By Frank Hartkopf, head of European content at Axonn Media, a leading multilingual Content Marketing Agency
You have probably spotted it immediately. But just to clarify, the above headline is not a combination of typos on my part, but rather a translation courtesy of Google Translate.
Fittingly, this was the result when we translated, from Afrikaans to English, “Why you shouldn’t rely on Google Translate”.
As regular business travellers, many of us will have seen poorly-translated airport signs or dishes which don’t make sense on the menu, that made us chuckle because their meanings are hopelessly lost in translation.
It goes without saying that businesses should never completely rely on a computer programme to translate their website and marketing content. Yet, a surprising number of businesses are trying to cut corners when it comes to reaching customers abroad.
Recent predictions by CSA Research have suggested that companies could be losing out on $30 trillion worth of sales, simply by failing to localise their website content.
The same study revealed that 85 per cent of consumers are more inclined to buy a product when confronted with information in their own language, with 54 per cent saying this was more important than the actual price.
Good localisation increases in importance alongside the value of the products on offer. You might tolerate a faulty English menu in the Chinese restaurant down the road from your hotel in Shanghai, but if found on a website offering big-ticket business products, you’ll think more than twice whether to do business with them. And your non-English prospects feel the same.
Dogs are not universally cute
Understanding cultural specifics is essential if you want to use multilingual content marketing to attract new customers from overseas.
A prime example is a British company that wanted to expand its successful online shop selling baby products to the Arabic speaking world.
They learned the hard way that, while their bibs decorated with puppies might have been bestsellers in the UK, they were a complete no-go with buyers from Saudi Arabia, Egypt or Jordan. In the Islamic culture of course, dogs are considered to be unclean and carry different connotations to here in the UK.
Transcreation, not translation
Since technology has made it easy for anyone to reach out globally via the internet, some companies perhaps need reminding of an old business traveller’s truth — you can’t sell to whom you don’t understand.
It is vital to have a clear international marketing strategy in place and to decide which market to target first.
The problem, however, is the sheer quantity of online content that gets produced every day. Having it properly translated by a professional agency can be costly and take too much time.
What’s worse, even the best translation of your online content does not engage and convert foreign audiences, because the contextual message is not conveyed into the local culture. Word plays often get lost in translation, as do figures of speech.
This is why, in order to attract audiences from non-English speaking countries, it is better to invest in the transcreation of your content assets instead of simply translating.
The process of transcreation avoids the problem of translating an article simply word for word. Instead, you brief the native speakers of your target countries as to the key messages and context of the article, and they will write it from scratch, using their own words, cultural concepts and metaphors.
They know how local consumers tend to use the internet, which content and imagery is relevant for them, and which online search queries are trending in their market. Thanks to transcreation, your global campaign could even ensue simultaneously in several markets around the world.
Over the next few years, digital marketing will become increasingly multilingual, and to succeed, businesses need a multilingual content marketing strategy.
Computer assisted translations certainly have their place in modern business, but if you want to connect with new prospects and engage your global customer base, you should never rely on Google Translate.
Read our contributor biography of Frank Hartkopf