We want to keep it cheeky.”

“We’re afraid it will lose its punch.”

“We’re very casual with our customers. It’s part of our brand.”

Marketing content, by its very nature, is designed to be emotional. Your branding and messaging is specifically designed to set up an emotional reaction in your customer. If you are a new, hip, internet application provider, you might want your customer to think that you are very current. To do this, you would communicate in a “young” and modern way. Your tone and language would be designed to draw in your customers, get them to laugh or smirk, and so on.

If you are a financial institution, you probably don’t want your customers smirking. Instead, you want to have your customers feel confident about your professionalism almost to the point – dare I say – of boredom. You want them to feel that their money is safe and sound, not being managed by a bunch of people who joke around a lot.

What do you do when you need to take your brand global? Most emotional content simply does not translate all that well. What “packs a punch” in the U.S. can be downright offensive in Europe, Asia, or the Middle East. This really presents a dilemma when it comes to localizing and translating your marketing content.

Choose a strategy

There are essentially three ways to approach your dilemma:

  1. Don’t translate any of the content
  2. Translate all of the content
  3. Transcreate all of the content

Let’s examine these options.

Translate Nothing

You may decide that you are not going to translate at all. Instead, you will use your English content to reach your foreign customers. After all, everyone speaks English, right? Wrong. Assuming that all of your customers speak English is a dangerous. True, many people have some level of proficiency in English. But, if you want to impact your customers on an emotional level, English may not be the right way to go.

If you are planning on translating nothing, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Remove jargon and colloquialisms. “Packing a punch” really doesn’t mean anything to people who don’t have English as a first language. And even in English-speaking countries outside of the U.S., the phrase “Packing a punch” is meaningless – or worse – can be misinterpreted in myriad ways. Remember, there really are no “silver bullets.” [Oh, I could go on, but you get the point.]
  • Keep your information simple. As simple as possible. In the U.S., the average reading level is 6th grade. And that is for people who have English as a first language. Sure, your customers might be smarter, but to assume a high reading level in a foreign country is a mistake.
  • Be careful with your graphics. There are plenty of illustrations and images that work in the U.S., but are offensive overseas. Don’t use flags. Don’t use maps.

It’s a sobering perspective to think that every possible hand gesture is offensive in at least one other culture.

Translate Everything As-Is

Another option is to throw caution to the wind and translate everything as-is. You can try to rely on your translation vendors to accurately translate your content, emotion and all, into the languages you need. If you opt to translate content without modifying it, be prepared to have your in-country reviewers spend many cycles iterating with the translator to get the messaging right.

Another approach is to modify your source English content to make sure it is translatable. Making your content global-ready is the key to having translations that make sense. At my company, Content Rules, we use state of the art tools to analyze your content for translatability. Then, using a team of specially-trained writers and editors, we work with your content to make it ready for translation. But – and this is an important but – it is very difficult, sometimes impossible, to take extremely colloquial, emotional content, make it translatable, and still maintain the emotion. This leads to the next process, transcreation.

Transcreate Everything

Transcreation is the process of rewriting content for a particular language and culture. It is a cross between translation and creation. In the best of all possible worlds (meaning, if you had all the money and time required), transcreating everything is clearly the best choice. That way, you can create individual, country-specific branding and messaging that plays to the specific reaction (emotions) you are aiming for in each country. My favorite site that relies heavily on transcreation is Lush Cosmetics. Take a look and see what a great job they do to be country-specific with their content.

The problem with transcreation is that it is expensive and time-consuming. Recreating all of your content for each geography is a big commitment. If you do not have the budget to transcreate, you will need to decide which content is the most critical. It is unlikely you’ll be able to transcreate everything you’d like to.

Strike a Balance

Most of the time, you are going to need to take a balanced approach that includes all three of the options listed above. Some of the content you are going to leave alone, because it is either not important, it is going to be removed soon, or it changes too frequently. Some of the content you will translate as-is – hopefully after going through a global-readiness process. Finally, some of the most important content you are going to want to transcreate so that it really conveys the message you want for the geo you are targeting.

The only way to determine which approach you need for which content (current and future) is to plan your global content strategy. Think of your global strategy as your worldwide roadmap. Its purpose is to direct your translation and localization projects in a way that meets your business needs.

Like any content strategy, a global strategy starts with a content audit to see what you have, what you need, and where (geographically) it is going. However, with a global content strategy, you need to add a number of important aspects to your overall plan. For example, current and target languages for each piece of content, translation partner, translation memory status, and more.

Done correctly, your global content strategy will have you sailing off for distance markets in no time.

Workshop: Content Strategy for International Markets
Oct 10th, 9:15 am -11:45 AM

Workshop leader: Val Swisher
CEO and Founder at Content Rules

Val Swisher
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