Two polyglots sit down for coffee and croissants in a cozy Berlin apartment.
“I try to speak Portuguese because I really like Brazilian music,” Erika explains in Portuguese.
“But why?” Matthew asks in Italian. “Because you like samba or bossa nova music, or do you like fado?”
“Well, I also like Portuguese music from Portugal, fado, but it’s very sad,” she responds, switching to Brazilian Portuguese.
“But it’s beautifully tragic,” Matthew says, this time in English.
The video, produced by Babbel—the world’s first language-learning app, founded in 2007—is part of a series that follows Matthew, who speaks nine languages fluently, in his multilingual adventures around the world.
The series started when Babbel recorded a monologue of Matthew speaking nine languages as part of an article titled “10 Tips and Tricks to Learn Any Language.” The clip currently has over 6.6 million YouTube views. Then the company introduced him to other polyglots, like Erika, to discuss how and why they dedicated their time to learn so many different tongues. Once Babbel found Matthew had a twin brother—they speak 20 languages combined—the company knew it had a special source of content. Subsequent videos and articles told the story of their secret language and followed the siblings as they attempted to learn a new language in just a week.
Babbel later sent Matthew to New York to explore different cultural heritages. In Brooklyn, he ate cheesecake with a French Ph.D. student and discussed the nuances of French culture. In Repertorio Español, a Spanish theater in Manhattan, Matthew spoke with two actors about how their plays expressed the challenges of making a home abroad. Finally, as part of “The Romanian Challenge,” Matthew learned Romanian with three other polyglots in just an hour.
Matthew’s video journey is not only fascinating to watch unfold, it’s inspiring. The clips make learning a language seem easier and more accessible. The subliminal message driving Babbel’s content strategy is: This could be you.
Translating stories into strategy
Babbel’s video strategy typically relies on two types of content: sensational and local.
Matthew’s clips represent the sensational stories (“Look at this person learn a language in an hour!”), which bring in organic traffic and rank well for SEO. According to Edward Wood, head of content marketing at Babbel, these videos resonate with a large audience and are thus broadly distributed to “the entire world.” The videos go up on the company’s online magazine, and subtitles are translated into six main languages: English, French, Spanish, Italian, German, and Portuguese.
From here, Babbel distributes videos and blog posts through social channels and newsletters for different languages. Stories that perform well get promoted through Outbrain and Taboola.
In addition to sensational stories, Babbel produces what Wood calls “self-referential” material—localized content that hones in on the specifics of a particular language or culture.
Babbel’s most popular self-referential content focuses on cultural gestures and pronunciation. In “Can you pronounce these 8 German words?” people try to wrap their tongues around words like “Schlittschuchlaufen” and “Funfhundertfunfundfunfzig.”
In another clip, volunteers try to interpret the meaning of Brazilian gestures that range from “You’re screwed” to “I think they’re together.” These videos, which each have hundreds of thousands of YouTube views, perform well on social channels, particularly Facebook, where Wood and his team can target the audience by location.
The two types of stories serve different purposes. One assists content discovery while the other sparks intrigue in a particular culture. Yet both story types face the same problem: The strict approval process that ensures subtitles and translations have zero errors (they are the language experts, after all) makes it hard for Babbel to create a steady flow of content.
“If we release something with an error, we’ll get crucified, so everything gets double- or triple-checked,” Wood explained. “This creates a situation where we’ll have this great content, but if we push one deadline, all the others go back.”
To improve workflow efficiency, Babbel enlisted Contently’s content technology platform to manage its editorial projects. With the right technology to facilitate editorial logistics—like tagging edits to video subtitle text and providing a centralized place to pitch, write, and edit articles—Babbel increased its output between 200 and 300 percent, depending on the language.
In the past, the content team would only publish one story per week. Now, the new workflow has helped them publish two or three. As Babbel’s influence grows, so, too, do its creative and marketing teams. Wood attributes much of this growth to investing in the right technology.
“Our production rate has massively improved in the last years,” Wood said, “and one of the important factors is Contently.”
The ROI of a polyglot
Like all marketing leaders, Wood is on the hook for proving the connection between entertaining stories and revenue. Fortunately, his content strategy has been fruitful.
Matthew’s nine-language monologue has over 6.6 million views on YouTube. Matthew and Erika’s cozy croissant chat is at 2.5 million views and counting. The German pronunciation clip has upwards of 315,000 views, while the Portuguese gesture exercise is nearing 155,000. Babbel’s six magazine sites each generate at least 7 million visitors each month.
Wood credits a lot of the success to the relationship between the sites and the social channels. He even has a name for it: the spillover effect.
“Organic and paid traffic from the digital sites spills into social channels like YouTube. Then YouTube subscriptions and other social channel engagement get people to come back to the site,” he said. “That’s what’s so great about content marketing.”
But likes, views, and visits are only part of the way the content team measures success. The team tracks how people interact with each article (session time, share rate, scroll depth), and, most importantly, how many people go on to register and purchase a Babbel subscription. It’s worth underlining that Babbel does this analysis for each article, device, and distribution channel.
For Wood, the true content ROI formula is simple. “Higher engagement time—meaning, the time spent on the page and watching videos—tends to correlate with a higher registration rate,” Wood said. Ultimately, the higher registration rate translates to higher sales.
A new life lived
The value of Babbel’s content plan goes beyond the simplicity of its ROI. It would be easy for a language-learning company to produce didactic content (“Learn 10 Words in 10 Minutes!”) or pitch the transactional value of acquiring a new skill (“Just think of your global business acumen!”). However, the beauty of Babbel’s content plan comes from its commitment to telling personal stories that tap into the philosophical elements of learning a language.
Just take it from Gianni Guaita, a 100-year-old Italian who recently made a commitment to learning English. For him, studying a language through Babbel unveiled a new perspective. “The world opens up in front of you,” Guaita explained in a video from May. “And you can see the universe.”