Moving Past Translation: When The Market Next Door Speaks A Different Language

A large mobile telecom company was looking to increase market share in the United States.  A survey of their current customers indicated that most spoke only English.  Further research revealed that in large urban areas, where major populations did not speak English, the company’s multicultural growth was stagnant.

In order to engage the Hispanic market and increase market share, the telecom company hired a firm to quickly translate its website content into Spanish, thinking that if the words were in Spanish, the Hispanic community would be able to read the content, engage with the company and buy their products and services.

Not surprisingly, their “translation as an afterthought” strategy was unsuccessful.

Market share in the Hispanic market didn’t increase, and their target audience had a number of reasons for not engaging:  Because the translations were grammatically incorrect and of low quality, the website portrayed an unauthentic voice; the ideas the site expressed weren’t those the Hispanic community could identify with; and the images on the site were not culturally reflective of the people in their community.

Whether you’re marketing within your local country or overseas, engaging audiences in their native language requires more thought and planning than simply translating words.  Localized marketing efforts need to be culturally relevant, too.  Engaging multilingual markets requires an understanding of cultural, linguistic, and strategic factors, including:

Cultural Differences

By identifying and embracing cultural differences, you can engage on a personal level, which can lead to increased market share.  In the United States, and within any population where people from multiple countries reside, even though people speak the same language – Spanish, for example – there are distinct cultural differences to consider.  The Hispanic populations in Los Angeles that are of Mexican, Central American, or South American descent have vast cultural differences from populations in Miami, who are predominantly of Cuban or Puerto Rican descent.


Engaging the audience in a dialect with which they identify brings trust and understanding. For example, while French is the core language in both Paris, France, and Quebec City, Canada, there are many linguistic differences between the two.


It’s important to ensure your content is localized (translated and made relevant) by in-region linguists who understand your audience demographic, including age and socioeconomic status.  Language is constantly changing, with new words coming into play and others considered outdated.  For example, you wouldn’t want a video game marketed to teenagers translated into German by a 60-year-old translator living in the California desert.  It’s highly unlikely the translator is familiar with the latest terminology, and your audience would mock your product and marketing techniques.

Laws And Regulations

Be aware and knowledgeable of the business and marketing rules and regulations in the regions you’re operating in.  For example, laws in other countries can restrict how you position your company or product against the competition.  Many countries would never allow you to say, “Our Widget is 60 times more colorful than Barkley’s Widget”.  A professional, highly qualified localization service provider (LSP) can confirm that you meet the country’s laws and regulations.

Engaging with your global customers (even if they are local) in their own language and culture ensures that you are making a connection, building trust, and positioning yourself as a member of their community.  Finding the right partners to help bridge that connection is important to maintain brand integrity.  Your partnerships should include both technology and localization service providers, all working in unison to achieve the highest quality localized content.

When seeking technology partners, look beyond the current convenience of the tool itself.  Consider partners that can adjust to your internal processes, are adaptable and can seamlessly integrate with your current and future toolsets.  The partner you choose should provide minimal disruption to create a smooth workflow.  Work with your technology partners so that they not only understand your current internal technology stack, but also your roadmap for future growth.  Aligning on future growth strengthens the partnership, strengthens your offering, and strengthens the commitment between you and your selected technology partner.

Today’s LSPs offer more than translation; they also provide services such as transcreation, international SEO services, in-country application testing, video services (voice over, close captioning, screen capturing), and terminology management.  By engaging with your LSP early in the process, you can leverage knowledge in areas where most companies aren’t familiar.  Many localization service providers’ resources and employees are in-market, native speakers, subject matter experts, and take pride in giving the best advice possible to their clients.

Identify an LSP that offers subject matter experts who know your industry – you will benefit greatly if the translators are familiar with the language and terminology specific to an industry, such as pharmaceutical, law, financial services, or other highly specialized topic.  Building a solid relationship with your LSP is beneficial because they will better understand your product, which will help you successfully engage with global stakeholders and provide the best global brand integrity.

Technologies exist to help you organize and deliver your messaging to customers more quickly than ever before.  While I highly advocate the use of these tools, I recommend using the right tools, not the most convenient tools.  Robo-crawlers that do literal translations and push your content to market without in-context review dilute your brand, limit the quality of the language, and often offend and disengage your audience.

Engaging locally, whether in your own market, or other countries, makes you truly a global thinker with a global mission.