The role of translation when entering international markets

international marketing - translation

Mike Hunter is CEO for Ltd. Their clients include Mothercare, Debenhams, M&S and Thorntons. Here, Mike shares some insights into the importance of translation and localisation when entering into international trade.

Companies large and small often see export as a way of strengthening sales performance and improving profitability. The logic is clear, if you can sell successfully in the UK, surely you can also sell in international markets – international trade will bring international growth.

Leaving aside product or service specifics, (in other words, suitability for international sale, which is a large topic in itself), translation is often an overlooked “Cinderella” service, whether it be technical translations, translating your packaging or translating your international marketing materials. Both SMEs and large companies who are new to international trade are often unaware of its importance. Translating your product packaging or translating your website can significantly increase your product’s reach. A translator could be among your most important export-related staff.

The importance of translation for your product

So, why is it important?

Legal compliance

Many products are required by law to be accompanied by certain information, whether it’s on the pack, or in the form of instruction leaflets or product labelling (sometimes all three). Most countries require food labelling to be in the local language. Care labelling is also highly regulated, as is toy labelling.

Quite simply, if the information isn’t in the language (or languages) of the country of sale, you may be breaking the law so it always pays to check.

International marketing

Many companies never get much beyond the first point, electing to get the legal minimum wording translated. If you have a small product and need to include lots of languages, this approach is very logical, and often unavoidable, but we would argue that marketing is the most compelling use of translation for most products and services.

The purpose of a translation should be to help you sell your product or service. This may require localising the content for the target market , however even if your product has very compelling features and benefits if your customer isn’t aware of them in their own language, they are likely to buy something else.

Read more in this Open to Export article on producing foreign language documents and marketing materials.

Global brand image

Which brand would you trust more as a consumer – a company who had all their packaging in Dutch, French and German (with no English), or a brand who had English on the pack?

At best, you may choose the no-English labelled product if it is substantially cheaper, or if it has compelling other aspects to the packaging, such as amazing design. In either case, price or artwork design will have to work really hard to get the sale.

As the “majority language” (actually not true, English is only the third most spoken first language after Chinese and Spanish) it is easy to overlook this impact, as we aren’t that used to seeing packaging without English.

You can read more about this in this article about the importance of online branding.

Customer care

How can you offer effective after sales service and product advice if it isn’t available in your customer’s language? Companies often fall down here. You may have excellent promotional material and product packaging, but what do you do if a customer phones up with a query? Indeed could they even phone you at all? If you have a non-geographic UK customer care number, it may not even work internationally.

If this all sounds very retail focused, we would argue that the same issues apply selling B2B. Again, it is easy to assume that the whole business world speaks English, but even in a country like Holland, which has a high level of English use, nearly 50 per cent of the population do not speak English.

Remember too that even in a population with a high level of English, abilities will vary. Do you really want to limit your target market to a maximum of half the population?

Translation will add cost to trading internationally, as will any product adaptation including possible re-brand, re-packaging and re-labelling. There are also the logistical implications of selling in another market. Even if you are a market leader in your space, brand recognition will be much lower where you don’t have a presence.

Selling internationally will therefore take time, money and a lot of perseverance. But by taking the needs of your local markets into account, you’re giving yourself a better shot at success.

Sectors: Clothing & Footwear, Healthcare & Medical, Household Goods, Furniture & Furnishings, Manufacturing, and Wholesale & Retail
Countries: Europe
Topics: Export Planning, Export Process, and Legislation & Regulation
Export Action Plan