingual advertising and marketing is required to get your brand in front of the general market.

It’s not easy to create campaigns that resonate with audiences in different languages and cultures, but you can see some big results when you take the time to understand your audience and how to best serve them.

Given that you can overcome multilingual marketing challenges with enough preparation this post… what are you waiting for?

Greater brand awareness, more traffic, higher sales, and significantly boosted profits are things you can expect from your multilingual marketing.

I hope this all helps and all your multilingual campaigns exceed their goals.