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Speaking Their Language: How to Localize Your Message for Global Customers

by Chanin Ballance  |  
March 24, 2009

Can you read Chinese? I suggest you find a way. Or find a way to get your message, your product information, and your Web site into Chinese.

It's estimated that by 2015 China will have a middle class twice the size of the entire US—more than 600 million people—with disposable incomes. Even with our current recession, China could generate $860 billion in retail sales in 2009, according to Wikinvest. 

How about Hindi, Bengali, or any of the scores of languages spoken in India? The billion-strong population is experiencing a similar jump in middle-class wealth. India's middle class is expected to grow to 40 percent, from just 5 percent, to make it the fifth largest consumer market in the world in 2025. In 2005, private spending reached about 17 trillion Indian rupees ($372 billion).

I haven't even mentioned Spanish (spoken by 350 million inside and outside the US), German (the largest country in Europe, excluding Russia, and one of the world's strongest economies), or Japanese (a top worldwide exporter with a consumer culture that's equally famous worldwide).

Speaking their languages is good business in any kind of economic climate. And now, with worldwide recession, I'd be safe in saying surviving—and even thriving—hinges on effectively reaching out to the world's non-English speaking consumers.

Translate, Localize—Seriously

Many companies already recognize the value of translations for reaching that vast worldwide audience. They've been having product information, press releases, and marketing and advertising copy converted into the languages of their current and potential customers for years.

But smart companies realize that to strike a chord with more buyers, they'll have to "localize" their messages so that audiences will feel that everything about an electronic or printed communication has been produced by someone just like them. Not only is the text in their language (with proper idioms and slang), but the graphics, navigation buttons and user interface are familiar. In short, nothing hinders the flow of information—or elicits a chuckle.

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Chanin Ballance is CEO of Veelo, an award-winning cloud-based marketing and sales performance platform. Chanin is a frequent speaker on the topics of learning and retention, brain science, mobile engagement, and sales enablement solutions.

LinkedIn: Chanin Ballance

Twitter: @chaninballance

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  • by Medical Translation Blog Tue Mar 24, 2009 via web

    Thank you for a good article. The one area where translation (and even localization) doesn't make sense is international advertising. Here are a couple of great quotes from Simon Anholt in his book "Another one bites the grass: Making sense of international advertising":

    "Translating advertising copy is like painting the tip of an iceberg and hoping the whole thing will turn red: what makes copy work is not the words themselves, but subtle combinations of those words ... These are precisely the subtleties which translation fails to convey."

    "Translating [advertising] copy is like boiling lettuce. No matter how carefully you do it, the result is always disappointing."



  • by Angela Tue Mar 24, 2009 via web

    Thank you, Chanin, for a great article. Andres, I agree that translating creative work is a challenge, but there are certainly ways to achieve effective results. You need to work with quality translators that are native speakers and have a marketing/advertising industry background. Additionally, the translated copy has to be evaluated by a native editor, who lives in the target country and proofread by a brand expert.
    CETRA Language Solutions

  • by Janine Tue Mar 24, 2009 via web

    One of the things we recommend to our clients is to edit their English content before we translate it for them. This helps deal with the language expansion that Chanin mentions. Another thing companies should do is test a few key pages to measure how they convert. Websites do not necessarily need all the original copy and pages replicated to work in another country.

    P & L Translations

  • by Amanda Tue Mar 24, 2009 via web

    "As your mother said, you'll never have a second chance at a good first impression. " %3E

    I would also add: "As your mother said, you get what you pay for." Quality, Quality, Quality... U.S. companies, both small and large, are starting to pick up on this. There's money on the table. Will you get it or will someone else?

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