February 20, 2020 - Scale

Connecting with your audience in a multilingual market

It goes without saying that, as a brand, you should speak your customer’s language. Figuratively but also literally. When it is literally, then, how do you approach multilingual markets? As a brand doing business in a multilingual market, you need to ask yourself the question of how you communicate and in which language.

At Duke & Grace, for one, we opted for English as our lingua franca, allowing us to communicate nationally while also servicing clients abroad. Are you also facing this challenge? Here are 3 tips to help you sharpen your marketing and communication strategies in that context:    

1. Stay culturally relevant

As a new study by Magna reveals, a consumer’s buying decision depends for 25% on how culturally involved a brand is. Cultural involvement is defined as a mix of traditional culture (traditions, family, heritage, language, religion, celebrations…), pop culture (music, arts, tv/movies, fashion, social trends, celebrities…) and current affairs (sports, current events, politics).

Let’s state the obvious: as united as Belgium can be, speaking of a true national culture is something to take with a pinch of salt. Cultural and linguistic references can vary a lot between Wallonia, Brussels and Flanders. Ask somebody in Wallonia whether they know who Jeroen Meus is and they’ll most likely say no. Mention the Taloches brothers to a Flemish person and the answer probably won’t be any different.

“Let’s state the obvious: as united as Belgium can be, speaking of a true national culture is something to take with a pinch of salt.”

On top of this, the cultural influences of your audience can also be found outside of the territory. When taking the example of Belgium, it shows how important extraterritorial connections are in defining cultural identities. Walloons tend to identify more with French people. Flemish people are closer to the Dutch. And it also works the other way round. Netflix France recently collaborated with Belgian photographer and filmmaker Charlotte Abramow to promote the new season of their series “Sex Education” with a sex education guide. Proof that the line can sometimes be much thinner between countries than it is within itself.

Our advice: consider all the audiences your campaign will reach as soon as ideation and conceptualization. This way you make sure that the concept for your campaign or general communication is nationally encompassing or can be easily adapted on all sub-markets. The best way to achieve all this is to let an insider do the job. They will have the best insights into the local culture and will help steer your campaign accordingly.    

2. Watch your language

Since language is profoundly marked and shaped by culture, the way you communicate should reflect your understanding of your (sub-)market. Plus, connecting can be easier if you address your audience in their language. Of course, if your audience is more likely to be international, then English is a no brainer. But there are certain sectors, contexts, audiences for which this is not the way to go. 

Research from Eurobarometer suggests that EU consumers expect brands’ communication in their country to be in their country’s official languages. So, in the context of setting up a campaign with its own baseline or changing the slogan of your brand, don’t just translate. Think beyond words. Consider the specific way a language describes the world.

The culprit? Linguistics. And simply because of where languages come from and how they have evolved over time. As a Germanic and synthetic language, Dutch (or Flemish) depicts situations differently than French, a Romance and analytical language, does. Typically, this will result in different idioms, word associations and sentence constructions. What it boils down to is that you should primarily think of the idea you want to convey and see how a particular language expresses it.

But what about English, then? As previously mentioned, it really depends on your target audience and what you want to express. If you think English conveys your brand values through a baseline in a way other languages can’t, by all means. But don’t just do it for the gimmick. Just like what the Walloon Agency for Road Safety did with their “Rouler tranquille, c’est chill” campaign. It turned out that only 65% of people understood its meaning because of the usage of the English word “chill”. Not really the point of a public campaign, is it? 

3. Strike a happy medium

Beside the question of the language comes the question of the medium. And mostly of its limitations. If we’re talking about traditional social media, we see that the one platform is not the other. While Facebook allows to push linguistically relevant (organic) posts based on the user’s language settings and location, Instagram and Twitter simply don’t. So, what does it entail for your content creation?

When looking at different social management tactics applied by (inter)national brands active in Belgium, it appears that there are a variety of ways of addressing Belgiumʼs multilingualism. Let’s however leave out the options that don’t make the most optimal use of the medium, such as making a bilingual post on Facebook. For each channel, you can find the preferred option (in bold), the reason why it is recommended and an illustrated example.

Facebook allows you to create two language-based interfaces of your brand’s page while managing only one general account. It therefore seems recommended to use that functionality. It also prevents you from cluttering your page with double posts. In terms of reporting, you will still be able to see the performance of your posts per language.

- 1 general page - everything in English

- 1 general page - language-targeted posts

- 1 general page - double posting

- 1 general page - two languages per post

Twitter is a highly interactive platform and your community management should mirror that.

Again, to avoid the confusion created by double posts on your Twitter feed, consider creating a Twitter account per language. It will allow you to be more tailored and relevant in your communication and reactions.

- 1 general page - everything in English

- 1 general page - double posting

- 2 pages - one per language  

Instagram, while being extremely visual, is also very contextual. Having two languages per post allows you to avoid two pictures or videos posted one after the other on your Instagram feed. So, make sure to post content that is relevant for all sub-markets. Also, try to work with visual-only content, so as not to have copy in several languages on your image.

- 1 general page - everything in English

- 2 pages - one per language

- 1 general page - two languages per post

“No matter which scenario you decide to implement, consistency should always be your rule of thumb. ”

Have you started to post images on Instagram with a bilingual description? Stick to that. Are you posting twice on Twitter, once in French and once in Dutch? Do the same for your next Tweet. There’s nothing more detrimental for your brand than telling your story in an inconsistent way.

So, whichever language your posts are in, make sure your community manager(s) can react to people’s comments, queries and concerns in the language they used themselves. Be it Dutch, French and/or English.

Speak your mind

In general, there are as many ways of approaching the multilingual issue as there are brands to promote, products and services to advertize and audiences to address. By now, however, best practices have been distilled through trial and error and from experience from the market. The most important for your brand is to see what applies to your reality and build your marketing and communication strategies from there. 

Make sure to establish clear guidelines (tone of voice, multichannel strategy, content creation…) that can be followed by anyone communicating on behalf of your brand. This extra effort in thinking things through will go a long way.

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