Do you have a product that could sell anywhere? Would consumers in foreign markets find your brand compelling if they had access to it? In today’s economy, the decision to expand to international markets can mean a big increase in growth and company profit… if you do it right.
Extending your message overseas to new markets and new consumers is not an easy task. While it’s obvious that you need to “speak the language,” it may be less obvious that you need your message to relate to them on a cultural level beyond the basics of word-for-word translation. To break into these new emerging markets and get your message across, you need more than just, say, a Spanish version of your product’s print ad. You need a localization solution.
The Importance of Localization
When we are approached by US firms looking to expand their reach into international markets, we often find that the distinction between simple translation and localization isn’t obvious.
Moving your products into new markets is a sizeable commitment. In addition to the simple, but necessary, translation needs you’ll have for simple product names and descriptions as well as manuals, you will need to translate your brand message in a way that is compelling to your new customers.
In explaining the difference between translation, localization and transcreation to new clients, we tell them that taglines and messages that work well in one country might completely flop in another even if they are translated as faithfully as possible. You have to go beyond simple translation to creating a compelling message that translates not just to the target language but also to the culture of the market you are entering. The famous case of Kentucky Fried Chicken (now just KFC) entering into China illustrates this nicely. Domestically, the chain’s slogan was “Finger Lickin’ Good!”. Unfortunately, the closest literal translation of this idea involved the Mandarin characters for “We’ll Eat your Fingers Off”. In addition, plenty of well-known and respected companies have made translation errors that cost them big time. Fox Business recently ran a story highlighting some of the funnier translation mistakes companies have made. HSBC Bank spent millions of dollars in 2009 to expand their “Assume Nothing” campaign. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite pay off. In many countries, it was translated to “Do Nothing,” not really the message HSBC wanted to get across. More than just translation, localization and the similar, but more involved process of transcreation are the processes of taking your core idea and expressing it effectively in the local language and cultural context.
Do you even need to worry about translating your products or brand message into another language? If so, what pieces really need the extended treatment of a localization program versus simple translation? Here are a few ideas to keep in mind:
- Is your product a well understood commodity? If you are selling facial tissue in a market like Europe and you have a lock on extensive distribution and an amazing pricing model, then you can probably get away with no translation at all. Everyone in your market understands what the product is for and the message of your brand can be safely ignored if you have massive distribution.
- Is your product a category killer? If your product is new or meets an existing customer need in a very new way, then you need to put in a heck of a lot of upfront development cost on localization. Once your product becomes entrenched and garners word of mouth, you can reduce your localization spend, but explaining new and difficult concepts and encouraging adoption must be as culturally accurate as possible.
- Are you offering a range of products under a common brand theme? In the case of KFC, an entire menu was being introduced to a new market and the unifying message of the brand was key to its success. If you are a brand-driven company offering (for example) a line of consumer electronics, then it’s imperative that you take significant time to localize and transcreate your message in a way that is compelling to your new customers.
- Does your product fall under heavy regulation? From the bi-lingual requirements of the Canadian market to ‘protected’ goods like foods, understanding the appropriate local idioms and regulatory restrictions often necessitates a more aggressive localization approach. In this case, you are looking for more technical and legal understanding than you would in the case of a brand message.
Finding The Right Partner
While it might seem cost-effective at first to handle the process of localizing your message in-house, there are some hidden costs that may actually make it more expensive. Often it makes more sense to hire an outside firm that specializes in this kind of work and has a proven track record.
When you start looking for a partner to take your product and your brand message to a whole new group of consumers, you need to check for a few key things. The first is really a no-brainer. You have to work with a company that has experience in the markets you are targeting. Some groups may have done amazing localization campaigns across Europe but never localized a brand message to a South American market. Make sure first and foremost that the companies have specialists who know not just the official languages of the countries you are targeting but the important differences between regional varieties of those languages.
When you start the process of expanding your company to a whole new market, don’t forget all of the parts of your business at home that will need to be translated. From a new website to separate social media accounts and more—you need to be ready to translate and localize every part of your company’s external communications at a minimum. If you decide to work with an outside group, make sure they have the experience and the ability to localize your entire social media and online presence. If they don’t, it might be time to find a new partner.