Why and How to Conduct a Cultural Audit of Your Content

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The role of a marketing department within an organization is to create content about a brand that engages the target market in ways that boost brand loyalty and sales. However, different target markets will not react in the same way to the original marketing campaign as the original intended audience would.

Marketing writers typically focus on their primary, single target market, then attempt to broaden to other target markets. The methodology of simply translating the original content for new markets, though, can have severe consequences: your brand is damaged, current customers are alienated, potential clients are simply not engaged with the material, and you lose your competitive advantage.

How do you know how wide the gap might be when trying to repurpose your content for another market? Are you aware of what you need to do to maximize the impact? For that, you conduct a cultural audit.

Getting to work

Bilingual, in-country linguists experienced in buyer behavior in the target market are critical. Ideally, these linguists also have expertise in your industry (retail, travel and hospitality, electronics). The linguists review the source in detail — graphics, layout, text, even colors — to determine what effort is required to optimize that material for the new market.

They may recommend replacing idioms, metaphors, imagery, and/or changing the layout and provide you with several suggestions. They will also flag areas of content that would likely need to be adapted for ANY new market. If you are dealing with source content that has already been translated, the linguists can assess how much of it has been adapted appropriately for that market and what else needs to be done.

Here is a good example of source content that won’t work in other markets. A copywriter in the U.S. might use baseball language and imagery since Americans love baseball:

  • off base
  • ballpark
  • balk
  • rain check

References like this are typical in marketing materials, but a highly-branded and creative marketing campaign will fail in a target market unless there is deep customization. These idioms will be lost on a target market that prefers soccer or cricket. This is where the linguists can suggest alternatives appropriate for their specific markets.

5 outcomes from cultural audits

  • You will know if your materials need to be recreated from scratch. It is possible that a piece is so inappropriate for the target market that an in-country marketing writer should create all-new copy in the target language. They would use brand and style guides as a reference.

  • You will know whether your material can just be translated. Some marketing materials don’t have highly creative content; they are relatively straightforward, and a translator experienced in marketing copy can localize it without much adaptation.

  • You will learn what needs to be changed. A cultural reviewer can give a marketing manager recommendations on cultural changes including idioms, metaphors, references, and images.

  • You will understand the time and cost for completing localization. An audit can help the manager understand the efforts required for adaptation. The manager can then make business decisions, based on real information, about the budget and time to allocate based on the priority of that target market.

  • You will know the quality of the existing translated content. Often, after materials are published, they don’t yield the results you expected. Time spent on your website has decreased, and sales may even be down. Is there a problem with your content? Is it way off brand? A cultural audit of the target market content can diagnose if that content is off mark and make recommendations on how to improve it.

In most cases, the outcome is a report containing an assessment of appropriateness for the target market, and suggested changes and approach.

Any steps taken in the preparation phase of marketing localization, prior to translation, can save time and costs down the line and help avoid misrepresentation in the target locale that might impact your brand and your sales. Content audits are an inexpensive insurance policy — it’s cheaper to assess one target market’s materials and make an appropriate plan for customization than to fix each target language version post-release.