5 tips to create products and content that scale globally


Silhouette of explorer looking out over mountains

Silhouette of explorer looking out over mountains

Gone are the days of building products for domestic markets only. In a typical product development scenario, a good deal of time and effort is spent focusing on local customers.

While taking a local-first approach is a solid strategy for some businesses, for those looking to new markets, this approach no longer works. Companies that have any hope of growing, competing, and succeeding internationally will need to think outside their home country—and this means adopting a global-first mindset.

If you’re looking to sell your products in international markets, it pays to think global from day one.

In this case, a product internationalization strategy is essential for global growth. Internationalized products can be adapted to reach a wider audience, both domestically and internationally, making them easier to deploy on a global scale.

So, if you’re ready to conquer new international markets, here are five tips to get you started.

1. Design for the world

What better time is there to guide internationalization decisions than at the design stage? Toyota is an example of how manufacturers can use product design to scale globally. The Japanese automaker has realigned its product development to incorporate a new global architecture, a platform that serves as the foundation for most of its vehicles around the world.

Though this new process is delivering expected results (such as cost savings, improved production, shortened development cycles, and reduced plant waste), perhaps the most impressive of all is how it allows for scalability. In other words, this new global framework effectively enables the automaker to leverage a basic automobile design in different markets around the world, with minimal reengineering efforts, while maintaining a consistent quality and experience.

Can this design approach be applied to digital products as well? Indeed, it can. When it comes to web design, for example, web globalization expert John Yunker recommends using global web design templates. These “master” templates of provide the basic infrastructure for the overall web design; they’re meant to cover a broad range of locales, dictating only the global page and navigation elements. This global template can then be rolled out to local templates and adjusted to accommodate locale-specific requirements.

According to Yunker, starting with a global template offers significant advantages, such as ensuring that each regional version of the website has the same look and feel, providing a consistent user experience across regional and country websites, and delivering incremental time and cost savings. For a company, the value of this approach increases exponentially as the number of its local websites increases.

2. Create a global content strategy

If you’re creating content for non-English speaking countries, you know how difficult it can be to communicate your message and stay on brand across different languages and cultures. That’s why it’s critical to start with high-quality source content.

When it comes to writing for global audiences, a good rule of thumb is to create content that can appeal to a wider audience.

In other words, focus on overarching content themes, and keep your content neutral by avoiding any cultural, economic, and regional specifics. This makes the content easier to translate and localize.

When creating content for global audiences, here are three more things to keep in mind:

  • Write bigger pieces of content. Small pieces of content have their place in a strategy, but for global audiences, bigger is better. Big content assets can be fragmented into smaller chunks, adapted, and repurposed (as needed) by the local teams.
  • Create global personas. Developing user personas for each target locale can be time consuming and expensive. Content marketer Pam Didner recommends using informal, global personas, which instead focus on the commonalities among target audiences.
  • Have a governance program. Global content production requires the efforts of both headquarters and regional teams. Consider who will be responsible for creating, localizing, managing, and maintaining the content. Most importantly, involve all the teams in figuring out how content processes and performance will be measured.

3. Implement a global style guide

Is your branding consistent across all channels? Are you getting your message across clearly? When working with multiple authors and designers, especially in different countries, it can be a struggle to keep your branding and messaging consistent.

A good first step is to put the right tools and guidelines in place. Creating style guides, glossaries, and communication guidelines that define when and how specific elements (such as colors, typeface, logo, core terminology, style, voice and tone) should be used ensures your team stays on brand.

And don’t forget your translators and linguists! Reference aids are crucial for maintaining messaging and style consistency in your translated materials, too. So be sure to create specific guidelines for translation and transcreation, and include any cultural considerations of the target country.

4. Work with local teams

Understanding your audience is central to any good marketing effort. But it can be especially challenging when targeting global markets, because not every concept resonates equally around the world.

Taking a global approach to product and content development may serve to provide strategic oversight, but it doesn’t exclude the importance of thorough localization. The reality is that the world isn’t homogeneous, so applying a universal solution to heterogeneous markets is sure to fail.

This is where your local team comes in: who better to understand the culture and provide a truly localized experience? Needless to say, the local team is indispensable for:

  • personalizing the product for their geographic region
  • delivering content that’s relevant and useful to the target audience
  • performing in-country reviews, and ensuring proper localized messaging
  • validating the local user and customer experience

As marketing strategist Rebecca Lieb points out, “global enables local.” In other words, a successful global rollout hinges on striking the right balance between the central strategy initiated by headquarters and the local insights provided by the regional teams. So work with your local teams, engage them in the process, and iterate locally.

5. Invest in technology

As your market reach grows, so will the amount of content you’ll have to store, publish, manage, and maintain. To efficiently scale your marketing programs across borders, you’ll need to invest in tools that can streamline your translation and localization workflows, help maintain consistency across content assets, and improve content output.

The two primary tools used for this are content management systems (CMS) and translation management systems (TMS):

  • A CMS is used to create, manage, store, and publish content across the enterprise.
  • A TMS is used to manage translation assets and automate the globalization workflow.

When used together, these tools help companies integrate the entire workflow into a collaborative process, making it easier to create and edit content, translate and localize it, and push it to the web.

The result? Better experiences for your customers and more cost savings for you.

Typical product development processes still focus largely on building products for domestic markets. But for companies looking to launch their products internationally, taking a local-first approach to product development no longer works.

Finding success in today’s globalized economy hinges on designing world-ready products and content, and collaborating with your regional teams to scale your efforts globally.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the contributing author, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forum for International Trade Training.

About the author

Author: Giovanna Patruno

Giovanna Patruno is a translator, technical communicator, and localization specialist. Passionate about languages, world cultures, and all things digital, she specializes in intercultural and international communication, global content strategy, international customer experience, and digital globalization. She is the Principal Consultant at Contextus, a boutique content strategy and development consultancy that helps technology companies use content to solve business problems, achieve strategic goals, and meet customer needs.

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