Why Marketing Translation Matters, and How To Get It Right

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Organisations often spend huge figures on their domestic marketing. Yet the same resources aren’t always committed to marketing translation – adapting those campaigns and materials for new global audiences.

This is more than a little strange. Because the Return On Investment in translating your marketing can be big – and it can go beyond the admittedly often impressive financial aspect of doing so.

After all, this is an entirely new audience you’re reaching out to. With high-quality marketing translation – properly adapting your message and brand to local cultural norms and needs – you can create a massive new customer base.

However, poor quality translation of your marketing can produce some very negative results. If your organisation needs to boost its revenue, here’s what you need to know about targeting new international audiences:

What is marketing translation?

On the surface, marketing translation is just what it sounds like. It’s the process of translating your marketing into a different language. This can include a huge range of materials, campaigns, and content, including:

  • Online and social – web copy, social media, SEO (including keywords, URLs, tags and so on), eCommerce copy, video content, email marketing, and more.
  • Public Relations – things like press releases, presentations, and media outreach.
  • Print and physical – product packaging, product descriptions, posters, brochures and magazines.

It’s worth remembering that reaching out to a new audience in a new language doesn’t always require targeting a completely different region. Many brands have achieved notable success translating their marketing for other domestic audiences.

For example, in the UK, this might mean translating your marketing into Welsh or Gaelic in some regions, or into Polish or Punjabi in others. Many domestic audiences appreciate being reached out to in this way – as long as it is done thoughtfully, carefully, and with a purpose.

That said, while most businesses do understand that they need to translate the language used in their marketing content when entering a new market, marketing translation usually calls for much more than a direct conversion of the words you used in your original content.

Understanding translation, localisation, and transcreation

The terms “translation” and “localisation” are sometimes used interchangeably. Yet there are important differences between these two concepts and a linked term – transcreation.

Translation is the simplest to understand. It is the widely understood idea of converting text in one language to text in another while trying to retain as much of the original sense and meaning as possible. This conversion is fairly direct and literal.

Any translation requires high-level language skills and will always deliver the best results when delivered by professional translators who are:

  1. Highly experienced in the subject matter.
  2. Experienced and qualified in translation, not simply bilingual.
  3. Translating into their native language.

That’s why these are the only kind of linguists that translation companies like Kwintessential assign to projects.

Yet straightforward translation has pros and cons as a process. Being a direct, fairly literal translation is good in certain circumstances. Things like official documents, safety warnings, or technical manuals will all benefit from a more direct translation.

Marketing is much more about thoughts, feelings, and persuasion though. Translating it often requires a different approach:

1) Marketing localisation

Localisation puts locale at the forefront of the translation process. The simplest aspect of this involves translating to distinguish between, for instance, the Spanish spoken in Spain and the Spanish spoken in, say, Argentina.

Going beyond that, localisation understands that not only are the Spanish dialects spoken in Argentina and Spain different (glossing over the fact that there are multiple dialects spoken in both countries), but the cultural and daily lives of most Spanish and Argentinian people are also very different.

In localisation, the process of adapting your content to different locales also goes much further than just considering the strict letter of the text. Localising your marketing can include finding local alternatives to:

  • Vocabulary, grammar, slang, jokes and humour
  • Voice, style, and tone
  • Cultural allusions, idioms, touchstones, concepts, and realistic local examples
  • Images, imagery, icons, and graphic design
  • Colours and colour symbolism

There is also a technical side to localisation. This can refer to things like text strings that change in length depending on the language being translated into.

2) Transcreation

With localisation, we go beyond direct translation to adapt your content to the norms, expectations, and language of a local audience. Transcreation though, goes even further.

This is less of a process of adaption and more of a process of recreation. This requires a team of highly skilled translators who are also expert creatives on top of their linguistic expertise and local cultural knowledge.

This is because your team will often be starting from scratch with the same brief and similar goals to your original marketers. You might limit the degree of creative control they have in some way. They may also be informed to a greater or lesser extent by your existing marketing.

But, in general, they will be aiming to create largely fresh marketing for your new audience. For markets with major cultural differences from your domestic one – in the UK, China is the prime example – this is often the only way to proceed if you want your marketing to convert.

However, you might not need to transcreate every single element of a campaign. Some elements might be localised, some transcreated, and some few directly translated. Your Language Service Provider can advise you on this.

Why does marketing translation matter?

  1. Get a big Return On Investment – reaching out to a well-chosen new market results in a significant return on any investment in marketing translation and localisation.
  2. Boost brand awareness – spread knowledge of your brand and work towards the channel saturation that makes you a go-to regional name for the products and services you provide.
  3. Improve brand reputation – reaching out to new audiences in culturally appropriate and sympathetic ways can result in huge increases in your reputation. Audiences used to being ignored or exploited by brands react well to targeted, culturally sensitive marketing.
  4. Get better multilingual SEO – SEO localisation is vital if you want to get found online by audiences speaking different languages. For many of the reasons touched upon above, direct translations of your keywords are unlikely to work.
  5. Deliver a better customer experience – English is slowly losing its place as the language of the internet. With high-quality marketing translation, you reduce the obstacles and trust issues that prevent customers from making purchases, improving experiences and profit.

How to get marketing localisation right

1) Do your market research

The return on investment in marketing translation can be very high indeed. But problems can occur when brands don’t research their target market sufficiently before moving in.

It’s not just language that varies by region and audience. Just consider how different the following are in countries only across the channel in Europe. Then multiply for distance when targeting audiences like the lucrative China market:

  • Norms
  • Expectations
  • Beliefs
  • Superstitions
  • Cultural points of reference

A clear example of this is how many brands overlook the fact that the classic “thumbs up” gesture isn’t universally positive. For instance, in large parts of the Middle East, it’s not a million miles away from being equivalent to raising your middle finger at someone in the UK or US.

We could also consider how inappropriate it might be perceived to be to market a line of women’s swimwear in many parts of the Middle East. There might be little-to-no demand for these products. Even selling them might be viewed by some as offensive or illegal.

For everything from product and service demand to the applicability of your marketing message, you can’t beat carrying out extensive market research and feedback before you launch. Working with Language Service Providers who use native local linguists is a vital part of this.

2) Stay on-brand

Adapting your marcoms to the needs, norms, and expectations of your target regions is vital. Yet you still need to stay true to your brand as much as possible.

This can be a fine line to walk. Especially if elements of your branding are borderline unsuitable for different markets. Yet failing to stick with your overall brand tone and message can cause a disconnect in the minds of your global customer base.

Check out examples of brands succeeding in their branding and marketing localisation and you’ll see how well they adapt or individual regions yet stay cohesive when viewed as a whole.

One of the best ways to do this is to create a style guide. This ensures that any linguists or other language or marketing experts working on your localisation projects understand your brand voice, style, and any dos and don’ts as regards your branded terms, acronyms, terminology, and so on.

3) Never generalise

The possible gains of going beyond your local target audience are huge. Yet it’s easy to dilute your efforts by trying to target too many regions or languages at once.

Each audience you target needs to be chosen with care following extensive market research. This ensures there is sufficient demand and space in the market for your products and services. If your target market isn’t a ready base for you to reach out to, you risk wasting your money.

Many brands adopt a shotgun approach to localisation, targeting as many languages as possible. This results in the kind of wide but shallow coverage that damages brand reputations as quality suffers and customers feel their needs are not being put front and centre.

In short, always plan which regions to target before you start to invest resources in translating your marketing.

4) Always use native translators (and have them proofread)

Everyone is bound to be able to think of marketing they’ve recently seen that has been poorly translated into English. Just think of the last spam sales email you received.

This is an obvious, likely very poor quality, example of marketing translation. But even the biggest brands have made mistakes when not using skilled native translators to localise their marketing:

  • KFC – encouraged their customers to “Eat their fingers off” (“Finger lickin’ good”) when first entering the China market.
  • Pepsi – also failed in China, offending a local culture highly respectful of ancestors by claiming “Pepsi brings your relatives back from the dead.” (“Come Alive With the Pepsi Generation”).
  • Coors Beer – had their “Turn it loose” slogan localised as “Suffer from diarrhoea” in one memorable, short-lived Spanish marketing campaign.

This doesn’t only underline the importance of using native speakers of your target language (who are also native to the specific region you are targeting) in your marketing translation.

It’s also an indication of the importance of proofreading your content and getting that ever-vital small-scale public feedback before launching on a larger scale.

Typos and massive cultural and linguistic faux pas like those above are only the most obvious side of this. The other is the deep local cultural knowledge necessary to craft a message that has real appeal and conversion potential.

5) Go beyond the word of your text

We’ve already touched on how localisation needs to consider images, imagery, humour, idioms, and a huge range of other aspects in to create a compelling customer experience for your new target audience.

Brands that are tempted to skimp by minimally and directly translating their content for new audiences are those that tend to see a poor Return On Investment when translating their marketing.

If you want your marketing translation to deliver the huge potential growth in revenue it’s possible to achieve, plan how you’re going to localise and transcreate every aspect of your marketing necessary to achieve the boosts in brand reputation, engagement, and conversions you’re looking for.

Ready to translate your marketing for a new audience? Need to achieve a solid return?

Kwintessential already works with brands including Facebook, Marks and Spencer, Harper Collins, and many more to reach audiences around the world.

Set up a cost and commitment-free consultation today or get a free, no-obligation quote on your needs at any time.

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