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Doug and Kelly quickly jump on an interesting topic that most American marketers don’t think about, the acceptable use of the English language in Content Marketing. If you are like our team, getting out of the states is not a regular occurrence and interacting with anyone from another language or country can be a difficult task. As Doug notes, we have become so self-centered as Americans that we expect the world to be just like us.
Because of this, the rest of the world has had to shift the approach to the languages they use, and English becomes the defacto second language. The big question for us is what form of English?
In this show, Doug Kessler, an American in England, and Kelly Hungerford, an American in Switzerland, discuss the topic of Global Content Marketing with English at the core and several other Ex-Pat topics you won’t want to miss.
Listen to the show
- Hey Kelly!
- Hey Doug, how's it going?
- I think they stuck us together 'cause we're expats.
- I think you're right.
- Yeah, so like the American in Europe thing.
- It's working.
- Yeah, it's weird 'cause, um How have you found it? Do you get treated like an American as marketing? As an American different?
- There are always cookies on the table.
- [Doug] Yeah?
- Yeah, I have a lot of cookies. They ask me if I want cookies, and if I want a tall coffee with milk.
- [Doug] Cause they know you're a Yank.
- Yeah, exactly. So that is one difference all the time. I think... Do I notice differences? So I've noticed that over time, and I think that this is an advantage, I'm often brought in when they just want to eliminate all language barriers.
- [Doug] Okay.
- [Kelly] So for, I guess, politics within the organization, they found that I'm an equalizer.
- All right.
- [Kelly] I kinda like that, I feel really powerful that way. Like...
- That's interesting. Yeah.
- Yeah, so it's nice.
- We have an equivalent kind of issue where a client's not sure whether to go European spelling, U.K. English or American English
- Oh yeah, flavor or flavour?
- Right, to use I-S-E versus I-Z-E.
- [Kelly] Digitise or digitize?
- Yeah, I don't know. Do you get that a lot? Cause we tell people,
- [Kelly] I get that all the time. Americans have a hard time with the O-U-R, and they don't think it's just international, they think it's quaint and cute. Whereas if a European sees the American spelling, they think "Oh that's just American." It's kind of a default, you know?
- [Kelly] Right.
- So we always tell them, "Default to the Yank spelling." But then I think, "Am I being Yank-centric in doing ... ?"
- I push it all Yank-centric.
- [Doug] Do you?
- Yeah. So the one industry, I found in healthcare, they really favor a more conservative ... They think the British English is queen.
- [Doug] Right.
- I don't know if I agree with them, but VDC, they're going towards American.
- So I find the American ... I get a lot of people, if I work with agencies or end-user, like audience feedback's saying, "You have a spelling there with an S." So I just said, "I don't know, "I think your population in Europe they're just gonna "have to get with American English in schools, "and then it will all be natural." So we do have those copywriting debates. So it goes back and forth and everyone's correcting, and I'm like, "No, no, no. It's gonna be English here."
- [Doug] Default, yeah.
- Out the door!
- We try to agree ahead of time, but there's always a stakeholder reading it somewhere who thinks, "Wait a second! We're British, we don't do that."
- [Kelly] Yeah, exactly.
- It's like, okay, if your audience is British, that absolutely. But if it's global ...
- Yeah, and if I find that ... it's very true. If it's England that we're ... No, the European I work a lot with subsidiaries.
- [Doug] Right.
- And partners, and they all default they seem to default to what they've learned in school, and it seems to be British English. Even if globally, the readership is going to be more American-based. So I think that that's something that they just haven't figured out yet.
- It's funny cause it's the insularity of Americans that makes international spelling a little bit of a penalty. It's the fact that Americans think it's cute, or think it's "Ye Olde" because it's British, right? And you know I think Americans are ... You don't realize til you move away from America how insular America is, how America-centric America is.
- [Kelly] Exactly.
- And then you kinda realize, "Wow, okay." But then you feel bad about asking them to turn to Yank spelling.
- Well and how strange is it to have to send out a memo dictating which American language all translation and all browsers should be set to, so everyone is on the same page? That was like I don't know ... it took one client four months, to finally figure out what the problem was.
- They were like, "Don't you guys get the memo? "It's all American." But they had like British translation.
- Well someone should make the decision and stick to it. It was funny, cause when I moved to the U.K. ... So it was like 27 years ago ... I was a copywriter, and I thought, "I'm not gonna be able to be a copywriter here, "cause I won't know any of the idioms, "I won't know ... spelling's easy enough, "but I just won't be able to get the voice!" And it turned out that it's probably the only profession where being an American's a big plus. So, you know, an American way of speaking, this kind of confident voice, clients really wanted. So I found I could be a copywriter right away. I didn't have to go through this long process of acculturation.
- Yeah I think it's interesting, and I think that being American has that advantage where we're the voice to say a lot of things that would never be said.
- And culturally ... And I think it's also, when it comes to being American again, on continental Europe with the dual formalities of the vous and the tu, you just pass through that. And people love it because ... I think what people don't understand in Europe, even though English is the work language, that the local language really takes over in the office. So, it was really an enlightening moment when I worked in Germany, and people who had worked together for 20, 25 years, and they were still using a formal tense. It would be like saying, "Mr. Kessler, good morning Mr. Kessler!"
- [Doug] Yeah, with no irony.
- There was no Doug, because of age. Twenty years together and they didn't use first names.
- [Doug] Yeah.
- And then I bust through and I'm like, "Hi! Hey Doug, how's it going?" And they were just like, "Whoa!" And everyone's like, "Bring her into the meetings!" Right?
- So I think being that American, I play it up. I'm just like that no BS, like here I am, "Oops did I say the wrong thing? Sorry! Broken!"
- That's right, play the American card.
- And they ... everyone ... but they like it, they want more.
- That's right, it's not just how you say it, it's what you say. So clients in England ... I mean, famously diffident. They would not want to brag. It's like, well marketing kind of gets to brag at times. So it's good to have that instinct, especially with content marketing. The bragging has been moved to a different place, but at some point you have to say something good about yourself. And it's like, "Hire a Yank to do that though, "they'll trump it."
- [Kelly] Right, they could bring it all out!
- Yeah, exactly.
- [Kelly] Well you guys are great at that, with the brutal honesty too. I think I was really touched by ... I've always been a very honest person, and kind of like no BS. And then as soon as you wrote that piece on brutal honesty, it was just kind of like ... When people are like, "Ooh Kelly, not true." And I'm like, "Oh no, it's written here." I can be brutally honest. I can tell you exactly what's going on. And it's okay, look, Doug says so.
- It's an amazing technique! I am so surprised more people don't do it. Because there are these documented cases of incredible success of just being insanely honest in this type, and there aren't a lot of flops. People who are honest and have suffered because of it.
- [Kelly] Right.
- So you'd think by now this is a pretty proven way to go.
- [Kelly] Right.
- And yet, we still really struggle getting clients to be up for, what I would say, a pretty benign level of honesty. Like let's say, "This product is not great for this group of people." That's just plain common sense honesty. And if you're doing a service to those people that say, "Don't waste your time here cause here's why "we're not for you, there's a better one "over there for you." But it's a really nice thing to do!
- [Kelly] So it's interesting. If you have a campaign, and it's a global campaign and I work with a lot of pan-Europeans, so it's really Europe, EMEA ...
- [Doug] Right.
- And I think it's interesting when we talk about brutal honesty and culture, like what brutally, what's the limit of honesty when it goes across cultures, and how do you on a global level if you're working with messaging and that creative strategy and then you have to work from France all the way over to the Emirates. How do you balance that?
- [Doug] Yeah, it's really difficult. I don't know, you must do it too where you rely on local understanding to tell you. You know, I don't want to say "This is our voice. "Please make sure you've trans created "this voice everywhere." If someone knows that voice is going to alienate people. Even within Europe where you think there's got to be enough cohesion, you know more than any, how diverse Europe is, and something that is just fine and fun in the U.K. might really flop in Germany. And vice versa, you know. So for me, it's to not assume one size fits all. Which again is not a Yank natural thing. It's much more ... Domestic market in America was so huge. It was just fine, one voice just did fine. So I think American marketers are not as used to the idea of having to be sensitive to cultures and having nuance and everything else.
- I think it's an interesting point too when we talk about defaulting to that local authority. It's also a cue to headquarters it's time to let go. You can't, if you want to be successful, you can't control the message. You can give the idea and the strategy, but let go. And that's a really tough... Letting go is so difficult.
- [Doug] Very tough. Very tough. And you know, I don't think generally at the center there's a real understanding of the difference. It's kind of a lip service. And you get the phrase R-O-W Rest of World. I love that. Like America and ROW. You just really feel like this has just been like "It will be fine for them, and let them change..."
- Although 200 other cultures and languages
- Yeah these American brands where you see they make absolutely no, they make no allowance for where they are. And sometimes, that's okay and sometimes being American is part of the brand. It's a brand value that you want to promote. If it's Levis or something, you know you want that American-ness built into it. With B to B, it goes back and forth. Some tech, a lot of tech markets for Velocity. Silicon Valley has a cache and you may want to dial up the American-ness in other markets. But then, in others, you know there are global markets you just want to dial it down.
- I find that even, and it's a great point with the dialing up and dialing down, because I think... even if you have to dial down on the messaging because it's too strong, I think the spirit, I think that something that we carry over to Europe or possibly other areas that Americans go and engage, is that spirit and that's uniquely American. That's something that without changing anything we leave messaging alone and it stays in its space, there's just this spirit that comes across and this confidence of "It's OK. It's going to be OK. "Because we can make it OK."
- I think that confidence for me is absolutely key and the more I look at great marketing, marketing I love across all spectrums, it's underneath. That's the common thing. It's confident marketing. You know it's looking someone right in the eye and saying "I'm good at what I do as a company, and then we're good "at this communication thing too." Those two things. We're good at this so you're gonna enjoy the experience of interacting with us. We like what we do here. We're enjoying our jobs. That kind of message, which seems to be scrubbed out a lot, I don't know if it's some, how cultural that is, or if it is a B to B thing, but I do think if there's, I feel like Americans can bring a breath of fresh air into some markets.
- I think so too. I think it's just that ... and I think that using English is a real advantage. I see so many times where there's a hesitation. For so long, living and working in Germany, and French-speaking Switzerland, it was learn the language. Fit in. Blend. AT some point I woke up saying "Wait a minute. "I'm never going to fit in." I'm just going to be like this strange German-speaking, she's not German, what is she doing, where does she fit? Right? So really using that is the unique differentiator of bringing in new ideas, and being able to really bring in that spirit. I think it's like a spirit thing.
- Yeah, you're right. You can't find against it anyway. Like for me not to behave like a Yank would be silly because I am one and everyone is going to treat me like that anyway.
- Yeah, exactly. And I'm always an ice-breaker. I like it. It's like so, like "We have an American in the room. "Can you tap dance? "What else can you do?" But, it's interesting. I think another aspect too for and what's really interesting to me is teams. I think again if we go back to when I worked in the states we never thought as much about culture and the need to really reach out and understand people to make a marketing campaign go, or make that piece of content work. Really understanding not just the audience but who are the people who are writing that? Because we're not working people who have the same cultural background, so the writing is very different or the content is very different. I think there is always, I have this context, filter or un-filter in mind. I guess which way you look at it. You go into a team and I have to really survey and say "OK, you know what? We have somebody from Germany here. We have Swede, Dutch, maybe we have someone from India", and kind of try to understand really quickly what everyone's point of context is before we start talking about a piece. That's just mental gymnastics for me. It comes more easily but so many campaigns and pieces of content have just fallen flat on not just the messaging but not everyone is coming from the same baseline.
- Yeah, I mean even just that you're bringing that perspective to try to align that and try to take it into account I think must help a lot. But one thing that I'm always scared of is the one over indexes for culture or something like because you're never sure. Is this just that individual style? Or they say in France "we don't do it like that". Well, you don't do it like that. But there's a lot of people in France. There's no one national character in that sense. So sometimes we get pushback about culture. I'm not local, I don't know. It's like when your car mechanic says "This has got to be done." Well, who am I to say "You're wrong" and yet I happen to know that even within one culture you'll get people with differences of opinion. So do you take that one person's opinion as gospel?
- That's difficult, right?
- You just need people that you can trust to do that localization. Try to keep voice intact and the goal of the thing.
- Maybe find the commonality. Instead of everyone, because when we have for one client when we come together all the subsidiaries around, everyone is talking about how different their problem is. "It's so different. "We could never work with that person, and we need new personas." It's a corporate persona. How is that going to possibly work for us? It's like all IT directors across the world probably think about three things.
- I know. There's so much more in common than different. Especially in things like tech markets. This thing is used the same everywhere. There's going to be a lot of in common stuff.
- Or health care. Like, you know, a heart condition is a heart condition. It doesn't know what country you live in, it doesn't know what your cultural ...
- A fork lift truck is a fork lift truck. Do we really need to allow for everything? But I suppose creatively of course it makes sense to allow but there oughta be enough common ground there, shouldn't there?
- Yeah, I think so.
tagged with: Content Marketing