How to Create International Video Content

“Think globally, act locally” is the maxim of a green-minded generation looking to improve the environment one recyclable bag at a time. But it could also hold water as a new philosophy for content marketers with an eye on making their videos go viral

The most-watched video of all time on YouTube has over six billion views and counting – that’s not an audience you reach by appealing exclusively to neighborhood sensibilities. And even beyond reggaeton hits, video is still the most powerful global trend that brands can utilize in their ongoing search for new clients. Last year, over half of the world’s total downstream volume of internet traffic was video streaming, a number which is expected to rise to over 80% by 2020. Facebook, the most popular social networking platform in the world, is gradually pivoting to be more and more video-centric. Already, they have begun catching up to YouTube as the world’s favorite video platform, which means that within the next few years, a bigger percentage of the population will be watching video every single day than ever before. 

For many smaller brands and businesses, it can feel like the local, familiar market is your only chance for success, but that isn’t necessarily true. Any brand can aspire to reach potential clients–wherever they dwell–through the power of video. All of this to say, only by grasping trends and metrics that encompass the global population can your brand elevate itself and even become a household name.

A group of people in a meeting. One persons hands focused on their tablet.

To help you out, here are a few things to keep in mind when creating content that has genuine international appeal. By learning these lessons, your team can start tailoring video content for audiences around the world – and grow as a brand at the same time. 

Know Your Context

Let’s pretend that you are an American company looking to create a piece of video content that promotes your annual holiday sale. You film a witty Christmas-themed commercial with actors dressed up like elves and a robotic Santa Claus with giant robotic pincers called “Santa Claws.” Maybe your commercial is a hit with American audiences, but overseas, nobody is watching more than a couple seconds before they click away. What gives?

One glance is all it takes to recognize how many elements your (imaginary) video is based around that might not resonate anywhere beyond the United States. Depictions of Santa and his elves are unfamiliar to billions of potential customers around the world who do not celebrate Christmas – or at least, not a version of it that involves a man in a red suit. Additionally, basing your video around a pun that cannot be easily translated from English further limits its international appeal. From the ground up, your content was doomed to fail abroad. 

It can be really easy to forget how much of our creative content is steeped in ultra-local culture. From the slang we use to the events we celebrate to the way we even conceive of ideas in the first place, we are the product of where we grew up. The best way to alleviate this is to run all of your ideas by an international panel – their diversity of experiences can help trigger any cultural tripwires that you might inadvertently be stringing up, and allow you to subvert them. 

Remember, the more you know about your global audience, the more you’ll be able to create video content that fits within their cultural context as well as your own. If there seem to be too many creative roadblocks in readjusting a particular concept for international viewers, consider creating an alternate piece of content for them – something more culturally neutral that can be easily shared across an array of markets.  

Mind the Details

How often do you proofread for typos, grammatical errors, and awkward phrasing? While the answer should be “often, and on every post,” even the most diligent content marketers make the occasional mistake. But the scale and seriousness of those mistakes increases as you take your video content global. This is for two primary reasons: First, because foreign audiences do not have your same language framework for comprehending errors, and second, because incorrect unit references can affect your ability to convert potential leads.

Let’s break down the first reason in more detail. Typos often occur because of a process called priming, which is what allows our brains to make the hyper-fast (and frequently fallible) semantic connections necessary for writing efficiently. What we value more than the spelling of individual words are the connections between them, which are rooted in years of hands-on lingual experience. However, these differ from place to place. While you may hear the word “banana” and immediately think “yellow,” the same may not be true in Indonesia. 

Because our brains read more for the connections between words than the words themselves, we may not notice spelling mistakes – as long as the connections are still there. Take a look at this quote from the University of Cambridge to witness the effect first-hand.

“Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.”

Weird how legible it is, right? But if English wasn’t your first language, and you didn’t have the baked-in familiarity with it that comes from years of usage, imagine how much more confusing this paragraph would be. That’s why, when it comes to content created for international audiences, you always need to triple-check your spelling and grammar – because while that misplaced comma might be something that your brain unthinkingly skips over, it could cause havoc for a viewer on the other side of the world.

Similarly, be extra careful when it comes to technical units – especially ones for measurement and money. One possible method to manage this is customizing your content for every market that you are promoting to, with appropriate symbols and units: Pounds in the UK, yen in Japan, etc. While an incorrectly labelled unit, like a misplaced “inch” or “dollar,” may seem perfectly innocuous, keep in mind that your ultimate goal is always converting your leads to make a sale. And would you yourself ever purchase something from a brand that seemed at all unclear about how much a product costs, or its dimensions? 

A collage of currency bills from different countries.

Another method is to include multiple units in each descriptor, along the lines of “…ten feet (3.048 meters) long.” Alternately, you can try using units that are less technical and more descriptive: “…for a half decade…” or “…within eyesight of your storefront…” etc. These give you a little more wiggle room for specifics and work well in video content, where an overabundance of technical language isn’t always beneficial. 

Ears Wide Open

As you begin following these steps to create accessible international content, the most important thing will be for your brand to stay flexible. Whether your team is concentrated in one place or if you’re working with translators around the globe, be prepared to act decisively when a flaw in your content is pointed out – an open line of communication is the best way to address issues as they arise. 

Don’t forget, with international markets you can never be 100% certain that your content translates perfectly. Language and culture are just too vast, too malleable, and too unpredictable to pin down with absolute accuracy. So always keep your brand open to the possibility of making mistakes, and then act on those mistakes to improve for the future. By doing so, you will create video content with genuine international appeal, and connect with countless new audiences that are already waiting for a brand like yours. 

Leland F.

Leland F.