When you need to manage international marketing and communication projects to export your brand or product to new countries, it’s useful to take a thorough, humble and well-structured approach to the task, keeping some relevant key aspects in mind and following two golden rules: don’t take anything for granted and rely on the know-how of experienced professionals. Because – it should go without saying – addressing users from different markets is far more complex and riskier than trying to engage an audience you know like the back of your hand.
Without properly knowing and taking into account the context, sensibility, beliefs, history, culture, habits, etc., of a foreign audience, the risk of failing is huge. It’s happened before, even to the best in class: names such as Dolce & Gabbana, Electrolux, Procter & Gamble, Ikea, and even Apple are just a few giant brands that failed in some step of the process when promoting their products in foreign markets.
Companies usually face two different scenarios in their internationalisation efforts:
- Either they need to design a message/product from scratch that will work in multiple international markets, or
- They need to adapt existing messages/products - which were designed originally for their local audiences - so as to make them successful and effective in other markets.
In order to manage this process, professionalism and experience are essential.
Again, nothing should be taken for granted - on the contrary, every little detail should be carefully questioned and assessed.
The management of international projects involves a series of steps:
Researching target audience and context
The context of reference deserves careful research: is your target audience going to appreciate the values and features you would naturally associate with your message or, at a more basic level, what are the landscape, climate, consumers’ behaviour and preferences - just to name a few - in your target market? Are you sure you can promote a Vespa in a historical European city and in the States in the same way?
Identifying the right channels/media to reach your target
We’re talking about communicating to people, after all. For instance, when you plan and develop your media efforts locally, and before you design your lovely Facebook campaign, it’s important to find out how important is Facebook in your target countries. As you may well know, in China everyone is on WeChat, to the point where many companies don’t even have websites but WeChat profiles. So, do your homework or, even better, ask professionals who will do it for you.
Assessing the perception of your concept in the target market
Arguably, you’ve come up with the best tagline or design ever, and think it’ll be a huge success based on the wonderful reception it’s had in your country. Yet images, associations, assumptions or perceptions might be extremely different elsewhere - something Pampers should have clearly considered before exporting their diapers to Japan in a pack with the image of a stork holding a baby. Unbeknownst to them, it failed because, as the brand discovered all too late, babies in Japan are delivered to awaiting parents by big floating peaches.
Approaching the linguistic/cultural adaptation of your message/materials with care
We’ve all had cousins who went to school abroad and colleagues who can master the usage of Google Translate like real pros. But if those can be a valuable help in understanding emails written in foreign languages or roughly translating internal documents just for personal reference (and still, watch out for data protection implications!), if you want to engage your audience in a professional manner, then act professionally and invest in proper resources for the task.
One little mistake at the end of the process when translating your message might jeopardise your entire work. It’s important to remember that different kinds of translation services exist, to be selected based on the expected outcomes and the nature of your source material.
The service that is most commonly associated with marketing and communication is Transcreation. It means creatively adapting a concept/message from one language to another by making it resonate effectively with the desired audience while still conveying the same implications and emotions. Normally used for advertising, branding and social media campaigns, this service should always start with careful briefing and research, and deliver different transcreated proposals, complete with back-translations and comments supporting and explaining the choices in detail. This service implies some share of teamwork, as in a sort of dialogue between the author of the message and the transcreator. The closer the relation, the better. If accuracy is a good compliment for a standard translation, the best praise for transcreation should be that it is creative, ingenious and inspired.
When you need to culturally adapt and translate software, websites, multimedia content, videos, apps, games, etc. You should normally recur to the service called Localisation. The localisation of websites and the likes should not be overlooked, as data show that a striking 72% of consumers spend most of their time on websites in their own language and are more likely to buy a product with information in their own language. Special skills required to provide this service are an in-depth knowledge of the specific lingo, mastery of the relevant terminology and information sources, as well as of specific norms and regulations.
One last mention goes to Specialised Translation - the translation of industry-specific documents which requires knowledge in a specific field. It is the service that you should look for when you need the translation of legal, financial, medical, and other specialised documents.
The linguistic adaptation of your materials doesn’t end with the delivery of your translated text: other aspects should be considered, such as typesetting your translated text into the final graphic layouts, which in turn involves many other complexities, such as the management of figures and punctuation, readability, and colours, as well as available software, fonts, rounds of revision, etc.
In conclusion, DIY is not a good solution when facing the complexities of internationalisation. The help of external, experienced and properly trained professionals, with an in-depth knowledge of the target markets, is necessary to avoid failures and embarrassments. If you want a return on investment for your often-expensive internationalisation efforts, use constant care and stick to the golden rule: don’t take anything for granted.
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