When companies expand internationally, translation is often one of the first ideas that they have. However if you want to be multi market ready with your content then that alone isn’t enough. To appeal to the locals then great localisation and translation management is necessary to ensure that the text you’re creating really hits the mark and converts into sales.
Localisation goes further than mere translation – it involves really converting the content into a local form. When you start to talk about marketing copy though with many clever word plays and implications then you need to use so-called transcreation skills to achieve the same effect in an overseas target market.
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For more than 20 years, Joanne Chan has been helping Hotels, Hospitality, Tourism, Travel, Lifestyle & Retail businesses grow their brand globally through the use of creative translation (or transcreation) services. She leads the IPPWORLD business development team, and has assisted brands in appealing to the China Outbound Travel Market through the development of the IPPWORLD Shanghai office where she was based at for 10 years.
Joanne was inspired to begin working in an international environment when she realised how many opportunities there are outside of the little red dot which is Singapore.
In our discussion, we didn’t only talk about the localisation industry, but also touched on the topic of culture shock, and why we shouldn’t make assumptions about foreign markets even if they seem superficially similar in some ways.
Why is content marketing so critical?
Content marketing forms the backbone of most marketing these days. No longer can we simply publish a couple of ads and expect consumers to be enamoured of our products. We have to share brand stories to convince our audiences WHY our products solve their problem or help them meet their desires.
In overseas markets, where a brand may not have the same existing reputation as at home this becomes even more critical. You have to convince the audience with information in their preferred language, in order for them to become your customers.
Customer Experience at the Forefront
You need to think your customer journey with the customer experience at the forefront. How will they discover and find out about your products?
Usually this journey begins these days with an online search for your type of product or service, however for overseas audiences there is a potential language barrier.
If you only offer your website in English, then you are missing out on huge global potential. These days it’s essential to offer a multilanguage option if you want to be taken seriously as an international player.
But why spend all that money on localisation and translation management? Surely I can just use Google?
Err…no, just no… Don’t do it or even think about it!
Google Translate isn’t intended for this purpose – they even state that themselves in their own explanations about the tool. If you do go ahead and translate your homepage just using Google then it will be penalised from an SEO perspective.
A machine translation is great for getting the gist of a document if you’re just skimming something but isn’t enough for marketing copy that will convert your audience. It simply lacks the human and cultural touch that provides an emotional connection.
For example, if you have a website with beautiful photos but really poor copy then you are unlikely to convince website visitors of the value of your brand. Without that, your website is unlikely to convert many sales.
What about your Grandma’s daughter’s friend?
This is also a no-no… unless said friend happens to be a professional in whatever it is that you offer.
Just because someone speaks a language at native level doesn’t qualify them to translate your marketing copy. As I mentioned in my introduction, preparing marketing copy for an overseas market is almost as much work as creating something completely new (hence the name “transcreation”). A random bilingual person doesn’t have the specialised knowledge of how to create audience engagement for your brand.
How much time and energy went into weighing the suitability and impact of every word in your native language? It’s unlikely you trusted this challenge of how to communicate your brand values to a random stranger with no obvious qualifications, so why do this with your multi-language copy?
If working in the translation and localisation industry had such a low barrier to entry, it wouldn’t be a specialised degree course, offered by many illustrious universities.
Localisation and translation management support through an agency
If you are looking to be multi market ready then you really need to invest in the services of a professional agency up front.
That doesn’t just mean you can go to any old translator either and ask them to do the job for you. Ideally it should be someone with an in depth knowledge of your industry and how it works. IPPWORLD for example, where Joanne works, is specialised on the hotel, travel and hospitality industry. They wouldn’t be the ideal partner to translate your steel mill website.
You can expect that agency to ask you for a huge amount of information about your brand in order to get the brand feel right and to be able to truly communicate your values in a way that converts into sales. This might seem like a lot of work up front, but it’s essential to your successful sales further down the line in time.
This will include aspects such as:
- what is your brand identity?
- how is your brand positioned? What about the individual products or services?
- what tone of voice is used so that your copy resonates with your ideal audience?
- in what direction is your brand moving in the next months and years?
- which writing style is needed?
If you have a super-premium 5* hotel then your messaging and positioning will be completely different to that of a backpacker hostel, and you need to be clear about that before you approach an agency. Although any good agency will also guide you through the process, it’s better to be prepared up front.
When you are searching for an agency they should:
- be an industry specialist
- understand your CMS (= content management system)
- have a deep knowledge of the culture & search behaviour of the target market
- be able to implement technical features such as automatic currency conversion
Remember that the prime aim of marketing copy is to create emotions with the reader so you need an agency partner who can evoke similar feelings in your target market.
Which content needs to be localised?
Apart from the language element itself, there are many small, seemingly insignificant details along the customer experience journey that need to be localised. Additionally, SEO varies across markets so you need to work with professionals who know how to adapt for that.
These include things like:
- Dates. What is the usual format that people prefer in that country? DD MM YYYY or MM DD YYYY or perhaps something else entirely? In China it’s usual to use YYYY MM DD – that’s got me a couple of times when filling out landing cards…
This can make quite a difference if you write 1.6.2022. Do you mean June or perhaps January?
Thailand uses the Buddhist calendar for the years, which is 543 years ahead of the Gregorian calendar.
- Currency. Whatever currency you might finally invoice your clients in, it’s important for them to understand your pricing up front, so you need to build a conversion calculator of some kind into your site. You don’t want them clicking away to another information source when they may then never return…
- Numbers. 10.000 or 10,000? What about 10k? or 1 wan (万)? All the same number but easily misunderstood if you are not familiar with the culture they were written in.
Whilst it’s relatively easy to get the right date format or currency, things get more complicated when you need to communicate the brand messaging. That means that whichever agency you have selected for your localisation and translation management is likely to ask you a whole slew of questions, additional to the ones mentioned above.
- who is the target of the content you want to share?
- what is the purpose of sharing this piece of content?
- how will this content contribute to the customer experience journey?
You need to consider this aspects from an ideal consumer perspective – what will motivate them to consume more of your content and eventually buy from you? Of course, you have this question with any kind of marketing copy, however if you are working in a multitude of markets, you need to accept that this motivation will vary from one country to the next. This is where the expertise of a professional agency comes in.
It doesn’t have to be overwhelming
Whilst you may have hundreds of blog posts and dozens of pages on the original version of your website, you don’t have to localise all of them before you can go international.
Think about where to focus first & localise a landing page.
Creating a micro-site is also a great option. You can just select which part of the original site is most essential for generating revenue and localise that.
Realistically in the beginning you are looking to guide potential clients through the purchasing process and build trust for your brand. You can always expand the scale of information at a later point.
Blogs should be really carefully selected in this initial phase to showcase who you are as a brand, build trust and demonstrate your competence in your specialist field. You’re looking to create brand awareness that you then can carry over into social media, in turn bringing more people back to your website.
Top tips to be multi market ready
Joanne’s top tips for expanding into multiple countries would be:
- don’t assume that just because those markets speak the same language at first glance (eg. English, Spanish or Mandarin) that there are no differences. Not only the use of language will be different, but there will be a completely different mindset, culture, legal system etc
- think from a customer perspective. How can you move them to purchase what you are offering? Your marketing activity has to be targeted to the region. It might be the same information that you deliver worldwide, but “packaged” in a different format eg white paper vs video
- take advice from local specialists. They should know both the niche that you are working in as well as the target market. Don’t be arrogant in thinking that you always know what is best for your brand but really listen to their recommendations and see how you can adapt your message accordingly, whilst still being in alignment with your own values.
Your marketing copy in your home market hasn’t been written by a bot, so don’t trust it to a machine when you venture abroad either. Work with professionals who will increase your conversions to sales.
You can find the full interview with Joanne here:
You can find some of the other interviews from the Business Beyond Borders Event also here on the blog:
- Maria Iacob: International Money Transfers
- Kate Isichei: Internal Communication Strategies Across Borders
- Lorenzo Fornaroli: Managing International Logistics & Supply Chain Management when starting out in Export
- Kathrin Bussmann: Starting to Build your Brand in International Markets
- Wael Masri: Building International Business Relationships to Drive Growth
- Alexander Assouad: Managing Global Teams and Building Culture when Working across Borders
- Vivian Manasse: Can Intercultural Intelligence Skills be learnt?
If you are interested in the translation and localisation industry, you might also like my interview with
- Stefan Huyghe: Impact of war in Ukraine 2022 on the localisation industry
- Suzan Brown: Selecting a Language Service Provider
- Stirling Austin: Mulitlingual Website Strategy
Thinking that working with a consultant would accelerate your international expansion?
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