Why traditional translation is costing global companies sales

When a company goes global, it is crucial to communicate effectively with local audiences. Many companies rely on a simple translation of the marketing material and the website, without deeper considerations, but this can affect the company’s performance dramatically.

Crafting the right message

Companies spend a lot of time and effort on creating the right initial message for their audience, but they forgot that this needs to be done again when presenting to a different market. The translation of an original text, which traditional technical translators are perfectly capable of, is not enough on its own for success. Messages can be “lost in translation” and many ideas simply do not work in a new environment or culture. Marketing translators, however, go beyond the words to focus on meaning, brand proposition and tone of voice.

It is important to realise that your USP (unique selling point) may in fact be different for different countries. Localisation is the process of adapting language alongside communication strategies and content to best suit your target audience in a specific location.

For example:

HSBC Bank was forced to rebrand its entire global private banking operations when their 5-year-old “Assume Nothing” campaign was erroneously translated in many countries as “Do Nothing”. After attempting to take it overseas with a simple translation, the US campaign had to be scrapped at great expense, with the bank spending USD 10 million to change their tagline to the more translation-friendly “The world’s private bank”.

Understanding cultural differences

Content has to be adapted to the cultural specificities of the target audience. What is acceptable in one country can be rude and offensive in another – meaning different target audiences may require very different content.

This applies to both wider messages and simple details — for example, the word “you” has a very simple use in English compared to in Russian language, where “you” can be translated in different ways, with different implications.

A professional marketing translator also understands the importance of changing small details to make information convenient for customers, right down to currencies and prices, to encourage action rather than just inform.

A very common question, even in large multinational companies, is “why do we need to hire a copyeditor (i.e. spend more money) if the message has already been translated by a professional? The answer is that fact checks, cultural considerations, broad context and, crucially, calls to action are not necessarily the remit of a traditional translator.

Company Image

These considerations do not stop at advertising copy. Some companies don’t have a separate translation of the website and rely on automatic translation tools (like Google translate). This is a quick and cheap solution, but for a global company you cannot ignore the fact that its inevitable contextual and grammatical errors will turn customers away and create a negative brand impression.

Think about your brand’s potential. Many surveys say that people prefer to go to websites and deal with companies that speak their own languages. It creates trust. If you are a global company, and wish to deal with customers and clients with different areas, speaking different languages, then the failure to hire marketing and branding translators is a failure to maximise your sales.