3 steps to formulating a global communications strategy
While your enterprise will always retain a consistent sense of identity throughout the world the more global you become – with subtle variations of course – the way in which you carry out certain activities will not be so uniform. Your approach to the work you do and everything that this entails has to somewhat deviate from its original starting point because a one-fit solution is not viable in a multi-market environment.
This applies to all facets of a business, including sales, creative, management and production to name but a few. Although there is certainly an element of homogeneity in your conduct in such areas, you need to adapt to meet the demands and expectations of the market you are working in for your organisation “to make sense”.
Key to the success of all of this is the way in which you communicate because, inevitably, you will hit cultural and language roadblocks along the way to internationalising your enterprise. This feature discusses how to begin formulating a strategy that will be able to meet these challenges head on.
1) The need for an internationally versatile voice
English has long been the unofficial language of the world and remains the go-to choice for most people when engaging with stakeholders across the globe, irrespective of whether or not this is their first language. In fact, as a Harvard Business Review essay notes, in the world of business, it is actually becoming more widespread. It’s easy to see why:
“The fastest-spreading language in human history, English is spoken at a useful level by some 1.75 billion people worldwide – that’s one in every four of us. There are close to 385 million native speakers in countries like the US and Australia, about a billion fluent speakers in formerly colonised nations such as India and Nigeria, and millions of people around the world who’ve studied it as a second language. An estimated 565 million people use it on the internet.”
However, English as the universal language of business has limits. Beyond engaging with senior figures, where the use of English is routine, when it comes to other aspects of a business, there’s a need for what can be described as an “internationally versatile voice”. Being able to communicate in the language of your market, be it with members of your workforce stationed abroad, native suppliers or your customers, isn’t a choice. It is an obligation.
Moreover, it makes good business sense. Research has shown, for example, that the majority of consumers (75 per cent) in non-Anglophone countries prefer to purchase products online that are in their native language. Additionally, 60 per cent say they “rarely or never” buy items from English-only websites, many of which are, incidentally, not really optimised to appeal to the rest of the world. This is something we looked at earlier in the year (with advice on how to improve your website’s reach as well).
2) Developing an international communications plan
An international communications plan is a serious acknowledgement by your enterprise that there are barriers to being able to successfully export not just products and services overseas, but your business ethos itself. However, these are more than conquerable through a strategic approach to such hurdles. The answer lies in your plan which offers both solutions and guidelines on how best to deal with cultural and language challenges.
Naturally, these will vary from project to project, market to market, but, generally speaking, there will be considerable overlap in the kinds of difficulties you may face. This can relate to anything, such as translating internal documents – such as your code of conduct – to localising marketing. A framework offers you a step-by-step guide to fall back on if and when you need it. Of course, such documents can be refined over time, meaning that with every new market you come into contact with, your plan of action has more weight behind it (shaped as it is by past experiences).
3) Simplify and then modify
As mentioned from the outset, by and large, your brand changes very little as it goes global. However, there comes a point in this journey when it’s important to assess whether your identity needs to be reshaped or redesigned to reflect the fact that your business has evolved. From a visual, external vantage point, this may involve a complete overhaul of the look and feel of your business. Internally, it is more to do with streamlining your communications to make it easier to disseminate and modify as and when required.
When you reach such a juncture, first and foremost, carry out a thorough audit, assessing what information is superfluous to your operations and what needs to be translated. The latter will benefit from the original source material being simple in construction, easy to read and neutral in content. Or, to paraphrase the 20th century English writer George Orwell’s advice on good writing, “avoid metaphors and similes; opt for short words over long words; cut excessive words; be active and refrain from using scientific words or jargon”.
Beyond this point, the translation of documents that have been written under strict guidelines will be markedly easier than existing and potentially complex alternatives. However, as UK Trade & Investment has discussed, this requires expertise. As such, look to work with qualified and experienced language service providers and, moreover, it is advised you incorporate their services into your wider global communications strategy. Cultural and language barriers are simply not going to go away.
Communications for a global audience
Every step of your journey from a small, one market organisation to an international, multi-market enterprise is fraught with challenges. It’s highly complicated, extremely risky and, at times, seemingly impossible, as if all the odds are stacked against you. Yet, more and more, it is a venture that is unavoidable; a transition that many businesses will have to go through to stay competitive and open up new opportunities.
However, with the right people and the right ideas, you can not only support your efforts to expand your operations, but establish strong foundations that allow your enterprise to thrive around the world, irrespective of what challenges may lie ahead. How you communicate matters because one slip up, misunderstanding or demonstration of insensitivity can land you in a spot of bother. Quality, of conduct and of work, is paramount. It requires patience, expertise and a solid grasp of the local culture to say what you want to say in any language.