Cross-cultural marketing: “Language is the invisible key”

Cross-cultural marketing: “Language is the invisible key”

Have you been on holiday in a country which you do not speak the language? Was it easy?

Did you rely on a person who had language skills? Did you feel safer with their help? Did you feel frustrated?

Or were you grateful?

In most places you can enjoy holiday without any language skills. But languages are necessary to do business outside your own country. Even when you sell your products via agents or distributors.

I meet British companies looking to expand their business in France. Some handle their cross-cultural communication in a professional way. Others go the DIY way with strange results.

Would you like to know more?

I asked 3 questions to 5 people who work with languages.

1) What’s the main objection for a company not using professional services for translation?

2) What do you think are the differences between famous and small brands when they use languages?

3) What part do you think languages play in international growth?

Here are their answers.

Liz Wilson is lead copywriter for Orange in Switzerland.

1) I don’t know of any serious company or organisation that doesn’t use professional translators. They know how important it is to translate or rewrite content in a way that resonates with the target audience. For that you need native-speaker translators.

2) The famous brands I’ve worked with take language seriously. Both their tone of voice and translations.

I work for Orange. We communicate in 4 languages: German, French, English and Italian. We spend a great deal of time making sure we speak to our customers in the most appropriate and engaging way. We use qualified translators.

I’m not sure how less-well-known brands act.

3) It’s essential to use local languages when entering new markets. That means copywriting or translations by professionals who also know the local culture. There is no compromise on this. Without appropriate and engaging content, businesses cannott hope to gain customers in international markets.

>   You can find Liz at LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter @lizwilson2.

Nadine Touzet is a Freelance Translator & Conference Interpreter.

She answers question 1) and explains the mutation of her work.

The main objection for companies is cost. Clients don’t recognise the value that professional translators can bring. I see two broad categories of companies.

Companies that know from the start that they need professional translation and interpreting services. They prepare their budgets to make sure that a professional will take care of the important translations.

The rest is not done.

Or done at a minimal cost.

And companies that are more hesitant, have little or no experience of translation. And for whom linguistics services are just a necessary evil. They will end up deciding only on cost criteria. They are interested in getting next-to-free services.

My long experience tells me that this reflects our loss of status.

Google Translate is not the problem.

Translators and their products are now marketed on the same level as commodities. Clients want translations that are just good enough for them. At the cost of basic made goods.

There has been a huge shift in my client population. Nowadays I often work for North American corporations wanting to expand to French-speaking Africa. In the race for unlimited global expansion, local languages are impediments for many businesses.

That’s why they crowdsource (for free) their translations.

Or they look for a small cost.

A language is only a tool for communication. One of the most visible layers of a culture. Translations are brilliant when they develop the underlying messages. And when a rich knowledge of the culture support messages.

Many clients ask for tools such as translation memories to reduce costs. These methods often provide a false sense of translation. It becomes linguistic manipulation. There is no editorial creativity. Translators are foremost knowledge specialists.

>   More about Nadine on LinkedIn

Kate McNally is a former award-winning business journalist now living and working in Rhône-Alpes, France.

1) The main objection is cost. Companies have a marketing budget. Quite often they don’t consider a professional translation as a priority. And many decision-makers have no international experience. Or they don’t speak a foreign language. They are not aware of the value of a professional translation. Nor of just what a bad impression a poor translation gives of their business.

2) The famous brands are more savvy in their approach to languages. They have been active in the global market for many years. And learnt the value of marketing in a foreign language.

They recognise the potential of the global market.

They have researched what it takes to penetrate overseas markets.

They get feedback from people on the ground and know when the tone of the documentation hits the mark.

3) Language is the invisible key to successful international growth. Get it right: people notice the message. Which is what you want. Get it wrong: visibility is high. Your target reader will notice every mistake. Less chances they are going to do business with you.

To open doors in the global marketplace it is worth paying a little more. Make sure language is the invisible key, not the visible barrier.

>   More about Kate on LinkedIn

Diana ben-Aaron is course leader and lecturer in journalism at University Campus Suffolk (UK) and freelance journalist, copy editor and translator from Finnish and Swedish.

Discover her views (as an answer to the whole subject).

In Finland the main translation language is English. That’s what I translate. So I don’t get to hear the excuses for not translating to other languages apart from “if it is in English that’s all we need.”
And it’s not my expertise or business to know whether that’s true and where. I’m not a market researcher.

Most Finns with good English also do some translation in their lives. I’m sure many of them think they are as good as a professional translator whose native language is English.

And well – the marketplace will decide that. There are bad translations out there. Does it make a difference?

Usually in the case of Finnish products, if the product was great, nobody cared if the English was a little fractured. It added to the charm. If the product had problems, which is often the case in any industry, language wasn’t going to save it. Although it could make, for example, bad software even harder to use.

>   More about Diana on

Christian Arno is CEO of Lingo24, a leading provider of professional translation services and related services.

1) Price is the main reason. But cutting corners in translation is usually a false economy.

When you rely on amateurs (or free machine translation services) you run the risk of misleading readers. And losing customers. Even if your company has bilingual employees, they don’t have the same linguistic and cultural knowledge as a professional translator.

That’s not to say translation has to be expensive. Post-edited machine translation is cheaper. It’s useful when you don’t need a polished text. We recommend clients “test the waters” in a new market by translating a few web pages. Or the page about their most popular product. If customers “bite” then it’s worth paying for a full translation.

2) There are plenty of examples of famous brands getting it wrong.

A couple that spring to mind are Ford’s launch of the Caliente in Mexico (which is slang for “streetwalker”). And Clairol with a hair styling tool named Mist Stick (or “Manure Stick”) in Germany.

But in general global brands are serious. They want language and cultural references right in every marketing campaign. For example Ikea uses distinctive Swedish product names. The company checked each one before launching in Thailand.

3) Communicating with customers is essential for growing a business.

English is an unofficial lingua franca in much of the world. But research found that most people want information in their mother tongue when they buy.

The Internet has made it easier than ever for small businesses to export overseas. The web becomes more multilingual. Translation and localisation are key to reaching global customers.

>  More about Lingo24 at

Should you spend your precious budget on a professional translation service?

Let’s think about your own habits for a moment.

Do you buy from non-English websites? Do you like it? Is it easy? And are you confident when you read poor English? Do you trust the brand? Or do you run away from the website?

The quality of the language on your site matters.

French people are touchy with their language. Perhaps even more so than the Brits. Silly translation errors reflect badly on your brand. Dumb copywriting turns potential customers away.

To sell to French customers, be serious with the French language. Convince your readers with delicious content.




Enjoy reading this? Share it. Thank you very much 🙂

Tags: ,

Leave A Reply (No comments so far)

The comments are closed.

No comments yet