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By Leah Montebello
In conversation with Lindsay Hong, COO of Locaria: how to scale content globally without diluting the overall brand message
“Agencies should be able to demonstrate to procurement teams that they can utilise a variety of techniques to stay within budget while maximising impact” – Lindsay Hong, COO of Locaria
Lindsay Hong, COO of Locaria, discusses the balancing act that enterprise-level companies face when scaling globally, and how content can often be diluted in the process.
Locaria is a multilingual digital content provider that sits within The Stagwell Group, shortly merging with MDC Partners, which includes agencies such as 72andSunny and Anomaly. They combine engagement metrics with content creation processes to harness data from all stages of the customer journey, including awareness, consideration and engagement.
Operating across more than 50 languages, and 90 markets, their client list consists of the world’s top brands across luxury, retail, travel, hospitality, finance and SaaS.
Balancing budget with coverage
As consumer journeys become increasingly complex with multiple touch-points, more and more is expected from global brands. Brands are required to operate across different platforms and media, and also dozens of markets, all at the same time, while maintaining a consistent brand voice and logical customer experience.
Whilst some content can be relatively easily replicated and localised, the harsh reality is that all channels have different formats, regulations and best practices. The ambition to scale content to all formats and markets can easily challenge budgets, and ROI can become lost in the process. This is particularly the case for the “copy” element of the content, where failure to respect the channels and formats can lead to complete failure at the point of campaign activation.
Hong warns against complacency from brands when it comes to writing local content in a truly authentic and engaging way, especially on digital. Despite authentic copywriting being highly effective, the reality for most brands looking to scale is that automation must be considered. Whilst this can be a fast and most dynamic way to operate, automation should be considered as just one tool within a toolbox and paired with other approaches, to avoid jeopardising both quality and authenticity.
Hong explains, “It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. Different types of content can be more or less suited to automation. Agencies should be able to demonstrate to procurement teams that they can utilise a variety of techniques to stay within budget while maximising impact”.
When brands are looking to scale in an international market, they are competing with the domestic players, who will already have a better grasp of how local sentiment and therefore messaging is delivered in their market. Hong encourages brands to develop a nuanced content scaling strategy that utilises a variety of methodologies, balancing costs with desired outcomes. Highly repetitive, high volume product content should be handled differently to branding and experiential content. She urges that “consumers aren’t stupid” and will be able to see when brands have been lazy with localisation.
Ultimately, this is asking the question of what is actually going to make a difference and shift the dial? For some industries, this will be a killer website, and for others it will be a great social media page. Hong says, “it needs to be a nuanced approach if you are going to drive growth”.
Local agility vs global consistency
Enterprise-level brands face the challenge of creating enough assets for all channels and being able to do so in a way that is competitive. Critically, they must also execute consistently across markets and platforms to ensure consumer trust.
As a result, many brands choose to pursue a centralised production approach to support cost efficiency and brand control. However, a robust production strategy is integrated with activation and distribution considerations, to make sure outputs are actually effective and realise business goals. This can sometimes lead to a decentralised strategy, particularly in the case of new media channels. Getting the right advice on the best strategy for your brand and content type can be the difference between success and failure in a given market.
As Hong explains, “Quite often, enterprise brands have local marketing teams, as well as central ones. The decision of how much free reign you give the local markets is becoming particularly relevant for social media, which is a growing channel and very competitive. Social media works best when marketing teams seize upon something that happens in the market on the day”.
Referencing the efficacy of Yorkshire Tea campaigns, the mid-sized tea company based in the UK, Hong states, “they do a great job at picking up the mood of the country, writing locally relevant content in colloquial and funny ways”. This is something that brands should aspire to whenever utilising social media to engage with their consumers.
If decisions on social media content always have to be run through the centralised head offices, brands may “miss the moment and the viral uplift of social media”. While there is risk in reducing central control, not giving local teams creative freedom can drive a significant opportunity cost. Business leaders should remain mindful of such costs when considering local vs global options.
Hong advises that where a decision has been made to give local teams freedom, this should be instructed by brand guidelines. While creating brand guidelines isn’t a new concept, many companies still produce only a centralised, English version. By “versioning out” the guidelines to be locally nuanced and agreed, brands can maintain some central control whilst allowing for local agility.
Establishing local brand guidelines is a worthwhile investment when working with both in-house and agency teams. If all stakeholders agree on the local, as well as global, tone and style of the brand, trust can be established, leading to more efficient and cost-effective working.
On this point, Hong says, it’s wise to bring in a specialist, such as Locaria, to advise and guide brand managers to build out guidelines for varying markets, and also use their in-market networks to ensure any creative ideas will work in the local culture. As Dolce & Gabbana’s challenges in China have demonstrated, engaging local experts early in the process is essential.
Specialist partners can also help brands utilise term base technology to better ensure the guidelines established are applied consistently and efficiently as increasing amounts of multilingual content are built out. In addition, their advanced workflow systems can be leveraged to coordinate global stakeholders efficiently, minimising rework and waste.
Whilst technology can drive efficiency gains, human talent still sits at the heart of great content.
Hong says that finding good creative and copywriting talent in varied markets can be a challenge. Drawing on the Nordics and the United Emirates as an example, Hong discusses how whilst these markets have huge commercial opportunities (especially as ecommerce customers), they do not produce many copywriters and transcreators. Therefore, it can be hard for brands to find talent with the advanced level of language skills needed to communicate effectively with these markets. As a result, Hong believes that there will be an ongoing premium required to secure the best creative and copywriting talent.
Making sure language skills are up to scratch, particularly for complex markets in Asia and the Middle East can be a challenge for brands. Translating, transcreating, originating and copywriting are all different skill sets and experience with the different formats is also key. From a decade of experience understanding client needs, Locaria has developed a tight network of highly skilled professionals across a variety of industry verticals, who have both creative capability and contextual capacity.
On agency involvement, Hong says that the best agencies are the ones who “bring freelance copywriters into the fold and establish personal relationships, either through events or training”. This will build stronger bonds with top talent and ultimately mean that agencies will be able to help brands scale more effectively because they already have access to global talent.
Getting the best out of your talent, requires effective people management. Great agencies not only have robust methodologies to understand how qualified and relevant the talent is for the task, but also manage and develop that talent. They provide regular feedback to freelancers and drive efficiencies through tailored platforms that bring multiple parties in the production process together: clients, project managers, strategists and creatives.
Ultimately success in scaling content is built from an understanding of the business goals that the content is required to support. It requires the skilled planning and coordination of multiple stakeholders, the blending of technical and creative expertise and the smart use of technology when appropriate to drive efficiencies and agility. It’s an exciting challenge and fertile ground for innovation.