Translating Marketing Content

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The impact of translating marketing content for your target personas

When you know your market and your target customer, you know how you want to talk to them to create your intended impact.

To be truly effective at marketing to your target audience, you have probably created detailed personas and you use these personas to hone your product or service. You also use them to decide on the type of marketing copy you create, the platforms you use, and the times and dates when you publish.

Your personas also affect the type of language you use for your marketing content. They should therefore also affect the language used when translating that content.

“We just want a translation”

Sometimes cheap and cheerful will do. Recently, one of our translators was at a hotel swimming pool in Spain, where the words on a sign warned that the hotel did not “give bodyguards”. As a linguist, she was amused and her instinct was to tell the management they ought to correct it. Or to at least comment on twitter under the hashtag #translationfail.

Actually, though, the key thing to think about is impact. The question any reasonable client is going to ask is “why does it matter?”.

In this particular example, it was clear from the context (a sign beside a pool) that the correct meaning was there were no lifeguards on duty. The target audience of international holiday-makers taking a dip in the sunshine were perfectly capable of working out what it meant.

The translation on the sign did its job and it would be unrealistic to suggest that hotel management pay a professional to correct the phrase.

(It is worth pointing out, as an aside, that the main reason this was acceptable was because the sign showed a pictogram. As well as complying with safety rules, pictures are an excellent alternative to words. In fact, our brains process images 60,000 faster than text.)

What is your desired impact?

If a similarly mangled translation had been on the hotel’s website instead of beside the pool, the negative impact would be much worse. Context matters.

A hotel that offers “cheap rooms have one human live two human lives, many human lives” (Believe it or not, this is from a genuine advert!) instead of “great value single, double and family rooms”, might find their bottom line suffers and they don’t get enough guests to even make it to that sunny poolside.

know who your target audience is and what impact you want to have on them


The key to deciding when to invest in a professional translator is knowing who your target audience is and what impact you want to have on them.

Untrustworthy content, untrustworthy product?

In the UK, in particular, we tend to look at spelling mistakes and non-native English content as being markers of an untrustworthy company. In fact, the bank First Direct ran an awareness campaign to tell users to avoid any companies with this sort of email or marketing content, as probable phishing.

If your intended impact is for your target audience to spend money, you need to create trust and reassure them your product or service is genuine. One way of doing this is to make sure you provide fluent, smooth translations of your copy, written by a native speaker.

Studies show that even if non-native users are willing to browse websites in another language, when it comes to making payments, they need the reassurance of seeing the payment page in their own language before they will commit. This is well summed up as “Can’t read, won’t buy”.

Craft your language around your target audience

Your content is crafted around your persona; your language and its translation need to be too.

Returning to the example of a hotel website, it’s obvious that the aim is for the user to place a booking. But of course the booking is just the tip of the iceberg; the end result of your carefully planned marketing process, using your personas.

You’ve already used personas to help you decide how to decorate the rooms, whether or not to include a coffee machine and so on.

You have probably also used them to decide whether the person reserving your hotel room should be called a “client”, “customer”, “guest”, “executive”, or “traveller”. You know which of these is appropriate and which creates the wrong impression.

In the same way, you know whether you want to use the words “cheap”, “budget” or “value” when referring to price, depending on your target market and the impact you want to have.

Translations of your copy

Ideally, of all this work and background preparation should be shared with your translator, as they will have to make similar decisions about the language they use when translating it, so their translations are just as effective as your original content.

Perhaps you don’t actually use a physical translator at all, and you run the text through an online app. As seen in the above examples, you will probably get the basics across, but is that enough in your context? Will it have the right impact on your target persona?

Professional translators are able to use your marketing tools and guidelines to make sure the nuances – the rest of the iceberg – are taken into account in the new language.

Sometimes a professional translation is worth the investment

In 2009, HSBC used the slogan “Assume Nothing”, about its investment packages. Unfortunately, and perhaps surprisingly, given their previous campaigns on cultural sensitivity, they did not do their due diligence on the phrase once it was translated into other languages and cultures, and the phrase became “do nothing” in some languages. Not a good slogan for investments!

It took HSBC several years and $10 million USD of rebranding to fix this mistake and repair their brand image.

Share your marketing personas, mood boards and glossaries with your translator

When you pass a piece of copywriting like “Assume Nothing” to a translator, you can explain to them what you expect that slogan to mean to your persona. Two words are rarely “just” two words! If you allow them access to some of your marketing guidelines, they can make sure it works in your target market.

One retail customer we worked with on their website copy and internal training manuals, had a very clear aesthetic that they wanted to put across to their customers. Customers were to be called “guests” at all times, and should be made to feel as if they were dealing with trusted friends and advisors rather than shop assistants and sales people. This, of course, influenced how our company translated their marketing content for them. They have a number of successful global franchises, partly as a result of this attention to detail.

Don’t waste your marketing by failing to share

Another former customer of ours, a well-established winery, had spent millions of Euros updating their logo and strapline in Spanish as part of their strategy to expand globally. Their image consultants and graphic designers were well-briefed on the type of symbolism the winery wanted to draw inspiration from, and what emotions to evoke in the target client.

When it came to translating the marketing copy ready for its launch at an international unveiling, the English translator was not given any advice other than “just translate it”, and only 24 hours to do it.

This meant they were unaware of the potential nuances, symbolism and decisions behind the language used in the original, so the translation, while perfectly serviceable, probably didn’t have quite the impact on the audience that it could have. The winery is not yet experiencing the growth it planned for and is continuing to try other marketing tactics to try and bridge the gap.

Always consider sharing your marketing personas, style guides or glossaries with your translator. There are some great ideas here.

Does your persona exist in all foreign cultures?

Finally, delving deeper into the marketing function, it may be that the personas you have so carefully honed do not actually even exist in quite the same way in your target language or culture.

If you are targeting stereotypes such as “the school mum” or the “business traveller” or “IT expert” and so on, these will either be markedly different in your target market, or not exist at all. If you address them inappropriately you risk causing confusion, offence or just plain indifference, if no-one in the new market feels that they are being talked to. Not the result you were aiming for.

If you have a marketing team on-site in your target market they will no doubt address all these cultural issues. The translations of your campaign should be given similar priority.

How to get it right?

There’s such a lot to bear in mind when you decide to commission translations for marketing in foreign languages or to foreign cultures that we have created our own guide. Our aim is to help you remember the basics and point out a few issues that you may not have come across yet.

We have also written some other articles that you may find useful, on internationalisation.

In the meantime, check out this infographic that provides an overview of the advice we’ve included in this post:

Access our free infographic


Our clear infographic summarises the 5 steps for successfully translating marketing content. Print it out or share it with others and let us know what you think.

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