One of the biggest challenges for American brands, teams and leagues today is literally getting lost in translation. As sport continues to expand globally, understanding culture, language and tradition becomes more and more important, and with the advent of social media, the ability to make a misstep and be deemed “the ugly American” can happen in seconds, with huge amounts of time and money being spent to help right the faux pas.
We see it constantly in the Latino space, where teams or leagues or even athletes try to reach the “Hispanic” audience and throw “Los” on something and play some mariachi music without really understanding if they are marketing or speaking to the culture in Brazil (where you are better off with Portuguese and even Japanese), Argentina, Puerto Rico, Mexico or even Spain. One team’s “Spanish” is not the same for everyone. The sports that do it best in the Hispanic or Latino world remain in soccer and are growing more in basketball in baseball, where the sport itself is part of the culture. It is a growing embrace, but total understanding and marketing to each part of a cultural base is still costly and years away.
As American sport looks east, to Asia, especially, the challenges become even more daunting, albeit enticing. You have not just spoken language and cultural issues but written language issues, as well as select governments that carefully control the use of social media, often times the prime engagement vehicle when going in-country. China presents one of the biggest challenges and opportunities.
Key social media channels like Facebook and Twitter are blocked, so it’s hard for athletes, teams, leagues, and agencies around the world to tap into the this growing market. In turn, the leagues need to find strategic ways to engage in the space that are both seamless and respectful of all going on around them in real time, as one misstep can have devastating results.
One recent launch we have been watching is KAWO, a social media management tool that helps businesses repurpose and automate existing social media content onto Chinese channels like Weibo and WeChat, which launched a sports-specific portal early in the spring.
Founded by Australian entrepreneur Andrew Collins, the Shanghai-based social media agency gives brands digital access to over 600 million people by automatically pulling their existing Facebook and Twitter content onto a central dashboard, where moderators translate and then push it via KAWO directly on a brand’s Chinese social network accounts.
While many large properties like the NBA and MLB have invested large dollars into building up a presence with staff in China, other emerging sports and entertainment properties and leagues will not have the ability to do so because of financial constraints, yet the opportunity for engagement in the market with millions of interested consumers exists. That’s where a platform like KAWO can provide benefit; it clears the social barriers and carefully orchestrates the buzz and the content into a form that is respectful, efficient and monetizable. While we all may understand that English is the international language of business, speaking to an emerging consumer in their language, with the right nuance, is irreplaceable.
Will platforms like KAWO attain scale, or will there be more efficient copy-cat platforms, or ones that large scale media companies and leagues can launch on their own to attain a similar level of service? Possibly. However for the here and now, and we are all about here and now, a service like this to speak proactively and smartly to the growing Asian consumer market could be an interesting investment, and one certainly to watch as we continue to go more global. While staying true locally.