Globalisation and the unstoppable growth of the internet have made international markets more accessible than ever before. Businesses of all shapes and sizes can reach across geographical borders but linguistic and cultural barriers remain.
In order to successfully export your brand you will need to effectively translate your brand message. This doesn’t just mean translating individual pieces of content but retaining a consistency across all your translated materials and finding a way to communicate brand concepts and qualities.
Famous fails and how to avoid them
When Californian fast food franchise Taco Bell re-entered the Japanese market earlier this year it made headlines for all the wrong reasons. A poorly translated Japanese website promised delicacies such as ‘Supreme Court Beef’ instead of the ‘Crunchwrap Supreme’ and ‘low quality chips’ instead of ‘cheesy chips’. Meanwhile, written information on ingredient sources turned the phrase ‘We’ve got nothing to hide’ into ‘What did we bring here to hide?’
A spokesman later admitted that the use of automatic translation had been at least part of the problem. A native proofreader would have spotted these errors immediately.
Sticking with fast food, McDonald’s is a company that usually gets it right with a ‘glocal’ approach – retaining its core values while tailoring both its marketing and its actual products to suit the local market. All its websites are fully localised and even menus vary according to local tastes and cultural standards. In India for example, there is much more emphasis on vegetarian options, and beef is off the menu, reflecting the large Hindu population within the country.
While we don’t all have such extensive research budgets, even somewhere like Wikipedia is a good place to find out about international cultural differences.
In 2010 however McDonald’s used an image of Asterix The Gaul – a cartoon character revered in France but little known in the US – holding one of his victory feasts inside its restaurants. Marketers had failed to realise that the little Gaul’s resistance to the Roman Empire has been borrowed in more recent times to stand as a symbol of France’s resistance to what many consider to be American cultural imperialism. The character was therefore seen as an entirely inappropriate image to advertise fast food of American origin and a backlash began.
Staying on-message when translating your brand
The two examples above show mistakes of very different kinds – one involving technical translation errors and the other a cultural oversight.
In order to minimise errors it’s important to work with professional translators. It can be tempting to make use of a free tool like Google Translate and this sort of quick and easy machine translation does have its place. It’s great for getting the gist of a piece of text but should never be relied upon for website, marketing or other publishing quality content. Even if a piece of content emerges with no major errors, it is likely to be stilted, jerky and inconsistent. This is hardly likely to project the air of professionalism and trustworthiness you want to be associated with your brand.
Working with native human translators can also help, but can be even better supported by effective use of technology. Stored translation memories, glossaries and termbanks, for example, can be invaluable when it comes to terminology management. Previously translated content can be re-used as appropriate, which can help to create a sense of consistency right across your brand. Terminology can apply to frequently used brand messages as well as things such as technical terms, jargon, acronyms and product names. It’s important to work with translation partners to create as many glossary items as possible at the outset of any major or ongoing translation project.
As well as translating existing content you might also want original or transcreated copy to communicate your brand’s voice effectively in new markets . By thoroughly briefing your translation partners, you should be able to commission content that retains your core brand values but is also pertinent to the cultural and linguistic standards of your new target market. You’ll have more impact with locals, and sell more to them at the same time.
*Photo credits: Blackpanter / Shutterstock.com