Merry Global Christmas, or 13 Days that Messed Up a Campaign

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!It’s Christmas eve today in many countries around the world. Companies of all sorts and sizes use this opportunity globally to boost their end-of-year revenues. Our imaginary friends from Healthsoft Inc. (Marta, Lisa, and Erin) have also been working on a multilingual Christmas-themed campaign. However, it didn’t really work out as they expected. Was quality to blame for low performance, or was it something else? Read on to learn all about it.

It’s early November. Marta, Senior Regional Marketing Manager for German-speaking countries (DACH) at Healthsoft, is both excited and a bit stressed out – and not because of the weather. Her team has shown outstanding performance in the last quarter, and because of this, she’s just been entrusted by her Global VP of Marketing to run their Christmas promo campaign. However, this time, it’s not only for her own geography but also for 19 other countries across all of Europe and Asia. In many of them, Healthsoft doesn’t have any local marketing staff at all. In other words, Marta’s now responsible for Christmas pretty much everywhere Healthsoft is selling their products (except Americas). And she’d better be ready to bring in the numbers once December is over…

First thing Marta does is call Erin, Healthsoft’s Localization Director. Marta explains to Erin that she will need support – lots of support. Despite her seniority, Marta has never before run projects on such a global scale, and she figured out Erin and her in-house Localization team must be doing it all the time. Luckily, Erin is more than willing to help, and promises to assign her best Localization Project Manager, Peter, to this project, as well as oversee it personally – despite being busy with several high-profile product localization projects that will be ready to launch in Q1 next year, as well as ramping up the Machine Translation program for Healthsoft’s Customer Service content.

Next is Peter’s turn. He is certain that in order to succeed, he will need to have their Language Services Partner, TransMe, fully aligned with the goals and process for this global campaign. In a regular situation, he would have just approached their account manager at TransMe. But now, the schedule is tight and end-of-year marketing KPIs are at stake. Peter’s been working with Lisa, TransMe’s Quality Manager, before, and thinks he might be able to help. He gives Lisa a call, and together they are able to agree on the requirements and draft out a quality assurance process for this project. Lisa takes up the job to document all of this and discuss/approve with TransMe’s production team.

The next morning, the final project plan sits in the mailbox with Peter, Erin, and Marta. TransMe is proposing a transcreation approach for all countries and languages, including English for UK/Ireland, South Africa, India, and Australia/New Zealand. The US HQ’s original Christmas campaign idea, which is based around the images of hospital staff and outpatients playing baseball among piles of snow, is very unlikely to work without adaptation. Even though the localization investment is higher than usual, Marta approves the quote without hesitation. She badly needs this global Christmas content to be as effective is possible.

Fast forward 3 weeks to late November. After intense teamwork, the global campaign for 22 countries is ready in 14 languages. All the quality assurance steps have been passed, all minor issues were rectified, and Marta’s ready to launch. The campaign is supposed to be running for the whole of Advent up to the Christmas Day, so there are 25 different sets of touches – one for each day. Happy to have the campaign finally ready, Marta flips the switch on Dec 1st.

Carefully prepared Christmas-themed multilingual content starts trickling down the designated distribution channels for all countries. Marta monitors conversion rates every day, and things are looking good so far. On Dec 13, Friday, a couple of seemingly campaign-related comments from social networks in Russia and Egypt (both important consumer markets for Healthsoft) do reach her. However, nobody on her team speaks those languages, and Marta figures the comments are safe to ignore…

On Dec 28, Marta is chatting to her marketing counterpart in Poland, Agnieszka, about how the campaign went for them. Agnieszka is happy: the results for her market were great, and she’s already planning for the holidays, meeting some old friends coming over from Ukraine to visit her in Warsaw. She mentions that her friends will only be around for a week because they must be home before Christmas time on Jan 7th… Christmas, in January?!

Marta suddenly realizes that they’ve screwed up with Orthodox Christmas, big time. Her Christmas campaign is already over, and all the nicely transcreated and approved content has been pushed out. But there are still 9 days to go until Christmas in Ethiopia, Russia, Egypt, and a bunch of other countries on her list! There’s no way she can recover from this quickly, and no way she’ll now get to the required numbers in these countries (which have already been less than stellar during the past quarter). “Oh god, how am I going to explain this to my VP?”

Luckily for her, the global company all-hands meeting comes on January 5th. Healthsoft’s President announces that the VP of Sales for EMEA & APAC has stepped down over the New Year, and they are now looking for a replacement. In the meanwhile, Healthsoft will be concentrating all Sales & Marketing efforts and key personnel on the Americas region for Q1. It means that Marta’s Global VP is now going to be too busy to dig into what happened to her campaign. Phew! That’s a true miracle for her. Now she can analyze in detail what happened, find the root cause, and make sure she will never ever repeat such a mistake again…

Merry Global Christmas and a Happy Multilingual New Year to all our readers! We wish for your content to be always of the optimal quality, to achieve all your business KPIs, and to bring the best possible Return on Investment. May your team’s cross-cultural expertise and your trusted partners guide you on a path to avoid costly blunders such as the one faced by Marta, Erin, Lisa despite their best intentions!

Transparency in digital globalization programs: why and how?

Strive for transparency in your global content supply chain Last week, we talked about the importance of being Lean for your digital globalization initiatives. However, this is not the only aspect to consider when optimizing multilingual content from a complex global supply chain for maximum effectiveness and quality. Transparency is also critically important for content quality. Let me explain why.

I’ve long noticed that people from different backgrounds, vocations, and levels of expertise often have difficulties when trying to realize the existence of impenetrable, invisible walls that exist between different parts of their global content supply chain (not to mention the negative impact these walls have on their resulting global content). They are simply not aware of the extent and complexity of the end-to-end process and the intricate relationships between its individual parts that influence the resulting whole. This leads to a “black-box” or “throw it over the wall” approach, where each person taking part in a process has very little idea of what happens before her, or after her. Here’s how this total lack of transparency might look like from outer space to an inquisitive observer.

Lack of transparency: an elephant in a dark room

Picture your global content creation process as a long line of people who are all queueing up behind each other in a room that’s fully dark. Pitch black. If you’re in the middle of this queue, you would have no way to make out the facial features of the person standing in front of you. Is is a woman? Is it a man? No idea.

But that’s not all. Each of these people in the line actually has their mouth gagged, so the only type of sound they can realistically make is a soft grunting noise. Not very helpful when trying to communicate to each other, is it? And even worse – if those people could talk freely, they would very soon discover that they are all talking different languages, Tower of Babel style.

The are two doors in this room. Every now and then, the first door opens. There’s no light on the other side, of course. A hand extends from the door and passes an object to the first person in line. It’s really hard to say what kind of object this is (it’s pitch dark, remember?). The only certainty is that it’s BURNING HOT – so the first person cannot hold on to it for more than a couple of seconds. She pats the next one on the shoulder with her free hand and passes the object on to him…

And so on and so forth, until the last person in the room is reached. She is standing right before the second door. She reaches for the door knob, opens the door, throws the object out hastily, and closes the door again. It’s all black on the other side of the door, and no sound ever reaches back to the room. Neither she nor anyone else has any idea of what happens to the object afterward.

That’s the only kind of interaction the unfortunate people in this room ever have – touching hands, passing down the object, making soft disgruntled noises along the way. To them, that’s what life is all about. They have no idea WHY they are doing all of this. Boy, imagine how they must dream that somebody turns on the lights!

Or maybe not. In fact, many don’t even realize that light exists, because they have never ever seen it.

As you probably have guessed by now, this room is your typical run-of-the-mill global content supply chain with a content authoring & localization process spanning multiple teams and organizations. Looks sad, doesn’t it? But fear not: we actually don’t have to accept the status quo!

It’s about time we help the global content industry, both the authoring/copywriting part and the translation/localization part, find the light switch in this dark room and flip it.

Yes, it will take deliberate and persistent effort even in the best of the organizations to achieve the right level of transparency, but the results are, as you can probably imagine, totally worth it. Let me share a blueprint for a set of floodlights that you could install in this big dark room of yours. They will help increase transparency in your global content supply chain and enable everyone involved to work together more efficiently on creating high-quality global content that drives your business KPIs.

3 tips to increase transparency in your global content supply chain

  1. Share the purpose and goals for each piece of content (in addition to your overall content strategy) with the extended team
    • It’s not surprising that people perform better on a team when they share a common strategy, common goals, and a common understanding of them. This applies to both strategic and tactical levels.
    • When explaining your goals, remember to focus first on the “why?” part (the “how?” comes later). Why are we creating this marketing campaign, and how is it supposed to contribute to our sales this month? Why are we localizing this software product of ours into Farsi this quarter? Why are we writing a bunch of Knowledge Base articles around this particular customer issue?
    • As before, remember to cover both people or teams who write in your original language AND the people who adapt to other languages/cultures/geographies. This includes both company staff and any external partners you engage. Digital globalization is always like a beefed up version of tango – it takes much more than 2 to succeed.
  2. Take time to educate every role in your supply chain on what happens before and after them
  3. Collect and publish data on the effectiveness (quality) of your global content to your entire supply chain
    • It’s certainly true that few things are more demotivating than learning that a content masterpiece you wrote or translated actually had very little impact on the company’s business, end users or readers.
    • However, the opposite is also very true: there is hardly anything more pleasing and motivating than being part of a huge success, sharing it openly with the entire team, and allowing everyone who contributed to get credit.
    • Here’s the best part about it: Actual performance of your content is less important than the act of giving timely feedback to your supply chain. Feedback enables your team to learn on their mistakes and reinforce the best practices. This ultimately ensures continuous improvement for your digital globalization program.
    • Not all feedback is actionable, of course. That is why it’s so important to connect and link your content performance/quality metrics from all levels. Only this way your team can detect correlations, discover root causes, and gain valuable insights.


Does the problem of transparency (or, rather, lack of it) also plague your content authoring and localization processes? How do you currently try to combat it, and what results you’ve had so far? Will be glad to hear from you in the comments section.

Lean, applied to your (mean) global content machine

Yet another meaning of the term Lean
Yet another meaning of the term Lean

“Lean”. A trendy buzzword recently. Everyone and their mother seem to try on being “lean”, as if it were a new pair of shoes that you try on in a boutique (and, in many cases, never buy in the end). Yet, what does “lean” actually mean? Specifically, how does it apply to those of us in the realm of global content – be it marketing or technical or legal, in Latvian, English, Arabic, or Norwegian? Or, perhaps, even in all those languages at once? (in which case, do we automatically qualify as being L.E.A.N.? 🙂 Let me share a story that might be helpful to understand one of many original Lean quality management techniques called Value Stream Mapping, and suggest how to fit it into our world.

Customer Value-Add, Business Value-Add, and Non Value-Add

Imagine you’re in a bookstore. A traditional, brick-and-mortar bookstore. You’re strolling around the store without any particular need, just looking at the shelves randomly. Then a particular magazine catches your eye.

It’s an old-school magazine – not the fancy digital kind that you can keep on your tablet by the dozen nowadays. No, it’s a magazine that’s thick, heavy, printed on glossy paper, fresh off the press, with a faint smell still radiating from its pages. Intrigued by a catchy headline, you take the magazine off the shelf and start flipping the pages.

First thing you see: a huge ad taking the entire double-page spread. It’s an ad for a new sports car from a globally famous brand. You don’t really care much for fancy sports cars, but at this point, you’re probably OK with seeing that ad. You realize: ads help keep the magazine running by helping the publisher pay their bills.

That’s exactly what Lean calls “Business Value-Add”, or BVA. That is, activities that aren’t directly bringing any benefit to the customer, but that are essential to keeping the overall business processes operating smoothly. Take them away, and things will inevitably fall apart – the product might never even make it to the customer.

You continue flipping through the magazine pages. More ads, large and small, greet you on each spread. You slowly start to get frustrated. It takes you 7 flips before you get to the headline article. “Aha!”, you say to yourself. “Finally, found it!” You start reading, and it turns out to be quite interesting indeed… now why didn’t I ever think about this idea before… hmm… hmm…

You return to reality only after another visitor accidentally bumping into you. “Sorry!” Taking a look at your watch, you realize that 10 minutes have flown by while you were absorbed by the article, and you’re already running late for your dentist appointment. But boy that sure was a good read! You make a mental note to look for this author online. Perhaps she has a blog I can subscribe to?

That’s exactly what Lean calls “Customer Value-Add”, or CVA. That is, activities that shape and mold and change your inputs/work-in-progress items in a way to provide tangible, visible, and important benefits to the customer. Take them all away, and the resulting product will likely remain useless for your client – even if it meets your own business needs and processes perfectly.

By this point, you realize that you’re still holding the magazine in your hands. Since you’ve already spent a fair deal of time with it and it’s hard to let go – perhaps there are more great articles like that in the remaining part? – you decide to purchase it. You pay at the counter and toss the magazine into your backpack only to forget about it until the evening.

Once you’re at home flipping the pages again, you notice that something is stuck between the last two. “Oh my, what’s that? Looks like an envelope.” You try to tear it off since it’s obscuring your view of the last few paragraphs of an article you’re trying to finish. “How did it get here? Yuck! It’s STICKY! Must be some kind of glue. Ewwww… I’ll never get it off my hands now. Who the hell had the idea of putting it here?!?”

Finally, you manage to tear the sticky envelope off your fingers. However, a large chunk of the magazine page was also torn out in the process, and now it’s stuck to the envelope. With the text facing inwards. Now you’ll never learn how the article ended…

As you might have guessed by now, that’s what Lean calls “Non-Value Add”, or NVA. These are activities in your process that do not generate any value neither for the customer nor for the business. And in some cases, they might even be harmful, just like with this magazine example of ours. A related, though somewhat wider, Lean concept is “waste”. The classical Lean Manufacturing theory identifies 7 deadly wastes – read all about them here.

Putting it into practice: 7 steps to Lean epiphany

In Lean, analyzing your process and categorizing each step into either Customer Value-Add (CVA), Business Value-Add (BVA), or Non Value-Add (NVA) is known as Value Stream Mapping. It’s one of the core techniques in the Lean measurement toolbox and can be leveraged to optimize all kinds of processes in various business situations.

Now, knowing these Lean basics, how can we actually apply them to our global content supply chain? Here’s a quick overview:

  1. Define and frame the problem with your global content that you’re trying to solve
    • For example, let’s assume that you’re trying to increase the ROI of your global marketing campaigns.
    • You agree up front with your stakeholders that your primary focus is going to be reducing the I (Investment) part since that’s what’s currently more important strategically.
  2. Create a visual map of the process used in your organization to deliver global content
    • It’s important to capture the entire horizontal scope – that is, all process steps in each part of your global content supply chain, regardless of the organizational and team boundaries.
      • In particular, remember to cover both authoring/copywriting AND transcreation/localization. Each of these sub-processes is equally important to delivering high-impact global content.
      • If you’re outsourcing some parts of your process, talk to your vendors and request their help in order to map what they’re doing as well. Often, companies might not even realize the kind of activities that happen on their vendor’s side and the impact they might have on costs and returns.
    • Be careful not to go too deep with the vertical scope – that is, into the level of micro-processes and individual operations.
      • If you’re starting to see individual mouse clicks or keypresses in your process map, it’s a sure sign you’re taking it too far 🙂
  3. Gather quantitative data on each step of the process and add it to the process map
    • Although a process map is a helpful tool by itself, it’s only with numbers and metrics that it becomes a full-blown Value Stream Map and allows to uncover really powerful insights.
      • Durations, number of cycles, waiting times, and costs are some examples of numeric data that could be gathered at this stage.
    • For global content production, a few important quantitative metrics to look at could be the number and the magnitude of edits (changes) done to the content as it transitions from one step to the next.
      • Think about an editor fixing what the author originally wrote, or an in-country reviewer making amends to a translation of a content piece that an editor has previously worked on in the original language.
  4. Categorize each step as Customer Value-Add (CVA), Business-Value Add (BVA), or Non-Value Add (NVA)
    • Once you have the right data, it should be relatively easy to do this if you ask the right questions:
      • Does the step reduce financial or compliance risks, or help keep the process going? If yes, it might be a BVA
      • Does the step enable a competitive advantage (e.g. lower price or faster time-to-market), or would the customer pay us more if they knew we were doing this? If yes, this might be a CVA
      • Does the step show potential for elimination/reduction, or would the customer ask us to STOP doing it if they knew we do it? If yes, this might be a NVA (or a Waste)
    • Remember to do this exercise in a cross-functional group, so that you don’t accidentally throw away any hidden value.
  5. Decide where to focus your improvement efforts
    • It might be tempting to try and improve the Value-Add steps. However, Lean practice shows that it’s often Non Value-Add that’s worth looking at first since these are often overlooked and under-optimized.
    • Thus, it might be easier to accomplish an improvement to Non Value-Add steps than a corresponding improvement to Value-Add steps.
  6. Analyze the focus area for possible improvements
    • Remember to think about the purpose of each step, the place where it happens, the sequence of activities, the person doing it, and the means used to deliver it.
    • Consider the 7 deadly wastes of Lean, how they would apply to the focus area, and how to avoid them.
    • Say, if you find out that a particular step in your process has never ever generated ANY changes to the global content being produced, perhaps this step could be a candidate for elimination?
      • This also applies for any step that tries to add the same type of changes – or perform the same type of quality checks – as any previous one.
    • Or, if another step in your process is always generating the same type/nature of edits, it might be a good candidate for rearranging (e.g. by generalizing the changes into an instruction and moving it upstream into the previous steps in the supply chain) or simplification (e.g. automating this quality assurance step and significantly reducing the cost).
  7. Apply the improvement idea on your next project and measure the results
    • In many cases, you won’t really know if you got it right or not until you have the data on your hands to confirm it.

Next time when you’re challenged with a problem in your global content strategy, consider applying some of these Lean principles to identify the bottleneck and collaboratively devise and test a solution. Let us know how this approach works – we’ll be happy to hear from you and support you if you need help.

What global content pros could learn from designers (hint: Customer Centricity)

Previously, we’ve looked at the challenges that Erin, Lisa, and Marta face on their quest to deliver high-quality, effective multilingual content for Healthsoft, Inc. Today, we explore how a designer mindset can help overcome some of those challenges, and outline specific steps to make your global content quality management program truly customer-centric.

some tools of the design processContent as Design: User Needs vs Business Needs

Have you ever thought about the difference between design and art, or designers and artists? It seems that many people often confuse the two. Yet there’s a very strong, fundamental divide between them:

Designers solve problems. Artists express their personalities.

The same perspective can be easily applied to content creation and localization. In a commercial setting, content is rarely, if ever, commissioned just for the sake of unleashing the creative spirit of its authors, reviewers, translators, and all other people that collaborate to publish it. Ideally, each piece of content (be it a caption for a button in the mobile app UI, a video ad on TV, a technical manual, a landing page on a website, or a legal contract) has behind it a specific purpose and serves a specific need.

Now, designers know very well that there are two types of needs: those of the people who will use the product, and those of the company that will create and sell the product. They work very hard to balance user needs and business needs when solving design problems. No design can be considered “good” unless it is able to reach and maintain this (often fragile) balance. To make this balancing act easier, specific design criteria are established to evaluate the quality of each design in a more objective fashion and guide subsequent iterations.

While design criteria may include a number of different things, they are usually NOT focused purely on aesthetics. Instead, designers ask themselves (and the people around them): “Does my design solve the users’ problem in a way that’s viable and feasible for the business?” Granted, there’s always a lot of room for self-expression and personality to shine through. However, those factors are rarely the key criterion that distinguishes “high-quality design” from “low-quality design”. After all, that’s exactly why design is not art.

Contrasting Monolingual and Bilingual Worlds

Let’s now venture back from the world of design to the world of digital content, specifically multilingual global content. What do we see?

First, let’s check out those parts of the global content supply chain that are mostly working in a monolingual context: content marketers, copywriters, technical communicators, instructional designers, and – partially – user experience designers.

  • Their processes seem to be pretty well aligned with the notion of “quality as effectiveness”, as found in the world of design.
  • They are usually quite proficient at measuring the impact of their content on the readers by using outcome-based KPIs as primary quality metrics.
  • These quality metrics often include campaign conversions, clickthrough rates, learning effectiveness, problem resolution rates, user scenario completion/error rates, and customer satisfaction.
  • However, they are rarely concerned about how their content performs in another language or culture. And even if they are, they wouldn’t understand how to improve its bad performance or how to capitalize upon good performance.

Now, let’s take a look at those parts of the global supply chain that are mostly working in a bilingual context: translators, localization managers, translation quality managers, in-country reviewers, software localization testers, etc.

  • Their processes seem to assume (and of course, I’m oversimplifying here): if source content is high quality and we faithfully replicate that content in another language, then translated content is also going to be high quality.
  • They usually approach this by implementing translation-level quality metrics (for example, around language rules, terminology, or accuracy) and arranging the processes to measure and improve them.
  • They know very well how to make their multilingual content better. However, they are rarely concerned by how these metrics actually correlate with meaningful business outcomes driven by this content.

To me, this situation with dual views of quality in the global content supply chain is a bit like a two-headed monster (and no, I don’t mean the one from the Muppets). Each head is looking in its own direction, and they are not talking to each other. Each head is trying to pull the body to one side, and as a result, nobody gets anywhere.

7 Steps to Make The Most of Content Quality Metrics

I think about time we help the two monster’s heads start talking to each other. Or, if you wish, arrange a strategic marriage between members of those two slightly hostile factions. Here’s one way how this could be done:

  1. Remember that all business content, whatever the language, is created for a purpose.
    • If this purpose is not being fulfilled, it means that content is likely low quality – regardless of what translation metrics might say.
    • However, if this purpose is met, on the other hand, then the quality is at least good enough.
    • Whether to improve quality further or not is a separate decision and requires extra analysis.
  2. Use the same set of customer-focused, outcome-based KPIs as the final, highest level measure of content quality in ALL languages (= not just for your source language).
    • Keep in mind that different content types have different customer-centric quality (or effectiveness) metrics. What would work for an email campaign might not work for an e-learning course.
    • Often these would be lagging metrics. That is, you won’t get good data until after you publish the content.
    • Comparing this data across languages will enable you to pinpoint the weakest and the strongest performing locales in your global content strategy, and help focus your improvement efforts.
  3. For each language (including your source language), collect interim content quality KPIs of different types, levels, and from different data sources.
    • Many of these are leading metrics – you can get them before you make the content publicly available.
    • There are many examples of such metrics and evaluation approaches: human and machine, holistic and atomistic, review-based and testing-based, bilingual or monolingual, etc.
    • There is no single approach that works universally. For localization, TAUS Dynamic Quality Framework (DQF) recommends dynamically choosing the evaluation method based on content type.
    • Typically, global content programs have a mix of different content quality data sources within relatively easy reach.
  4. Correlate interim metrics with final metrics for the equivalent content and language.
    • This will uncover patterns and provide insights for further deep analysis.
    • However, be careful: correlation (the fact that 2 metrics have similar trends) doesn’t always mean causation (the fact that one metric directly influences the other)
  5. For selected languages, perform root cause analysis to identify the factors that affect final metrics most strongly.
    • Remember to look both at positive influence (drivers) and negative influence (inhibitors).
  6. Rearrange authoring & localization processes to leverage drivers and negate inhibitors.
    • Careful, controlled changes are key to make sure that no external forces can distort the outcome.
  7. Evaluate the results via final metrics and plan the next experiment accordingly.
    • The quest to deliver higher quality global content for less investment never ends.
    • Using the right tools for the job helps make the process easier, but, as with any other complex process, it needs people to be effective and efficient.

How does the content quality management process work across languages in your organization, and how do you enable its continuous improvement? Please share in the comments.