The marketing challenge of being separated by a common language

I mentioned last week the challenges that modern marketers face with remote communication and this week I have been particularly troubled by translation issues – with other English-speaking countries.

You may recall me mentioning a few months ago my annoyance that most packaged goods come with instruction booklets in a dozen or more languages. Surely, in this day and age, it would be cheaper (in print/paper costs) to have different booklets for each market, rather than have the same super-sized document for every country in the world. More importantly, I am finding in my business that my customers want to be treated as an individual – “I am not a number, I am a free man,” so the saying goes from the 1960s TV series The Prisoner. This is despite the attempts by cost-cutting businesses to standardise uniformly and force customers down the same route – “You can have any colour as long as it’s black,” as Henry Ford reportedly once said.

Well, this week I have been faced with something that is just plain stupid. As I said, my customers want to be treated as though they are the only customer in the world. However, I work for a global business and the business has decided to adopt American English as its international standard. You know, the one with missing letters and an insistence on the letter ‘zee’ in anything with more than three syllables.

Now, my incredulity is that I have been developing collateral here in the UK, with British agencies, that has then to be translated into American English for my global market and then translated back into the Queen’s English, when I want to use it with my own customers. Madness.

At the same time, I am inundated with emails from marketing services suppliers (normally after midday, always a clue to where they are from), offering me data lists and print supplies. On the rare occasion that I engage with them, they seek to demonstrate that they are relevant to me, despite obviously being 5,000 miles away. Unsurprisingly, the point that I make back – that “there is no zee in personalisation” – is rarely acknowledged.

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