Dec. 5, 2016
Marketers can't afford for their messages to be lost in translation to international audiences
With online retail and the ubiquity of the internet, it is almost unheard of the be a purely domestic brand. Marketers are now expected to navigate their brands across borders and along the journeys of international customers.
And just as domestic marketers grapple with the nuance of an increasingly diverse American consumer population, international marketers similarly must find a way to scale their efforts without losing the potency of their message or allowing it to get lost in translation.
When Florida Atlantic University named its new president, John Kelly, in January of 2014, it underwent a rebrand, which included making the university a destination of choice for international students. Working with Navitas North America, in just two school years, FAU increased its international population from 2% to 5% of the student body, making it the most diverse institution in Florida’s State University system.
“As marketers we’re very tuned into who we’re talking to,” but perhaps not always at the international level, says director of marketing for FAU, Diego Meeroff. Simply playing a game of telephone can demonstrate how messages can become garbled even shared in the same language, but when crossing linguistic borders, the chances for miscommunication increase. So what did FAU get right?
Meeroff recommends outsourcing international strategic planning and campaign management where possible. Choosing an outside partner in Navitas, he says, bolstered the FAU international marketing function by helping the university consider the nuances of its target markets, whether it be large-scale tactics, like rephrasing communications to make them culturally appropriate, or granular differentiation, such as marketing the university's proximity to one of only a handful of cricket stadiums in the U.S. (an amenity that swayed one student’s decision away from a Kentucky institution).
Many have heard of verbal faux pas made by brands in the past (think the Chevy Nova, which in Spanish markets translates to “does not go”). When FAU took a closer look at its international messaging, for example, it realized that it’s tagline, “Be bold. Be daring. Be FAU,” didn’t resonate well in China, where the acronym more frequently refers to an aid organization of the Sino-Japanese War—not necessarily the association the university wanted to make. Thanks to the Navitas extended network, the university was able to repackage its message without creating any negative associations.
Avery Waxman, senior director of external communications at Navitas offers five steps for brands looking to make their first fore into international marketing or for brands that need to get a focused handle on their efforts:
1. Evaluate Your Offerings and Existing International Reach
2. Select Your Target Markets Wisely
3. Regionalize and Localize Your Message
Identify existing messages and advertising within your target markets and review it for quality translation, cultural sensitivity and relevance. Remember, idioms rarely translate clearly, and make sure any acronyms or English-exclusive words are not misunderstood.
4. Utilize Digital Marketing to Widen Your Reach
Use online global geo-targeting and ad boosts. Target leads who are similar to your existing customers. On the international level, Facebook is still the best application to do this, says Navitas. Using the lookalike feature, you can target prospects who are similar to your current customers.
5. Engage Brand Advocates
Connect positive experiences of current customers with prospective customers.
Gather testimonials. Your already-satisfied customers in international markets are your best marketers. Leverage them as influencers.