Beyond English: Your Brand in Translation - Multilingual Connections

Beyond English: Your Brand in Translation

Beyond English: your brand in translation
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We periodically share news and updates around translation, language and culture. Rest assured we’ll never share your contact information with anyone!


In the US, research shows the number of people speaking languages other than English at home has more than doubled since 1990. Globally, more than 50% of all searches on Google are in languages other than English, and over 70% of internet users prefer to spend time on websites translated into their mother tongue.

No matter where they are in the world, consumers respond more favorably to messages received in their own language. And brands, too, must consider how these multilingual messages are received. From billboards to movies, video games to TV ads, e-commerce websites and more, cross-cultural messages should be professionally translated to convey the intended meaning beyond the direct translation of words.

Brand reputations at stake

Credit card leader Visa launched a US-based TV advertisement campaign under the slogan “Life Takes Visa” in an attempt to counter MasterCard’s iconic tagline “For everything else, there’s Mastercard.” To build loyalty and connect with Hispanic audiences, the credit card introduced a Spanish-translated version, “La Vida Toma Visa”.

But the new slogan confused Hispanics. The reason was simple: in Spanish, the verb “tomar” means both “to take” and “to drink” – opening the interpretation to “Life Drinks Visa”. Rather than being viewed as culturally inclusive, Visa came across as culturally clueless.

In 2020, Amazon launched its long-awaited Swedish version of their website. Shortly after, the public highlighted translation errors that riddled the site: 

The retail giant quickly scrambled to correct errors and mend relationships with consumers. The Twitterverse thought these mistranslations were funny, but the potential negative impact – or even backlash – on a brand is not a laughing matter.

Brand revenue at stake

With global translation experts available, it can be hard to understand how projects, even at multi-billion-dollar companies, make it through several quality controls and still launch with poor translation. Unfortunately, budget constraints and tight deadlines can pressure brands to cut corners. But when translated content doesn’t resonate with the intended audience, either because of a language error or a missed cultural nuance, brand reputations falter and revenue can follow suit.

Brand growth at stake

Most brands agree that a positive customer experience is a driving force for sustainable business growth. But if brands have a blind spot when engaging non-native English speakers, that same experience excludes a very large potential audience. 

Before expanding beyond native linguistic borders, brands must create a thoroughly laid-out plan with language at its heart. Careful consideration of your intended audience is the first step in maintaining brand standards for quality messaging. Thoughtful planning should include review of the use of slang, localized dialects, double entendres, idioms, metaphors and other nuanced language devices. To gain brand and product traction in diverse markets and increase the cultural diversity of the customer, pushing past a “word for word” accuracy for language translation is a must. What lies beyond linguistic accuracy is attention to cultural and linguistic nuance and the need at times for transcreation rather than just translation. This approach considers the non-English speaker’s perspective and evaluates what would most personally resonate with them, their lifestyle and worldview. A nuanced understanding of the need for authenticity, empathy and representation forms the basis of a great translation plan. Expert translations go beyond the surface of the words and discover the intention and feeling needed for significant connection.

Consumers expect authenticity.

Great marketing messages are singular. In very few words, much meaning is conveyed. Brands spend millions with agencies crafting carefully nuanced phrases, double entendres or clever mashups to make powerful connections to consumers. Unfortunately, the money poured into original language marketing is often not mirrored once the translation starts. 

Non-English speakers want to experience the same brand authenticity in their native language. But direct translation of a marketing message or media concept leaves a lot of room for error. While technical translations can be done, marketing is not a technical science. It is an art form that requires understanding more than just how people speak. This requires brands to invest in understanding new markets, new consumers and new cultures. While reliance on tools like Google Translate are convenient for time and budget, the message communicated to the multicultural audience is insincerity. In effect, they are saying, “We care about you and we want your business, but not enough to really invest.”

When brands attempt in-house translation by a bilingual teammate or resort to raw machine translation without human involvement, errors are inevitable. Partnering with talented linguists embedded in the culture of the language that utilize the best of industry technology ensures quality, connection and brand authenticity. Ultimately, brands need to show they care to impart the brand experience to new markets by the way they respect their languages, cultures and styles.

Consumers expect empathy.

People buy products, interact with brands, work with organizations, read instructions or fill out forms ostensibly because they are in some state of need. From the need to quench their thirst to a need for a live-saving device, consumers are experiencing some form of pain that looks to be alleviated by connection. When in a state of need, empathy is the most powerful human emotion. 

While language is inextricably intertwined with culture, it is also inextricably intertwined with human emotions and mind states. Considering where and when your audience consumes your messages is the foundation of empathy. While empathizing with those in your native language and culture may come naturally, nuance is required to translate content in a way that extends beyond simple usability and consumption needs. Part of that empathy includes understanding that different cultures deal with emotions differently. Investment in properly translated content leverages the cultural nuance necessary to make an emotional impact. Language experts can bridge cultural differences, delivering the intended emotional outcome.

Consumers expect representation.

Accurate translation creates content that is not only understood, but makes the consumer feel seen and heard. Marketing messages are created with a specific audience in mind and when that audience changes, and in fact, speaks a different language, that message needs to be changed. But beyond words and meaning, the visuals should also be reviewed and assessed so that authenticity and empathy is achieved alongside culturally appropriate visual representation. 

Consider how many American holidays have religious overtones. While a view of a Christmas tree or an Easter lily may not carry religious connotations for some in the Western world, those same images will either not convey the message accurately at best, or seriously offend at worst. Even a family gathering at Thanksgiving may easily translate the idea of family connection, families in different cultures gather differently, eat different foods and participate in different greetings or rituals. 

The most well-received messages are ones where the audience can see themselves in the imagined world. Offering a meaningful relationship with a brand requires offering an invitation to participate. That invitation should include cultural, racial, and religious inclusion far beyond the inclusivity of the words. Hearing from local experts about how to translate a look and feel and accurately represent audiences is the first step to accurate representation.

Meeting Expectations

As brands break geographic, cultural and language barriers, finding the right translation partner is key for success. From translation to transcreation, meeting the expectations of any audience requires moving away from creating these projects as an afterthought. Recreating and reimagining brand messaging from one language to another while conveying intent, style, tone and context of the original source is not simple, but the international growth of your brand depends on it. Looking for a partner to support your multilingual strategy and translation needs? Reach out to us!

Want to stay connected?

We periodically share news and updates around translation, language and culture. Rest assured we’ll never share your contact information with anyone!