Found in translation: The importance of speaking your customer’s language

As globalisation accelerates and volumes of cross-border and international trade continue to expand, Australian SMEs are being exposed to a range of opportunities in international markets.

However, as the resource boom slows and the high Australian dollar continues to squeeze margins and puts pressure on company budgets, firms are looking for ways to minimise costs.

Exporters and companies with international operations face challenging questions about the value of investing in services such as translation, website localisation and creative brand management.

Does it matter if our Australian product doesn’t have a Chinese name? Is it really necessary to provide information to consumers and counterparts in languages other than English? Could doing so significantly increase the bottom line? Or would the money be better spent elsewhere in the business? Surely translating our website is an optional extra, isn’t it?

We speak your language

It may come as a surprise to learn that reaching out to your target audience in their own language is crucial to succeeding in international markets. In fact, it’s hard to overstate the value of creative brand management and language translation services for companies looking to capture or retain market share in markets where English is not the lingua franca.

As Nataly Kelly and Jost Zetzsche point out in their recent book Found In Translation, a study from industry research firm Common Sense Advisory found, based on a survey of consumers in eight countries, that 72.4% of consumers were more likely to buy a product if provided with information in their own language. More than half the respondents said that the ability to obtain information in their own language was even more important to them than price – which, when you think about it, comes as no surprise.

For example, if you had the choice between booking your next holiday on an English-language website, or booking the same holiday for $500 less on a Swahili-language website, which would you choose?

Business owners take note: If you’re keen to differentiate your product in the international arena, language can be a differentiator.

The power of presenting information in the consumer’s language is that it immediately becomes more accessible and therefore more appealing. It’s about adapting the product to the target market’s culture, making it easy for the customer to understand what you’re saying to them, whether they’re based in San Francisco, Kampala or Berlin.

The easier it is for the potential customer to understand the product or service that is being presented to them, the more likely it is that your company will make a sale.

Buying shoes in Korean

Research from the European Commission highlights trends similar to those described by Kelly and Zetzsche. A 2011 study based on a Gallup survey of language preferences among internet users in 23 European countries revealed some surprising findings.

The study found that, when given a choice of languages, nine out of ten internet users always visited websites in their native languages; while 42% of respondents said they never purchased products and services in other languages.

Which, again, makes perfect sense. When was the last time you shopped for shoes on a Korean website?

What this means for companies looking to target new markets is that they need to be aware of how the brand and information are perceived by a non-English speaking audience.

Customers expect to receive information in their native language, and in an age of global competition and increased access to information, translating content into other languages is about being business savvy.

The bottom line is that creative brand management and translation services are vital for any company that wants to successfully do business in international markets.

Cynthia Dearin is managing director of Dearin & Associates, a boutique international market entry consulting firm.




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