In today’s digital age, hyper-personalized, omnichannel marketing will soon be the foundation of customer experiences in virtually any industry – and of global companies, across continents. Companies that market to international audiences must use data and buyer personas to understand customers’ behavioral patterns, decide which channels to invest in, deploy locally, and ensure they budget for the necessary technologies to do so ahead of their competitors.

We all know digital channels are essential to a modern marketing strategy, but they’re only worth exploring if you’re willing to shift technology budgets to drive the optimal customer experience. Based on developments from last year, here are a few predictions about how tech will impact global brands and evolve multilingual capabilities for top digital channels in 2018.

1. Owned

In a recent survey, W3Techs found that over 50 percent of websites use only English. That’s about double the amount of English people are actually looking for. Of the 3 billion people now online, 73 percent are non-English speakers who aren’t getting the content they need – Chinese content, for one, pales in comparison to the size of its market. But global firms have begun to realize this in moving their focus to thriving regions.

English used to be the language of the internet, but this is changing over time. At Lionbridge, we saw an uptick in demand for Chinese languages in 2017 and translated 10.6 million more Chinese (Simplified) words, making it our second target language behind U.S. English. We also outsourced 8.8 million more words for Slavic languages and 2.3 million more for Indic languages, the latter of which represent a booming consumer base with an urgent need for western tech, mobile, and consumer products. While we saw the biggest year-on-year decrease in demand for Metropolitan French, which dropped to third behind Chinese, we delivered work to 29 more languages than in 2016, bringing the grand total to 213.

Looking at the top 10 languages on the web, there’s still a big disparity between the content out there and the content needed – but an even bigger opportunity for international content in big markets like APAC countries. It all starts with owned content on your website.

Global companies have a variety of technologies at their disposal this year, depending on the complexity of the task – from simple document translation to multi-language transcreation – to close gaps between their products, services, and buyers. More often than not, there’s a whole spectrum of content types to cover, whether web copy, graphics, videos, or e-commerce listings. If they haven’t already, the leaders among us will turn to content management and translation management systems to organize and automate complicated, multifaceted projects, or translation memories for terminology consistency, or neural networks to convey contextual patterns in language.

2. Social

The key to transforming yourself into a global brand is a continuous listening program. Social media listening has become the tool of choice for understanding what people think about a brand’s offerings. But if you want to establish a global presence, it’s no good listening to just one language or one social platform.

In the U.S. market, approximately one fifth of the population is non-native English speakers, who are likely posting on social networks in their native language.  Because of this, there are fewer comparison points to identify why your product works better in one market versus another or why your brand reputation and relevance varies. It doesn’t allow you to identify who your competitors are in other markets. If you don’t listen to customers in their native language, or across the world, you’re missing out on a big chunk of potential buyers. But up until now, most companies haven’t.

In a large multilingual company, you can expect other languages to constitute 50 percent or more of your customer base. Listening to four, six, 10, even 20 languages is the only way to gather the global insight you need to gain local relevance, and the necessary technologies are already out there. Take social media sentiment analysis: Technologies like natural language processing (NLP), an application of artificial intelligence, can uncover positive or negative emotions among users’ mentions of a brand and allow for targeted segmentation. In addition, social platforms have started offering their own multilingual tools to help companies communicate effectively with particular regions: Facebook’s Global Pages, for example. Companies will need to tap into the most popular platform in their target region, understand its specific tools, and craft their message accordingly.

However, digital channels are two-dimensional – meaning they aren’t location-specific, and expose a brand’s digital properties to customers and prospects in many locations and languages. Social listening and sentiment analysis is difficult in one language, but will be exponentially harder in several. Smart brands can follow the lead of cutting-edge hospitality providers, for example, which track news events in multiple languages and cultural contexts to see if future bookings might rise or fall.

3. Search

In a survey from 2017, Econsultancy and Adobe asked marketers: Looking ahead, which do you regard as the most exciting prospect for 2020? The top three responses paint an interesting picture. The ability to engage audiences through virtual or augmented reality, harness the internet of things and connected devices like wearables, and utilize artificial intelligence and bots to drive campaigns and experiences they all have a key element in common: voice.

A rapid rise of digital assistants, mobile apps, machine learning, and IoT is revolutionizing organic search. By 2020, an estimated 200 billion voice queries (up from 50 billion in 2015) will constitute 50 percent of all searches, ranging from general questions to product research, as people grow more comfortable with voice search. Voice recognition itself is growing in sophistication – Google and others have achieved over 90 percent. Apple’s HomePod is joining Amazon Echo, Google Home, Siri, Cortana, and other digital assistants in the race to capitalize on this already crowded market, and companies will need to adapt their SEO strategies – or more specifically, digital assistant search optimization strategies – to be visible to them.

Today, it’s no longer about ranking on page one. It’s about ranking for position zero. When a user makes a search query, search engines pull only one result. Global brands should take this seriously in 2018. There is even more incentive to use rich snippets and structured data – not to mention geo-targeting, to ensure content matches the right visitors’ search habits and intent in the right markets – to enhance your chance of winning the top spot. Not only that, but Google now penalizes sites for bad machine translations, so there can be no shortcuts in translating search terms on your site, or your site itself.

4. Display

About half the world is now online; and increasing proportions of international markets spend most of their time consuming content on mobile, a prime channel for locally relevant display advertising.

Last year, Google rolled out Smart display campaigns (SDCs) to help marketers get optimal returns from ads across the Google Display Network, which now offer a vast (and effort-intensive) number of settings and options to narrow down unlimited amounts of data. SDCs train machine learning algorithms – a technology previously limited to analytics – to identify hidden patterns in this data and use them to create hyper-targeted advertising campaigns that drive the most value for the advertiser. While it can’t always be used independently, machine learning offers a unique opportunity to tailor ads with local information in real time. For example, in ecommerce, retailers use consumers’ browsing and purchasing histories along with localized content to make personalized recommendations for products in micro-markets.

While the human touch remains a cornerstone of effective media buying, artificial intelligence is allowing marketers to improve the efficiency and relevancy of their campaigns. Machine learning is projected to generate $42 billion in annual ad spend across real-time bidding networks by 2021. The best approach, to reach international markets that favor mobile content, will be to combine advanced targets with the big-picture insights of global media experts.

5. Chat

Traditionally, marketing teams owned everything up to the sale. But in this new age of digital experiences, customers’ pain points don’t end there. As their needs evolve, so does the necessity for marketing to work with customer care to provide seamless experiences throughout the buying cycle, no matter where the customer is located.

Multilingual support is a component often overlooked. The majority of service desks typically support one primary language – an ad-hoc solution that’s neither scalable nor sustainable. In other cases, customer care teams provide only over-the-phone interpretation, even though customers have increasingly shown preference for digital channels like email, SMS, forums, live chat, and most recently, chatbots. Even service desks that do adopt these channels don’t provide live support in multiple languages, which is crucial in an “always-on” era of self-service and lightning-fast query resolution.

A proliferation of new interaction points that global customers can use to inquire about products or services has given rise to a new skillset: training your bots to interact with your customers in their language. Global companies – even giants like Microsoft and Facebook – face fallout from shutting down bad bots after struggling to get large enough datasets to ensure their voice or text agents don’t deliver a bad experience. Other firms struggle to justify the need for native language talent.

Best-in-class companies are now adopting an omnichannel, real-time approach to customer care using AI-based, real-time translation technologies to enable multilingual communications. Leveraging these technologies will allow service desks to support languages that aren’t staffed for, provide broader service coverage, and support geographic expansion without hiring language talent. Virtual agents like chatbots – which now offer the same personalized experience as live agents – are widely considered the future of customer service.

Are companies ready to adapt?

It’s no wonder digital has invaded marketing like no other channel before it; the benefits are obvious. Digital platforms provide the means to listen to, understand, and add value to customers’ lives quicker and more cost-effectively. Every interaction has more meaning.

There’s no question that digital has transformed business – and customers’ relationships with businesses – for good. In many ways, the digital world continues to create new challenges in managing multilingual content. But for those willing to expand engagements with customers across channels, devices, and languages, digital spells increasingly unprecedented opportunity.

Executing globally, of course, means being mindful of various cultures’ values and preferences. This is how you build global brand loyalty. But adopting rapidly evolving customer experience capabilities is always more complex on a global scale, requiring a deep understanding of specialized procedures and best practices. Start by learning more about three of the most important tools for this year: digital assistant search optimization, geo-targeting, and multilingual social listening.