Working in translations many of my clients work within the marketing industry and a large percentage of the work we undertake is to provide a localised version of a marketing communication campaign into specific languages. Typically this involves taking pre-existing copy for (usually) a pre-existing product or service and adapting it to fit the language of the desired non-native market. This can often be a complex process and there are many examples of companies that have gone through the localisation process of their products and services only to realise (often too late) that what they have produced is not suitable or, even worse, insulting to their intended market.
This article examines the various approaches organisations may adopt when looking to expand from their domestic market and also looks at localisation strategies they can use to aid in the success of their international marketing efforts. The main themes will focus more on the written word and the actual process of translating a marketing communication message, and does not take into consideration other issues that will affect the localisation process, such as the technological issue that may be present when developing a marketing strategy in a non-domestic market.
At this point it is worth what motivates organisations when promoting and selling their products and services into non-native markets. Typically, marketing products in markets outside the domestic domain fall into 4 categories. In the first approach, companies undertake what can be referred to as infrequent foreign marketing. Here companies will use foreign markets as a means to eliminate surpluses which an over saturated domestic market is unable to absorb. Here marketing activities may be very short term and may only require a minimal amount of translation and localisation. Alternatively, companies may believe that there is enough of a sustainable foreign market on an ongoing basis and will adopt regular foreign marketing activities. In this instance the domestic market is still the main focus, however, often by the use of middle men and agents, companies who use this approach are able to service both domestic and international markets simultaneously. The third approach is to focus on international marketing as part of a whole marketing strategy. Here international markets are seen as equally important as domestic markets. Companies will often perceive their markets to possess unique characteristics for which individual marketing strategies and characteristics will need to be adopted. The process involved in localisation and translation in this approach can be fairly complex, however, it will also allow for a closely targeted market, reaching segments that perhaps a more uniform approach may not reach.
The fourth approach is to view the world as a single market. Referred to as global marketing, this approach standardises its processes and activities to offer a common product or service through all the markets they serve.
It is worth considering which approach your organisation or, if you are working on behalf of someone else, your client is adopting. These different approaches will affect the overall process of how you implement your marketing strategy and will also involve varying amounts of resources. Although advances in technology have made the deployment of a targeted message more cost effective, individual translation will need to be processed by a human and therefore marketers and business managers will need to consider the potential ROI (return on investment) that an approach such international marketing will generate versus the resources needed to process this strategy.
Fundamental to the successful launch of a marketing campaign into a non-domestic market is a good understanding of the nature of that market. If, for example, your objective is to launch a specific product or brand into a new market, analysis should be undertaken into the suitability of the existing brand’s identity (e.g., colour, shape, text) in the existing market. What works well from a branding perspective in one market may be disastrous in another, and there are many examples of companies who have launched an international campaign based around a specific domestic campaign only to discover that the brand that is at the heart of the message carries an unsavoury name or connotation. At the very least we suggest a brand name analysis should be undertaken prior to launching a brand into a new market.
It’s also worth noting the other cultural convention of your proposed target market. Colour, for example, can play a key role in a company’s identity but this identity may have many different connotations depending on the target market. It is also crucial to understand how your market responds to messages. Some markets may respond very positively to a less formal approach when delivering a message, whereas more conservative markets may see this approach as sloppy or unprofessional.
A common approach in copy writing is to use analogies in an attempt to make the reader draw similarities with the product or service under discussion and an existing, perhaps well known product or service. Often these analogies will be based on an understanding of an entity that is known to the reader in the existing market, but may be unknown or alien in the new proposed target market. Examples are comparing physical size of somewhere to a geographically known location in the domestic e.g., “an area the size of Birmingham” etc.
Because of the subjective nature of translation, whenever undertaking any translation assignment it is vital to use a translator who is not only an expert linguist but also an expert in their respective field. Using a technical translator to localise a marketing brochure selling financial services just will not do. Translation of marketing material goes beyond the literal and involves the ability to interpret the essence of the message. Translators who are used to translate branding and corporate identity need to distil the message, taking the key elements and present it in a language that the target market will respond to. In this instance, using mother tongue translators based in the country of origin is vital.
In summary then we suggest that, as a minimum, prior to launching a marketing message into a unknown market, initial research is undertaken into the feasibility of using the core message (be it the brand or what ever is at the heart of the communication) within the market. It is likely that business leaders and managers will have already determined that there is a need for a particular product or service in a specific market and that their product or service can successfully fill that need. It is then the job of the marketer to communicate this product or service to the desired new market.