The layers of marketing translation
International growth is a great way of widening your target audience, thus increasing potential revenue. However, when looking to expand internationally, it is important to take the right steps and seek the right advice. It’s far too easy to make assumptions when it comes to international growth and what will and won’t work, but not only can these be costly, they can also be a waste of time. The first steps you take are some of the most important, and can put you on the right path for the rest of your international growth journey, which is why it is important to have a watertight international business plan before you begin. Of course, translation is a vital part of expanding into international markets, but being strategic about what you translate and when is even more important.
The layers of communication
Within any sales document, information is being communicated on a range of levels. I like to think of it as being like the layers in a cake. At the most fundamental level, the very foundation, there are the basic facts. You communicate what do you do, and what products you sell. The main descriptive names of your key services, or products. You probably don’t think about this stuff any more as it’s so fundamental and you’ve been talking about it for years.
Then we have the second layer of the cake that’s the “style”, which comes from the tone of language you select, how formal or wordy you are, your sentence length, etc. Then lastly there’s the icing on the top, by which we mean the visual feel. That covers everything beyond the meaning of the words, like the colours, the layout, the font, the text arrangements â€“ everything else basically.
When clients give translation briefs, their primary concern is usually with tone and flow, then followed by visual layout and appearance. And understandably so, it’s really important, and marketing text is FULL of tone and style. But, when it comes to translating properly, you have to be perfect when it comes to the boring, basic factual content. Your core messages about what you do, the words you use to describe the fundamentals of your service, your clients, your USP and your values are the most important. If you rush into using translations of them that might be linguistically correct but that don’t resonate with your target audience, your marketing content might as well all go in the bin. They need research, they need to really sound right and native. Not in terms of style (not yet), but in a way that says with one single quick read “yes – this is for people like me!”. Then, and only then, do you build up the rest of the cake, with the style and then the visual feel.
Why Shouldn’t I Start with Marketing Literature?
Once you have established that there is a demand for your products or services in your target market, which your international growth advisor can determine by running a series of simple tests, you may believe that the first step is to translate your marketing material. After all, how else are customers going to buy your products? In fact, this assumption is wrong. Contrary to popular belief, starting with the translation of your marketing literature doesnt actually mean more revenue. This is because, whilst your target market might be aware of your products, they arent aware of why they should buy them, and why they should choose to invest in your brand over your competitors. Even if a translation of your existing marketing material is linguistically exact, it may not be appropriate for your new target market, which means you will need to start from the very beginning, adapting your marketing material for each of your new target markets to meet customer needs and expectations. Translated marketing literature can often be too “wordy” and might not convey your central message, which is important when the market knows nothing about you, and without this, your products won’t sell.
What Should I Start With?
Even if you brand is well-established in your domestic market, you will need to start from scratch when it comes to building customer loyalty in international markets. Translating a clear message about your brand’s ethics and your key product descriptions are often the best place to start, as they can tell your new audience what you are about, and how you can fulfil their expectations. Your USP is also important at this stage, along with any materials or technologies that are specific to your brand, as this will express your worth in that market. Your international customers will need to understand all of this before they are in a position to buy. This is not to say that you can’t use your existing materials, such as your brochures and website, but you must localise and tailor this information to suit your international target market.
The same rules will apply regardless of the product you are selling and the scale of your business, but let’s take a sports shoe brand as an example. Rather than beginning with any press or social marketing in the new target market, begin by translating the USP. That might be “high performance shoes, for lower than average market prices”, for example. Or “Super higher performance shoes, handmade by sports scientists”. Why should customers choose your shoes over others on the market? Maybe they are handmade, or they carry a specific value in a particular sporting subculture, or they are ethically dyed. Whatever their unique thing is, that all needs to come across, and still stand up perfectly in the target market. You should then translate a description of your brand, as well as descriptions of your key products. In this case, maybe the specific materials the shoes are made from and the names of the product categories: track, court, ping pong, fashion or basketball shoes, for example… that will probably become quite a long list, but I hope you can see why it would be so valuable to get them nailed down before writing emails about them. It is only once these aspects of your business are clarified and understood that you should begin translating your marketing material.
Though it may seem as if delaying the translation of your marketing literature is delaying the revenue you could be receiving in the new market, it will actually benefit you in the long run. Not only will it save you time, it can also prevent you from making expensive or embarassing mistakes translating marketing material that simply won’t be effective in that target market.