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Grow Your Business Sales & Marketing

Translating Success: Tips for Multilingual Marketing

Translating Success: Tips for Multilingual Marketing
Credit: Prixel Creative/Shutterstock

As the digital age continues to connect the global community, companies of all sizes are finding it easier than ever to expand their borders and do business internationally.

"With the most significant population growth and increases in purchasing power occurring in parts of the world where English is either not spoken or is not the preferred language, companies are increasingly doing business in regions outside of their home market," said Judd Marcello, vice president of marketing at Smartling, a translation management system. 

But bringing your business into a foreign market isn't as simple as opening up a store there or advertising that you ship your products overseas. If you really want to develop a strong presence outside your home country, you have to make sure you are, quite literally, speaking your audience's language.

"Companies must be able to communicate with customers in their native language, not the default language of the company," Marcello said. "The results of a 2014 Common Sense Advisory Group survey make it clear — 75 percent of consumers are more likely to buy a product if the information is presented in their own language."

"Marketers want their campaigns to evoke emotion," added Caitlin Nicholson, business development specialist at LinguaLinx, a translation and global marketing service provider. "This is achieved through an understanding of the different types of consumers, their habits and their culture, [and] language is tied very closely to culture and identity."

With the right strategies, the right messages and the right technology, you can make the translation process faster and easier while saving money and getting ahead of your competition, Marcello said. Here are a few key do's and don'ts U.S. brands should follow when they're translating or adapting their marketing materials for global audiences. [15 Tech Tools to Help Take Your Business Global]

Even if you or some of your employee are fluent in the languages you want to translate materials into, this is a task that's best left to the professionals.

"Don't simply rely on bilingual employees for translation of your foreign language marketing materials," Nicholson said. "They may have good knowledge of the target language, but not the skill set of a professional linguist. In addition, they may not have a marketing background or familiarity with translating marketing materials and corporate communications."

Whether it's a freelancer or a full-scale translation service, the person or firm you hire should have a great reputation. Nicholson advised using in-country native speakers, if possible. They not only have knowledge of the language, but also live within your target market, so they'll know about cultural sensitivities, current events and other nuances that will make translations relevant and engaging, she said.

Marcello noted that the provider you choose should be based on a number of factors, including  how specialized your content is, how many languages you need to translate your content into, and the overall scope of your translation project.

"If your project is limited, such as translating content for just one market, a freelance translator may be your best bet," he said.

Word-for-word translations don't always resonate the right way, so transcreation —translation plus creation — may be necessary so your materials don't lose their impact.

"[Transcreation] takes translation to the next level where you adapt marketing content so that the words and the meaning carry the same weight in different cultures," Nicholson said.

Marcello said that not all translation agencies and language service providers are adept at transcreation, so you may need to hire a specialist to handle this process.

Your brand's English marketing materials likely have a distinct "voice," so you'll want to make sure your translated content has that same tone in any language. Marcello advised creating style and editorial guidelines for translators, marketers and content creators to follow in order to keep your branding consistent.

"In addition to setting the bar on content quality, developing guidelines will help your brand maintain a fluid and consistent tone, which is crucial to global marketing success," he said. "Keywords related to your brand and any commonly used industry jargon, including acronyms and abbreviations, should be included to ensure accuracy and avoid mistakes."

Nicholson agreed, and noted that you should provide reference materials like glossaries and previously translated content to help translators or content creators gauge the tone you're looking for.

Once your materials are translated, send them through one more round of reviews to make sure everything is error-free, and that they meet your established guidelines, Marcello said.

It's tempting to want to use free services like Google Translate for quick tasks or short pieces of content, but Nicholson and Marcello both agreed that a human translator should be used for every professional project, big or small.

"Machine translation tools ... are often unnatural, inaccurate, error-prone, and lack needed context," Marcello said. "More importantly, they will not enable companies to localize their marketing content to reflect cultural nuances, which is critical to ensuring native brand experiences."

"If it is meant to be consumed by humans, then it should be translated by humans," Nicholson added.

Translation doesn't just encompass going from English to a foreign language. Because of the different regional dialects and colloquialisms, English-to-English materials sometimes need a bit of tweaking to make sense to a local audience.

"Many U.S. firms wisely target new markets still within the English language world as a first step to selling internationally, but this still requires research and localization of search terms and marketing assets," said Richard Stevenson, head of communications for global e-commerce software provider ePages.com. "Consumers in countries such as Canada, Great Britain, Ireland and Australia expect to see and hear local market terms, and your products [must be] explored in the right context for them to confidently buy from you. For instance, if you sell umbrellas, both British and Australian shoppers would be attracted to the local term 'brolly.'"  

Stevenson added that dialects should be considered in non-English translations as well.

"In Spain, for example, there are four distinct dialects in use by region, and this could have an impact on your choice of campaign terms depending on your target audience, third-party resources, sources of your Web traffic, etc.," he told Business News Daily. "You may need to modify language in line with regional sales patterns."

A multilingual campaign involves more than another language, Nicholson said. It involves another culture, another way of looking at and experiencing the world. This means that, even with a perfect translation, your campaign materials still may not make sense to your audience.

"Marketers often uses puns, slang, humor, metaphors and pop culture references [to] appeal to their audience," Nicholson said. "You are trying to say the right things in compelling ways, but the right thing to one culture might not be the right thing to another, and what's compelling to one culture might be confusing or offensive to other cultures."

Because of this, Nicholson said it's important to look at the premise of your campaign and make sure it's appropriate for the other culture. You might need to come up with a different angle and have the copy written in the target language by a translator, she said.   

For more information on business translation, visit Business News Daily's guide.

Nicole Fallon Taylor

Nicole received her Bachelor's degree in Media, Culture and Communication from New York University. She began freelancing for Business News Daily in 2010 and joined the team as a staff writer three years later. She currently serves as the assistant editor. Reach her by email, or follow her on Twitter.