ULG’s Language Solutions Blog

5 Keys to Avoiding Marketing Translation Blunders

Whether you’re expanding your reach to international markets or meeting people where they’re at domestically, the importance of making sure your message is translated properly cannot be overstated.

Because marketing language is conceptual, a word-for-word translation could not only alter your brand message but also offend your target audience and damage your brand reputation. To be sure your marketing messages hit the mark, follow these five steps.

1. Understand the culture and customs.

Researching local vernacular—how people express themselves among or across geographic and demographic lines—is especially important when you expand your reach into new markets or if your goal is to increase market share among non-native English speakers. Your intended audience may be overseas or closer to home, but the need for appropriate language and context remains the same.

There can be significant differences in how individuals describe the same thing across or even within regions. For example, it would be a mistake to assume that residents living in Latin American countries all speak the same kind of Spanish. For example, if you tell someone to hurry up in Mexican Spanish, you’d say, “apúrate,” but in Puerto Rican Spanish, you’d say, “avanza.”

There are also social mores to consider. For example, multi-generational living is more common than not across large areas of Africa, Latin America, Asia, and the Caribbean. In North America, on the other hand, most older adults live alone or with their spouse. If you want to appeal to an older audience, your messaging needs to take into account how families interact with each other in the markets where you want to expand. Use correct terminology instead of relying on word-for-word translation that could alienate the very people you want to attract to your brand.

2. Share concepts, not just words.

Before you embark on your translation project, consider the goal of your messaging and your target audience. Fashion and beauty brands aimed at women, of course, focus on aesthetics. What the marketing people behind those big names really want is for customers to feel a certain way by wearing that dress or using this eyeshadow, which is why they use words like “confident” and “bold” in their messaging.

The same rule applies to your efforts. Do you want your audience to feel something? Do you want them to change the way they think about a product or service? You need to understand what kind of interest you want to spark—and partner with an expert in translation services who can help you reach your audience.

3. Understand how technology meets human connection.

Machine learning is a wonderful tool that can take a lot of the weight off a heavy translation task. Because it does employ word-for-word translation, you should use professional linguists as well to avoid words and phrases that could potentially harm your message and your brand. 

Combining technology with a human element creates fresh content that conveys the same message as your original campaign. Machine translation also helps translate big projects quicker and with additional accuracy with human editing. Professionals who understand both your brand’s message and local culture can take your concept so much further than relying on word-for-word translation as evidenced by the following examples.

When the coronavirus pandemic first swept the globe, the travel and tourism industries were hit hard. Mexico embarked on a marketing campaign to bring visitors back to the country but relied on word-for-word translation. Tulum, a hugely popular destination on the Yucatán peninsula, became “Jumpsuit,” and the city of Ciudad Madero was “Log City.”

You’d think Amazon wouldn’t encounter translation issues, but they did when the company expanded into Sweden in 2020. The Nintendo Switch was listed as the “Nintendo Circuit Breaker” and WWII-era Russian figurines were listed as “Russian toddlers.” In a country where 95 percent of the population speaks English, many native Swedes wondered if a translation was even necessary.

4. Consider the look of your content. 

How your content looks to your new audience is another consideration you can’t neglect. Once your marketing concept has been translated, you’ll need to carefully review the color combinations and layout of your content.

How people view color could play a big role in how they interact with your brand, if at all. The color red can mean passion, life, danger, or even mourning, while yellow can be seen as energetic but is also tied to wealth, mourning, or courage. Green is almost always associated with nature and luck, and black represents mystery, sophistication, evil, or positive feminine energy. 

Because the concept behind your messaging can translate into longer or shorter words and phrases, you’ll need to employ a graphic designer who can make the necessary text adjustments to retain the look and feel of your message while making it appropriate for local audiences.

5. Check and double-check your marketing translation.

Having professional linguists perform quality assurance steps such as proofreading and editing is a measure of prevention that protects your brand, your message, and your expansion goals. Partnering with an expert like United Language Group provides peace of mind because our language experts also ensure your content is culturally appropriate.

If you’re ready to take your business international, please reach out to one of our marketing language solutions experts.

Learn how you can reach unique local geographies by optimizing translations and localizing your product content. >>