Why export - and why translate? - Multilingual Connections

Why export – and why translate?

marketing translation blunders (barf detergent powder)
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Barf laundry detergentI was invited to participate in a panel this week as part of Crain’s Small Business Week.  The panel, hosted by the Alliance for Illinois Manufacturing and Women’s Business Development Center, was about how to ignite and grow your export potential.

My contribution?  The importance of translation.

Here are some highlights:

Know your international audience

Knowing your audience means knowing what languages they speak – and what languages they prefer. Many people around the world speak English as a second or third language, but Commonsense Advisory’s research Can’t Read Won’t Buy notes that even among confident English users, 57% prefer to buy a product described in their own language. And language becomes and even more important factor for repeat business, as 74% are more likely to repeat their purchase if post-sale support is in their language.  If your target country speaks a language other than English, it’s a good idea to consider translation.

Do your homework

Think about your brand and product names relative to where you might want to export.  Are they relevant?  Offensive?  Just plain funny? In Iran, one of the most popular laundry detergents is one that wouldn’t sell well to an English-speaking audience: Barf (which means “snow”). Mazda’s Laputa wouldn’t sell in Latin America given that “la puta” means “the prostitute”.  Same for Puff’s tissues in Germany, where “puff” is slang for “brothel”. Companies that sell in many countries, like Ikea, can have a terrible time finding product names that work in all languages. But it’s worth taking the time and doing the research to avoid costly lessons later.

Where to start?

Translation can see daunting, and when done right, it’s not cheap. That being said, it’s an investment in the success of your business. Think about the user experience of your global audience.  Do you want to translate everything first – and do you have the budget to support that?  Or is it a better bet for you to start with your website, and build up to your product information and user manuals?  What about your post-sales support?  And if you’re exporting to multiple countries, do you translate into all of those languages, or pick one with the highest potential and expand from there, once you’ve learned what are certain to be important lessons along the way?

As you contemplate exporting your product, consider the linguistic and cultural environment of your target countries.  The more you learn up front, the fewer surprises there will be later.  There are enough examples of international marketing blunders – so do what you can to keep your company and product off those lists!

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We periodically share news and updates about language and our business. We’ll never share your contact information with anyone.