Tips for Internationalising your Marketing and Communications

If you’re thinking of going global, then you will need to target your marketing and communications to customers who may well be in different countries with different cultures and speaking different languages. Your potential global market is now over 7 billion people.

1. Communicate in English

A recent British Council exhibition ‘The English Effect’ estimates that 1.75 billion people around the world have a working knowledge of English, so that is already a massive potential market for your goods and services.  And if you’re thinking of selling online, then English is still just about the most used language on the web across the globe, so clearly this is a good starting point. So before you dash off getting everything translated, take a moment to think through where you could export to English speakers around the world.

2. Get it right in English

The most important thing is to get your message right in English, whether you are doing business in the UK or across the world.  This can then be used as the basis for all of your international marketing and communications whether or not you start to translate into other languages.

So many companies I work with haven’t even stated what they do and why they are different. You get technical companies who explain their innovative products in great depth, but haven’t given their ‘elevator pitch’ – a 100 word overview – much thought at all.  At the other end of the scale you have architects and creative companies who are so focused on showcasing their past projects, they don’t even list their services.  This is of course crucial as this is what they are selling and ultimately making money from.”

3. Adapt for other versions of English

If you’re targeting customers in other English-speaking markets, then you may need to adapt your language for different versions of English, such as American English, Indian English and Singapore English. Many of us are familiar with the use of ‘z’s in American English, but sometimes we need to use different vocabulary too, like the ‘sidewalk’- ‘pavement’, ‘pants’ – ‘trousers’, as some of the more famous examples. Generally it is worth writing in International English to appeal to as many English speakers as possible, but also make sure you’re not using too many technical terms, acronyms, colloquialisms or even humour that may not be understood or misunderstood at best. This also prepares a nice set of marketing copy that is well-written and can be more easily translated into other languages.

4. Translate into other languages

If you want to reach the remaining five billion customers in the world, it is well worth putting your marketing materials into the local language. Imagine trying to understand something written in Chinese without speaking a word of the language. It is imperative to use a professional translation company to make sure that your text is not just translated into another language, but that your message is tailored to customers in the local market so that it reads naturally with an appropriate tone.

I see companies who have translations carried out by their friend’s mother’s cousin. While it is hard to completely avoid this scenario if you are setting up your business on a shoestring, friends and family are not trained translators and just because you speak a language, it does not mean you can write good marketing copy.

5. Localise your images

As well as translating the text, take a look at any images and diagrams you use and make sure they are representative and appropriate for your target markets.  Even simple things like car registration plates and the weather need to be taken into account when selecting images to appeal to a global audience.  As long as you choose wisely, images are a great help when marketing across languages, because as they say, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’.


By Sarah Caroll,  Director of Grow Global, a niche consultancy which helps businesses to grow global online. Sarah runs regular webinars, seminars and masterclasses for the Make It Global programme and UK Trade and Investment (UKTI).

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