Econsultancy has defined global branding as the biggest change in the marketing industry in the past 50 years. Bigger than social media, mobile marketing and big data, which have all in their own way revolutionised how organisations market and promote their products or services.
As international trade and communication barriers come down, an increasing number of small to medium companies have started to look at growing their business overseas. But what challenges will marketers face in pushing brand equity on a global scale?
A brand will have put a great deal of effort into developing its identity, design and communication style. With all of this work done, it is easy to think the only thing left to do to enter a new market is translate the website and marketing materials.
However, marketers often don’t realise that the process of translation starts with looking at the brand before looking at the copy. To be successful, brands need to review their identity and tailor it for each new market. Some questions that brands looking to expand overseas need to ask themselves are highlighted below.
Is our brand or product name suitable? Surprisingly, this is a common blind spot. The internet is rife with ‘brand blunders’ and in almost every case, the real cause can be attributed to a lack of research or cultural understanding.
Is our communication style suitable? A casual informal tone may be perfect for your native market, but what works in one market may not work in another. Copy aimed at a UK audience may be inappropriate for China or the Middle East. Each target audience will have expectations that are unique to their own market.
What is the local competition up to? Knowing what they are offering, and how they are doing it, can inform your own offer strategy, including how you communicate those offers. This may seem far removed from translation, but an offer that is not suitable for a particular market will fail, no matter how well its message is adapted.
How is the competition communicating? You don’t want to imitate their style, but you do want to know how and why they communicate in the way that they do. Then you will know how to position your brand and focus its language for maximum appeal.
What will make our brand stand out? By knowing how the competition is communicating you can define your messaging style to ensure recognition and interest against the background noise of the existing competition.
Does the brand have history? Has it had any bad press? Is there any repair work to be done? Perhaps some brand attributes need to be played down. Sometimes, even the nationality of the brand (not the brand itself) can affect its popularity in a certain market.
Without asking these questions a brand will be going in to a new market eyes wide shut and the results will no doubt add to the ever-growing list of international brand blunders so widely celebrated on the internet.
All of the above questions need to be asked before you translate a single word. Once these have been answered, what is the next step?
Translating the brand
Making brand adjustments for local markets is the first step. In some cases the changes can be subtle, perhaps a slight modification of tone, or a tweak of the register; sometimes a more fundamental change is needed.
When German brand Dr Oetker, which makes baking products, yoghurt and frozen pizza, approached the Italian market, it changed its brand name to Cameo. The reason presented on its website was that it was more linguistically pleasant for the Italian-speaking audience. This is no doubt true, but there is probably more to it than that. This is after all a German company selling pizza to the Italian market.
Under the moniker Cameo, Dr Oetker frozen pizza is the number one selling frozen pizza brand in Italy today. The success of the brand’s move to the Italian market was very likely because of its non-German sounding name. Things could have been different if it had not translated its brand first – it is likely that a ‘frozen made-in-Germany pizza’ would probably have stayed frozen in Italy.
Translating the brand is about researching and then adapting to the market. Once you have established a clear view of the market and its culture, you will know how to position your brand and how to convey its message effectively. Now you are ready for translation.
Translating brand language
A recent study from market research firm Common Sense Advisory found that 55% of people would buy online only using websites where information is presented in their native language. So it is essential that you translate your messaging. It also goes without saying that your messaging should speak directly to the local customer in accordance with their taste, cultural beliefs and language preferences. But your brand and its values should not get lost in this maze of considerations.
Faced with the challenge of entering a new market, marketers are often tempted to play safe and tone down the character of their copy. Many translation providers will recommend this approach too (as it makes their job easier). It is less challenging to translate a flat statement than to recreate a punchy sales message in a new language. But since when did bland marketing copy make a campaign successful?
Dumbing down copy is probably the biggest mistake of all. If copy includes elements such as humour, idioms, metaphors or word play, they are there for a reason – to connect with the audience. It forms the character, the heart and soul of the brand. This should be preserved as much as possible.
The research that went into translating the brand feeds directly into translating the message. There is no need to sacrifice creativity and there is certainly no excuse for brand character to be lost in translation.
Translating the brand and the message is a package: they go together and one will not succeed without the other. Getting it right comes down to just a few basic things: strong research, understanding the brand, and understanding the brand’s message. These will serve as a basis for the translation phase. Next you need to ensure the brief is comprehensive and carefully put together. Pay attention to detail, use professional writers who will take ownership of the message.
There is no shortcut. Entering new markets should not be a risk, or mean losing your identity; sometimes, it is simply a case of redefining it. So be bold with your message, be funny, be strong, be daft, be new, but make sure you do your research.