Adapting content for the U.S. market (presentation summary)
In this presentation delivered at tcworld 2014 in Stuttgart, Alan Pringle and Sarah O’Keefe discuss several factors that are required to adapt content for the US market. This presentation is especially relevant for European companies that want to enter the US market.
The primary language of the United States is English. For business-to-business sales, use of British English might be good enough, but consumer products typically need U.S. English. The more personal the product, the more important it is to get the nuances of culture and language exactly right. Cell phones, for example, are very personal whereas accounting software used in an office is less personal.
In addition to English, it’s important to take into account the other languages spoken in the U.S. Approximately 60 million people in the U.S. speak Spanish at home, and half of them don’t speak much English. (Source: slate.com article with lots of fascinating language maps)
Be very careful with culture references. The people and concepts that are immediately familiar in one culture are often unknown in a different culture. Even within a single country, there can be vast cultural differences–New York City residents have very little in common with Flagstaff, Arizona residents.
Regulatory requirements and legal issues
The U.S. regulates content for a few industries, such as aerospace, nuclear power, and medical devices. The regulatory framework in the European Union is much stronger. In the U.S., product defects and product liability are mainly handled through the legal system. Providing content with extensive warnings and cautions is often a defensive legal strategy rather than an attempt to deliver useful information.
The content standards that are commonly used in Germany are unknown in the U.S.
In an industrial setting in Germany, content providers can assume a certain level of training and/or certification. Germany has a strong apprenticeship program and vocational training. In the U.S., it is very common to have only minimal training in an industrial setting. It may be necessary to provide basic information in the U.S. content that is omitted for the better-trained German audience.
The audience for a U.S. product is likely to be more diverse than a European audience. Expect much wider variance in experience levels, language skills, literacy, education, and training.
A renewed focus on customer experience in the U.S. has led to the following assumptions:
- Technical content is not just post-sales content. Around 80% of U.S. customers research products before buying them, and their research often includes technical information. Therefore, technical content can drive (or hinder) sales.
- Repeat business is contingent on customer satisfaction. If the technical content delivered with the product is not of high quality, customers may think twice before buying again.
- The line between marketing content and technical content is blurring.
Technical content is often used in customer support. Consider the needs of the support organization in building out the technical content.
I’m intrigued by this statement, but also a bit baffled: “The content standards that are commonly used in Germany are unknown in the U.S.” Are you referring to DIN standards, or something else? Can you give an example of what you mean? Thanks.
I’m talking about content standards such as Funktionsdesign and PI-MOD. There’s also an ISO standard that Germans are always talking about (82079, I think).
At tcworld conference I learned about the ISO/IEC Guide 37:2012 “Instructions for use of products by consumers”. Do you have a recommendation about its importance for US documentation?
I am not aware of anyone in the US who is using Guide 37. I keep hearing about it in Germany, though! I think it could possibly serve as a useful set of guidelines, but “conformance to Guide 37:2012” would not be of much help in a legal defense.
thanks for <our opinion about this guide!