A man working at his desk, on his laptop. The desk has charts and figures and marketing documents all over it.
PHOTO: Shutterstock

From Global 2000 companies to pure play startups, the signs of a well-optimized process are usually the same, both in plan and execution. Translation plays a big role as well because customers don’t buy what they don’t understand, but language isn’t everything. Change management and implementation are also important.

So with a nod to the Watts Humphrey Capability Maturity Model, let’s rank your company's international marketing from 1 to 5. Keep in mind that it’s possible to rank high in some areas, but low in others.

1. Initial

Rebecca Ray, director of global leaders service for research firm Common Sense Advisory, says, “Organizations that operate effectively and efficiently on a global basis do so by conscious design and investment.” And at the initial stages, neither is happening.

Maybe your boss thinks having a website makes company marketing international by default. Or maybe you throw lines like “in the US and Canada” into content to make it “feel” global. Either way, your international marketing has no conscious design. Without it, Ray says, “You won’t know how to measure what your organization achieves,” resulting in “misalignment of corporate business goals, branding and messaging with local market requirements.” Simply put, there’s a complete lack of integration between international marketing and corporate strategy.

To mature, start measuring as many KPI’s as you can: Do blogs on certain topics get more international hits? Which countries do site views come from? Look for patterns.

Related Article: International Ecommerce: What Foreign Customers Expect From Your Online Store

2. Repeatable

Compared to “initial” companies, which are often too small to dedicate resources to international content, level-2 businesses typically don’t understand its value. This makes getting a budget for content creation harder. And without a budget, it’s hard to get much done. Purchases are as-needed and individually approved. Ray says, “It may be difficult at first, but draw a line in the sand and start somewhere. Ask your colleagues in the finance department for recommendations for other managers who have demonstrated ROI for their own functions — they should know who estimates it well and who doesn’t.”

In order to grow, Ray recommends you “choose analytics that allow you to communicate success in terms that your various audiences will recognize right away. For example, displaying the number of customer questions, complaints and issues resolved in local languages via social media vs. retention rates is a more valuable insight for colleagues and executives in sales, marketing and support than simply providing the number of words translated for social media channels. Showing closing rates for online sales based on localized customer journeys emphasizes the business value of your globalization efforts.”

Related Article: 8 Tips For Marketing to Millennials

3. Defined

The “defined” level is exactly what it sounds like: Companies have clearly-defined plans for global expansion, enabling marketing to create its own long-term goals. International content is created by professional writers instead of anyone at the company with a pen and, similarly, professionals — not bilingual employees — translate it. Purchasing is funded by a modest, dedicated budget, but still seen as a drain on company finances. Fortunately, for the employee overseeing it, at this stage, international content management is part of their actual job description — not an extra task tacked on.

Overall, international marketing is well-managed with new content created and translated on a predictable timetable, but the plan is only partially implemented. Ray says this is understandable, “It takes time for teams to build up the right number of skilled people to enable managers to turn their attention from operational to strategic issues.” Only by creating marketing on a calendar can companies escape the content tsunami and find time to develop more holistic collateral.

To mature, stop thinking in terms of one-off initiatives and start planning lifecycles. Instead of responding to every trending topic for in-the-moment SEO, Ray encourages companies to apply a managed mindset to “all functions within an organization. Even when directors and team leaders support the concept of international growth, this alone is often insufficient to keep it on their day-to-day radar as other areas compete for time and budget. Even the most efficient and passionate [marketing] team cannot ensure a winning global customer journey if, for example, local language search is inadequate or customer care is only available in one or two languages.”

Focus on improving metrics the marketing team already measures. At this stage, Ray says success benchmarks are often tracked “in Excel or a dashboard that is not integrated with corporatewide metrics.” Strive to be proactive, not reactive.

4. Managed

Here, the executive team has agreed on metrics for content success. Goals are set; creators and translators are regularly briefed on whether they are achieved. Translation vendors are consolidated to two or three providers companywide. A single point of contact oversees international content strategy, working closely with another single contact purchasing translation.

External site and SEO vendors use real-time technology platforms to track decided metrics. The company also uses translation management software (TMS) to monitor projects. This TMS provides site analytics for all translated pages, as well as project-level information — such as which sentences cost more or which languages take longer to complete. “Of course,” Ray explains, “knowing how many words have been translated at what cost within a given time period is a required data point for managing a translation team.”

5. Optimizing

Content decisions are more than consciously designed, they’re systematically optimized. International marketing has a seat in the C-suite. Both marketing and nonmarketing translations are managed together in the TMS. This creates brand consistency throughout all corporate communications, ensuring the language used before and after purchase match. This helps sales drive revenue and marketing prove ROI.

Optimizing is the highest maturity level a company can achieve, but don’t stop looking for ways to grow. Profitable companies are rarely complacent. Reevaluate international content strategy and release schedules every quarter, and check out new translation and TMS vendors once a year.