Bridging cultures: How translation services enhance global marketing strategies

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If you want to reach a wider audience, your global marketing strategy needs to include translation. It’s the only way to connect with an audience beyond your limited domestic one. Done well, translating your marketing can help you reach vast new swathes of customers.

You’ll achieve a much greater, global market share. Realise greater sales. And thus, greater profits. But it’s crucial to recognise that it’s not just a different language that your new audience speaks. They have a different culture. Different beliefs. Different traditions and customs. This means the messaging and positioning you use at home are almost certain not to work elsewhere.

So you need to adapt. Specialist marketing translation is the tool you use to do it. Here is everything you need to know:

The importance of translation in global marketing

Effective communication in any language is about listening as much as it is speaking. Trying to reach a global audience without understanding it simply wastes your marketing spend.

Imagine marketing that makes a reference to a non-local landmark. Think of connotations that are off-brand or offensive. Or an appeal to a habit that local people don’t have or understand.

Advertising like this won’t make sense to your new audience. It will not inspire them to buy from you. Only with local cultural understanding and adaptation of your message can you:

  • Leverage local culture, not misunderstand it
  • Build consumer trust, not squander it
  • Comply with local regulations, not fall afoul of them

This calls for a different kind of translation service. Marketing translation services are designed to understand and bridge cultures in order to sell.

Understanding cultural sensitivity in translation

Cultural sensitivity is all about understanding the differences between someone else’s culture and your own. The goal is often to ensure no one is offended.

When the same principle is applied to translation though – especially marketing translation – ensuring potential customers aren’t offended is the bare minimum goal.

Without local cultural knowledge, this is easily done. Some words have cultural connotations attached. There can be hidden meanings that an outsider might not recognise. For example:

  • Bensi” seems like a nice, appropriate adaptation of the Mercedes-Benz brand for China. The company certainly thought so. Unfortunately, it also means “rush to die”.
  • Pinto” is a perfectly acceptable name for a car… unless you speak Brazilian Portuguese, where it’s a slang term with unfortunate connotations.
  • Cue” appeared to be a fine French product name for Colgate toothpaste. Until a local source pointed out that it’s also the name of a famous pornographic magazine.

Avoiding costly mistakes is good. But the gold standard for marketing translation is to adapt your campaign for your new audience so completely that it does far more than “not offend”.

Instead, your marketing is natural. It appeals. Some brands have succeeded at this remarkably well.

Case studies of successful translation in marketing

There are huge numbers of examples of businesses that got lazy when it came to translating their marketing for other cultures. KFC and HSBC had famous clangers that cost them millions.

Some companies do better though. Here are two examples of what successful translation in marketing looks like:

1) McDonald’s

McDonald’s is a global brand because it is very, very good at adapting what it offers to different markets. You only need to look at the McPaneer and its other vegetarian offerings in India.

You can also see how it has adapted its famous “I’m Lovin’ it” slogan around the world.

Take the Chinese market, for instance. Here, the word “love” has, perhaps, more intensity attached to it? A deeper meaning that’s not appropriate for a fast food commercial?

It’s difficult to qualify. But it’s a cultural difference that would, at best, put off a potential Chinese audience from using the brand.

McDonald’s used expert transcreation to reproduce “I’m Lovin’ It” as 我就喜欢, roughly equivalent to “I like it no matter what you say”.

2) Slack

Being a communication app, Slack knows the importance of understanding how people in different cultures talk to one another.

The company has localised its app into 11 languages. It’s done this well. Any user will see not only their local language but also culturally appropriate reference points, idioms, and more.

Slack’s approach to global marketing is just as smart and localised. Compare their marketing for global and Japanese markets, for example. You’ll see differences in imagery as well as different emphasis on the specific ways their product is used in different regions.

Localisation, transcreation, and translation – understanding the differences

Marketing translation. Localisation. Transcreation. These are terms that are used in conjunction with one another. Sometimes, they’re wrongly used in place of one another.

But in translation, each conveys a different idea and approach. In your global marketing strategy, you might make use of just one. Or all three together at various points.

Here’s a brief jargon explainer on the key differences:

  1. Marketing translation – adapts your marketing copy into a new language with relatively minor changes to conform to your target language and culture.
  2. Localisation – any or all parts of your marketing (including everything from images to word choice to channels) are changed to a greater or lesser extent to appeal to a new market.
  3. Transcreation – any or all parts of your marketing can either be drastically adapted or entirely reimagined by professional copywriters to have the greatest impact on your new target audience.

Do I need marketing translation, localisation, or transcreation?

If you’re not a translation specialist, this can feel like a matter of degree. Or possibly a sliding scale of quality.

It’s not though. There isn’t a direct line between translation approach and quality of result. In short, transcreation isn’t always better.

For example, for McDonald’s, reimagining their marketing from the ground up did require transcreation. Branding elements like slogans and taglines often do.

But the highly effective way Slack has adapted its product and marketing to a global audience is an example of excellent localisation. It worked perfectly. No transcreation required.

For another project – perhaps a product description or press release – marketing translation might be the ideal choice. It’s all about your project, your audience, and your end goal.

Leveraging technology in translation services

In a world where ChatGPT exists, it’s no surprise that there is technology out there that can speed up some of your translation projects.

Google Translate is pretty basic as far as translation technology goes. It’s definitely not suitable for business use.

But Machine Learning translation tools do exist. Like ChatGPT and other Large Language Model AIs, these aren’t yet up to the standard of a human translator. However, there are some highly useful ones:

  • Computer-Aided Translation (CAT) tools – can translate large volumes of text very quickly. Human post-editing is still a requirement yet such tools can dramatically enhance the speed of some translation services.
  • Translation Memories (TMs) – are automatically updated database-like tools used by translators. They ensure consistency of translated terms across projects and boost translation speed.

Opportunities and challenges in marketing translation

Businesses translate their marketing for a global audience for some very good reasons:

  1. Achieve greater market access – China is a market of well over a billion people. Many smaller markets that might match your products could number in the millions.
  2. Focus on quality to improve brand reputation – be a brand that succeeds overseas. Effective, thoughtful translation results in growing consumer trust and superior reputation.
  3. Gain competitive advantage – greater market access combined with effective marketing add up to greater sales, more profits, and serious competitive advantage over your rivals.

Of course, this all sounds great. But translating your marketing for global audiences is not without its challenges.

High-quality marketing translation of any kind costs money. It’s not something you can afford to skimp on. Not unless you want to risk the high financial and reputational cost of failure.

There’s also the problem of consistency of branding and messaging across language and cultural barriers. Not to mention the challenge of tracking everything.

All of this can lead to inflated costs, errors, and delays if not implemented effectively.

Practical tips for effective marketing translation

1) Assign sufficient resources

Half-hearted, poor-quality attempts at global marketing using tools Google Translate are worse than none at all.

Make sure you have the resources required for the task at hand. Targeting a single, well-chosen new market can be a good place to start.

If you’re unsure as to the scale of resources required, any reputable translation agency should provide a free quote.

2) Use specialist marketing translation services

Direct translation of marketing materials is usually useless. The same concepts and finely honed knowledge and application of pain points simply don’t transfer directly.

To appeal to your new audience, your marketing may need to be translated, localised, or transcreated – or some combination of all three.

This requires expert translators and possibly skilled copywriters in another language too.

3) Always use local experts

There can be huge differences between regional dialects and language variants.

There is no substitute for local expertise when it comes to things like idioms, connotations, and cultural norms and expectations.

Ensure your Language Service Provider uses translators who are natives of the local region.

4) Use flexible file formats

Not all file formats easily allow for the changes required by the translation process.

Try to use file formats that are editable and overwritable. InDesign, FrameMaker, or Word files, for example. If possible, .xliff or .xlf (special CAT tool file types).

Conversely, PDF files cause huge problems for translators. If in doubt, speak with a specialist to make your translation process as smooth as possible.

5) Make communications clear

There can be numerous stakeholders, professionals, and rounds of revisions involved in some marketing translation projects.

Internally, you should have a clear assignment of responsibilities and understanding of deadlines. Especially if you’re targeting more than one market at a time.

Externally, a professional translation company should do this as a matter of course. But it’s worth discussing channels of communication when you engage one.

Translation services enhance global marketing strategies

With careful translation of your marketing, you can extend your reach to millions of new potential customers. Effective marketing translation can give you a competitive advantage and boost your profits. Sometimes for comparatively little outlay.

Yet translating your marketing shouldn’t be treated as an add-on. It requires specialist expertise and absolutely must consider the need to bridge cultures.

There are also different approaches – marketing translation, localisation, and transcreation – that may or may not be suitable depending on your project and goals.

All in all though, translation services don’t only enhance your global marketing strategies. Global marketing simply doesn’t succeed without them.

Discuss your latest marketing translation project with an expert – for free and with zero obligation.

Kwintessential has helped global brands including Facebook, Lidl, and the BBC succeed worldwide.

Chat with a specialist or request a free quote on your needs today.

If you need accurate and expert technical translation, don’t hesitate to contact Kwintessential. Our team of subject matter experts will ensure that your specialised texts are translated with precision and the utmost attention to detail. We have a proven track record of providing high-quality translations in various industries, so let us help you bridge the language barrier today!


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