The need for global marketing has increased more in recent history than ever before.  Now, companies don’t just compete on a local or regional scale.  They must be prepared to expand to international markets if they truly want to succeed.  Unfortunately, most executives are not well versed in all the different languages of the countries they hope to do business in.  A savvy businessman understands this shortcoming and plans accordingly to avoid potential pitfalls.  Those who do not plan ahead may find themselves succumbing to one of these common mistakes.

English is everywhere.  Why translate?

English is spoken in many areas of the world but that does not mean that all people everywhere speak and understand English fluently.  As a matter of fact, most countries around the world only teach English to small groups belonging to the upper classes. This leaves out the majority of potential customers from any marketing campaign conducted only in English.  A prime example of this mistake occurred when Starbucks attempted to break into the holiday market in Germany by offering their Gingerbread Latte.  What should have been a great selling product performed very poorly because the company failed to translate it into German.  The next year saw a drastic improvement when Starbucks changed the name to Lebkuchen Latte.  Once everyone could read and understand what the product was, it sold quite well.

You ignore local culture.  Every country has its own unique idiosyncrasies and rituals.  Not fully understanding those cultural issues can lead to epic failures on the marketing front.  For example, suppose your client went to Central or South America with a campaign that compared the locals to Americans.  Most people in the region would be completely confused by that statement as they consider themselves to be Americans.  Instead of giving a compliment, your company would be insulting them with the exclusivity.

Likewise, each country has its own religious doctrines to follow.  Whether the religious majority happens to be Catholic, Hindi, Muslim, or Buddhist, failing to take into account the religious aspects of translated material can not only lead to poor sales, but in some cases it could lead to public outrage.

But it sounded great in English!

Would you drink ‘toilet water?’  Or let restaurant staff ‘eat your fingers off?’ Probably not.  But that’s exactly what some American ads in other countries sounded like when poorly translated.  Schweppes Tunic Water became Schweppes Toilet Water in Italian.  And Kentucky Fried Chicken went from ‘finger licking good’ to ‘we’ll eat your fingers off’ in Chinese.  Sometimes, the literal translation of the word or phrase is not what the message or the product is actually trying to convey.  There are subtle nuances that the translator must be aware of in order to translate the implied meaning rather than a literal translation which is what would be found in most OTC translation software systems.

Incorporating the global economy into your business plans in the future provides an excellent opportunity to expand your business like never before.  That being said, businesses that fail to capitalize on that opportunity are doing little more than spinning the wheels in the dirt.  The errors are costly and time consuming.  And, failing to capture the initial launch into a foreign estate, that’s one more opportunity for your competition to come in and steal the thunder.