International marketing: from translation to transcreation

Avatar Rob Verschuren May 17, 2021
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When you go international, the first thing to do is have your website translated to address your new audiences in their own language. But your marketing or SEO consultant will probably say it is insufficient, as in, what you need is localisation.

Localisation is a big step up from simply translating your content. To go even one step further, you must consider transcreation — a less frequently discussed concept that allows you to target your audiences from different countries and cultures in the most precise and engaging way.

Here we look at the three steps, suggest some best practices, and give our take on the impact of each.

Translation

Translating is the simplest way to make your website content available for new markets. Only the text changes while the layout and images stay the same. However, the simplicity of translating doesn’t mean that you can’t go wrong.

In International marketing blunders: laugh about them rather than make them, you’ll find some funny examples like this one from Pepsi. When the American soft drink giant introduced its slogan ‘Pepsi Brings You Back to Life’ in Taiwan, their claim aroused no little surprise. In the translation, it came out as: “Pepsi Brings You Back from the Grave”.

In general, the more factual a text is, the easier it is to translate correctly. Any decent translator can handle a user manual, but to translate a poem, you will need a poet, and to translate a slogan, you are probably better off with a copywriter.

The first commandment should be: do not rely on machine translation. If you can not afford a professional to translate your content, you should hire one to proofread the content generated from your translation software.

Many often overlook a simple adjustment: make it easy for your visitors to read your content in their own language. Place the language menu at the top of the page — clearly visible and easy to click. You can also set up your website to automatically detect the visitor’s location and choose the prevalent language. And make sure your website remembers the language preferences.

Localisation

Localisation goes way beyond translation. It means adapting your website to accommodate the cultural, political, and legal requirements of a market. Not only does this include text, but also layout, images, colors, and anything else that can help you to engage with foreign audiences. Localisation also implies taking into account different language versions, for example, between Portuguese as spoken in Portugal and Brazil.

Your marketing consultant is absolutely right when he says localisation is what you need. It can make the difference between global success and pouring money down the drain. A telling example of the latter is E-bay’s fiasco on the Chinese market. Their tactics for the away game on Alibaba’s home turf were based on the website design and the UX principles that had proved so successful in the rest of the world. But Chinese, like Asians in general, prefer different things, such as flashing animations, funny icons, and the possibility to haggle with sellers in the chat.

Transcreation

Transcreation is what you could call “localisation plus” — the last step up to engage with foreign audiences. As Wikipedia defines this method: Transcreation is a concept used in the field of translation studies to describe the process of adapting a message from one language to another while maintaining its intent, style, tone, and context. A successfully transcreated message evokes the same emotions and carries the same implications in the target language as it does in the source language.

To make your sales story resonate on a local level, you need the help of local content writers and designers who are immersed in their local culture. Their mission is not to adapt your content but to create new content that elicits the same emotional response in the target language as it does in the source language. What transcreation adds to localisation is, in one word: creativity.

How does this work in practice? Take an example from our own experience. In 2018, we started working for a global brand in the entertainment industry. Instead of the existing content strategy, generally based on low-quality translations, we let different language teams brainstorm together on content ideas. Subsequently, all copywriters wrote their content for their country. The improved quality led to significantly lower bounce rates, higher reader engagement, and it increased traffic across all four targeted countries significantly.

To summarize

There’s always good, better, and best. Opting for translation solely on your website is fine, but make sure to avoid blunders and seek the help of native translators. However, by localising, you hugely improve the chances of engaging with foreign audiences instead of just informing them. And finally, transcreation allows you to become truly and authentically local and evoke the same emotions as your audiences worldwide.

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