The impact of translating marketing content for your target personas
When you know your market and your target customer, you know how you want to talk to them to create your intended impact.
To be truly effective at marketing to your target audience, you have probably created detailed personas and you use these personas to hone your product or service. You also use them to decide on the type of marketing copy you create, the platforms you use, and the times and dates when you publish.
Your personas also affect the type of language you use for your marketing content. They should therefore also affect the language used when translating that content.
“We just want a translation”
Sometimes cheap and cheerful will do. Recently our lead translator was at a hotel swimming pool in Spain where the words on a sign warned that the hotel did not “give bodyguards”. As a linguist, she was amused and her instinct was to tell the management that they ought to correct it. Or to at least post a pithy comment on twitter under the hashtag #translationfail.
However, the key thing to concentrate on here is impact. The question any reasonable client is going to ask is “why does it matter?”.
In this particular example, it was clear from the context (a sign beside a pool) that the correct message was that there were no lifeguards on duty. The target audience of international holiday-makers taking a dip in the sun were perfectly capable of working out what it meant.
The translation on the sign did its job perfectly fine and it would be unrealistic to suggest that hotel management pay a professional to correct the phrase.
(It is worth pointing out as an aside, that the main reason this was acceptable was because the sign contained a pictogram. As well as complying with safety rules, pictures are an excellent alternative to words. In fact, our brains process images 60,000 faster than text.
What is your desired impact?
However, if a similarly-mangled translation had been on the hotel’s website copy instead of beside the pool, the negative impact would be much greater. Context matters.
A hotel that offers “cheap rooms have one human live two human lives, many human lives” (Believe it or not, this is from a genuine advert!) rather than “great value single, double and family rooms” for example, might find that their bottom line suffers and they don’t get enough guests to even make it to that sunny poolside.
have one human live two human lives, many human lives
The key to knowing when to invest in a professional translator is understanding who your target audience is and what impact you want to have on them.
Untrustworthy content, untrustworthy product?
In the UK in particular, we tend to look at spelling mistakes and non-native English content as being markers of an untrustworthy company. In fact, the bank First Direct recently ran an awareness campaign on social media to advise users to avoid any companies with this sort of email or marketing content, as it is probably phishing.
If your intended impact is that your target audience spends money, you need to create trust and reassure them that your product or service is genuine. One way of doing this is to ensure that you provide fluent, smooth translations of your copy, written by a native speaker.
Studies show that even if non-native users are willing to browse websites in another language, when it comes to making payments, they need the reassurance of seeing the payment page in their own language before they will commit. This is well summed up as “Can’t read, won’t buy”.
Craft your language around your target audience
Your content is crafted around your persona; your language and its translation needs to be too.
Returning to the example of a hotel website, it’s obvious that the aim is for the user to make a reservation. But of course, that’s just the tip of the iceberg; the end result of your carefully-planned marketing process, involving your personas.
You’ve already used personas to inform decisions like how to decorate the rooms, whether or not to include a coffee machine and so on.
You have probably also used them to decide whether the person reserving your hotel room should be called a “client”, “customer”, “guest”, “executive”, or “traveller”. You know which of these is appropriate and which creates the wrong impression.
In the same way, you know whether you want to use the words “cheap”, “budget” or “value” when referring to price, depending on your target market and the impact you want to have.
Translations of your copy
Ideally, all this work and background preparation should be summarised and shared with your translator, as they will have to make similar decisions about the language they use when translating your marketing, so that the translations are as effective as your original content.
Perhaps you don’t actually use a physical translator at all, and you run the text through an online app. As seen in the above examples, you will probably get the basics across, but is that enough in your context? Will it have the right impact on your target persona?
Professional translators are able to use your marketing tools and guidelines to ensure that the nuances, the rest of the iceberg, are taken into account in the new language.
Sometimes it’s worth the investment
In 2009 HSBC used the slogan “Assume Nothing”, regarding its investment packages. Unfortunately, and perhaps surprisingly, given their previous campaigns on cultural sensitivity, they did not do their due diligence on the phrase once it was translated into other languages and cultures, and the phrase became “do nothing” in some languages.
It took HSBC several years and $10 million USD of rebranding to fix this mistake and repair their brand image.
Share your marketing personas, mood board or glossaries with your translator
When you pass a piece of copywriting such as “Assume Nothing” to a translator, you can explain to them what you expect that to mean to your persona. If you allow them access to some of your marketing guidelines, they can ensure that it works in your target market.
One retail customer we worked with on their website copy and internal training manuals, had a very clear aesthetic that they wanted to put across to their customers. Customers were to be called “guests” at all times, and should be made to feel as though they were dealing with trusted friends and advisors rather than shop assistants and sales people. This, of course, influenced how our company translated their marketing content for them. They have a number of successful global franchises, partly as a result of this attention to detail.
Another former customer, a well-established winery, had spent millions of Euros updating their logo and strapline in Spanish as part of their strategy to expand further globally. Their image consultants and graphic designers were well-briefed on the type of symbolism the winery wanted to draw inspiration from, and what emotions to evoke in the target client.
However, when it came to translating the marketing copy ready for its launch at an international unveiling, the English translator was not given any advice other than “just translate it”, and only 24 hours in which to do so. As a result, they were unaware of the potential nuances, symbolism and decisions behind the language used in the original, so the translation, while perfectly serviceable, probably didn’t have quite the impact on the audience that it could have. The winery is not yet experiencing the growth it planned for and is continuing to try other marketing tactics to try and bridge the gap.
Always consider sharing your marketing personas, style guides or glossaries with your translator. There are some great ideas here.
Does your persona exist in all foreign cultures?
Finally, delving deeper into the marketing function, it may be that the personas you have so carefully honed do not actually even exist in quite the same way in your target language or culture.
If you are targeting stereotypes such as “the school mum” or the “business traveller” or “IT expert” and so on, these will either be markedly different in your target market, or not exist at all. If you address them inappropriately you risk causing confusion, offence or just plain indifference, if no-one in the new market feels that they are being talked to. Not the result you were aiming for.
If you have a marketing team on-site in your target market they will no doubt address all these cultural issues. The translations of your campaign should be given similar priority.
How to get it right?
There’s such a lot to bear in mind when you decide to commission translations for marketing in foreign languages or to foreign cultures that we have created our own guide. Our aim is to help you remember the basics and point out a few issues that you may not have come across yet.
Keep an eye out for it coming soon as a downloadable guide in 2 parts. We think it will be a useful tool for you to ensure success in your global campaign.
In the meantime, check out this infographic that provides an overview of the advice we’ve included in this post: