Tips on Writing for an International Market

by Michelle Salater on July 6, 2012


Whether you’re currently selling to international markets or looking to expand your business beyond U.S. borders, knowing subtle (and not so subtle) language and cultural differences is critical to success.

International clients—no matter which country you’re working with—will expect you to be knowledgeable about major details regarding their language and culture. Sounds obvious, but the devil is in the details.

And often, when launching international campaigns, these details get overlooked. Especially when it comes to grammar and verbiage.

Learning how to topple communication barriers and gaffes isn’t so difficult, if you have the right tools.

Here are two pointers for writing the marketing copy that speaks to and converts an international audience…

  • Know the correct grammar. As you tap into new markets and connect with a larger customer base, knowing certain details in the beginning will save time and headaches. In the end, what might have seemed insignificant could grow to be a big problem later by hindering sales and wasting marketing effort.

For instance, in South Africa, the “Z” in marketing buzzwords such as Optimize and Maximize will appear as an “S”. Realise might look unusual at first, but it’s the right spelling for your South African clients.

For another example, according to the Modern Language Association, the serial comma in a list modifies separation of nouns. But this isn’t the case in New Zealand.

“Rick, Mark and Nick play softball” is the grammar you would use for an audience of New Zealanders. This can get tricky, but knowing big grammatical differences ahead of time will streamline your marketing project to success.

Grammar shapes meaning. And if you lose meaning in your marketing copy, you won’t connect with your target audience and convert them to buyer status.

  • Know the correct words. This isn’t to say your next project will be written in Sanskrit, but the often-used terms Jello, Band-Aid, and Kleenex could be stumbling blocks. Yes, you and I know these household brands well, but that doesn’t mean your market does. And while we frequently use them for common household items, they aren’t the actual titles for gelatin, adhesive bandages, and tissues.

In fact, a lot of international clients won’t use certain words we are accustomed to using in the U.S. And vice-versa.

But how do you get this information?

Before you begin creating web copy for an international client, find out whom they are selling to, and study the language of that selected area. After that, make a style sheet with grammar and common verbiage to share with your editorial staff. Doing this will create open communication lines and help avoid embarrassing errors.

As an online marketer, one of the biggest parts of your job is to make your clients’ lives easier and to streamline their success. Do a little research by reading work produced in your client’s location, and you’ll know the right words, the right tone, and the right answers.

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