When expanding internationally and addressing new foreign markets, businesses must make sure that their promotion strategy will help them to grow their sales and revenue. In order to do so, the global marketing campaign must be fully understandable within the targeted market and have the desired impact on the chosen audience.

Communicating marketing messages and materials in other languages is extremely difficult. Marketing messages have one specificity that characterises them and makes them complex; they are created to generate a certain reaction in the mind of the person reading, watching or listening. They indeed come with a particular style, imagery and universe created around it, which sometimes makes them hard to be translated accurately, especially knowing that each language is linked to a particular culture.

For this reason, keeping the message universal and in only one language is not the most appropriate strategy: it will not be understandable by everyone and not culturally suitable for every market, which means reaching less potential customers and even potentially harming your brand image.

Why are marketing translations essential?

Business which plan an international expansion aim to keep the same impact and momentum in the targeted foreign markets as they had in their home market, as it is probably a big part of what helped them in achieving a locally based success. The goal is to be just as successful in other countries, if not more. To do so, an in-depth study of the chosen market and audience is necessary before starting the translating process. The translation of marketing materials actually means more than just translating, it often implies localisation and transcreation. Localising the marketing strategy according to the target country is vital and knowledge of the culture and the population is just as important as the language to choose the right words to address a new audience. Transcreation involves recreating the message and adapting it to different cultures and different consumer needs, while maintaining its core intended meaning. In fact, these are very specialised services, especially transcreation, and so it is often essential for businesses to work with a transcreation agency, which is able to cover the service in a number of languages.

The purpose of marketing documents such as brochures, flyers, advertising scripts among many others is to support sales and attract the audience which such materials are aimed at. Their efficiency is therefore crucial to succeed in a market and earn customers’ trust.

Translations of the marketing documents and materials have to transcribe the original, core message and its style accurately, but still have to be tailored to each local culture. This has to be done after thorough market research and with full awareness and knowledge about the product or service offered as well as the local market and the local culture, which can directly impact consumer behaviour.

Efficient marketing translation services can be very helpful to increase revenue and brand recognition when running international marketing campaigns. However, mistranslating the elements of a marketing campaign, or a lack of cultural research can quickly result in a negative company image. Negative branding abroad can make a business fail within foreign markets, fail to grow sales or even cause severe money losses.

Marketing translations are an essential part of business internationalisation and truly require knowledge, data and specific information which consequently require prior research, not only of the targeted market, but also the culture and language that comes with it. It does take linguistic skills, marketing skills and writing skills for a translator to do a great job.

Language differences can interfere in the transmission of the intended message

Professional translators can be very helpful in the process of transcribing marketing messages into new languages. However, they are faced with many challenges when trying to make the translated message attractive and keep a certain uniqueness to market the product/service successfully in the target markets. They must have a profound understanding of the intention and meaning the original writers/creators have put into their message and get inside the mind of the audience to know what their needs and preferences are, what is going to attract them and what is going to spark their interest in the brand.

This is where language differences and nuances come into play. Expressions, slang, metaphors, plays on words and rhymes don’t always translate the same in other languages, which creates a risk of losing the meaning, the style and the impact of the original message. Most of the time these elements can not be translated word-for-word, or they would most likely make no sense. When translating headlines or slogans, for example, the translator has to be very careful with the subtleties and nuances they involve and make them stay appealing and understandable. Transcreation is therefore the right approach to meet these conditions and expectations.

Haribo’s slogan, for example, has a melody in it and specific rhymes:

  • In English: “Kids and grown-ups love it so, the happy world of Haribo”
  • In French: “Haribo c’est beau la vie, pour les grands et les petits”
  • In Spanish: “Vive un sabor mágico – ven al mundo Haribo”

Haribo has its slogan transcribed in many other languages and of course, they don’t have the same literal meaning. However, the core message is always there and the spirit of the brand too. You can read more about this particular marketing translation campaign here.

How to adapt the marketing message to cultural differences

The fact that each country has its own culture, traditions, values, sometimes religion, implies differences in the way of expressing, but also understanding ideas and messages. This is an aspect that should be carefully considered before translating marketing messages to make the most of them, transcribe them in the most adapted and appealing way for the target audience and keep the intended meaning and style.

Cultural differences are the reason why each specific population has different needs, interests, preferences, motivations and purchasing habits. Also, each population has a way of communicating and expressing its own messages, as well as its own code when it comes to language, symbols, understanding or shorthand. For this very reason, knowing the audience and the culture it refers to is vital to translate messages in a localised way and to catch customers’ attention.

Translators should also consider the country’s religious beliefs and values since they are a big part of a society’s way of functioning when a dominant religion exists within a nation. It also affects people’s distinction between what is right and what is wrong, what is respectful and what is not. Therefore, its is important to take such aspects into account when translating marketing messages to avoid offending or disrespecting anyone.

Brand names

The brand name of a company sometimes has to be adapted as well. Just like the content of marketing messages, brand names have to be representative of what the company is about and shouldn’t offend or shock anyone. They have to convey the image the company wants to have in the minds of its customers and should not be meaningless, so they can notice and remember the brand name.

For example, Mr Clean became Monsieur Propre in France so it is more understandable for the French customers.

Also, KFC had to become PFK in Quebec, Canada which stands for “Poulet Frit Kentucky” (literal translation of Kentucky Fried Chicken) because of strict language laws in the region.

These brands had to adapt to the countries they expanded to and modify their names in order to fit the regulations and the populations they were addressing.

Imagery, colours, numbers…

Imagery is what makes a brand recognizable and is part of its identity. The right visuals should be carefully chosen in order to deliver the right message and spark the right emotions and leave a positive image in the consumer’s mind. It should contribute to creating a valuable and coherent brand image.
Words are not the only thing that can be translated with different meanings, imagery can also have different meanings, create different contexts and generate different perceptions.

This implies for example changes in packaging’s. Of course, they should be translated in the local language. However, it goes beyond just language. For example, it is common in several African cultures to put a picture of what is inside on the packaging of the product, which is due to a higher rate of illiteracy. This way, the product is more accessible to the buyers and they can understand it better. Companies must therefore adapt to run marketing campaigns in these countries.

A good example of an adaptation of imagery to convey specific messages is the brand McDonald’s. They changed the colour of their famous logo from red to green in European countries such as France and Germany, as they wanted to promote a more eco-friendly image. The colour green being associated with ecology and environment, this European initiative was taken to improve the image of the brand and give it a more responsible one among countries that show a growing interest in ecological activities.

When operating internationally, companies are not only addressing a larger number of customers but a larger number of cultures, values, beliefs and types of behaviour. A good knowledge of the audience is therefore necessary to tailor marketing messages to the target markets, since it is about translating, localising and transcreating copy from one language to another rather than just doing word-for-word translations.

As you can see, marketing translations consist of a rigorous work and takes time, research, insight and marketing skills as well as a certain knowledge of the target culture. Global marketing is therefore closely linked to translation, and vice versa. Translators must have the required knowledge and experience not only in the targeted culture but in the marketing field as well, and marketers can not translate their materials accurately and adapt them to the target market without the specific skills of professional translators.

Businesses therefore often reach out to translation to help them tailor their marketing messages to different cultures and markets to increase their chances of succeeding abroad and create long-term relationships with foreign customers.