Some of the biggest brands in the world get it wrong when translating their products into other languages. When American Airlines launched its business class flights to Mexico and wanted to promote its smart new leather seats they coined the catch phrase ‘Fly in leather’.
Unfortunately for them, the translation ‘Vuela en Cuero’ actually means ‘Fly Naked’ in Spanish slang. Parker Pens’ selling point was that its pens wouldn’t leak into your pocket and embarrass you. But this USP didn’t translate well to the Mexican market, where the word ‘embarazar’ means ‘to make pregnant’ rather than ‘to embarrass’. Not quite the message it intended to boost international sales.
Getting linguistic nuances right in other markets can be the difference between success and failure. We can all tell when a website has been translated exactly from the original, with no concession made to our national language style, culture or feel. Getting it right can mean changing a tagline, or even the name of a product to suit the local market.
This is known as ‘transcreation’: applying creativity to make a sentence, a whole website, an ad campaign or a brand strapline convey the sense of the original, but with cultural and linguistic relevance locally.
Wherever your site is run from, shoppers will prefer to buy from a site in their own language and currency. According to research by the European Commission, 82 per cent of us are less likely to buy online from a site that isn’t in our native language. Creating a successful ecommerce site for an international market takes skill, creativity and resource.
Here are some pointers:
Translate your ecommerce site using a native language speaker. A native speaker can spot a machine translation a mile away. If you’re asking people to trust you with their credit card, make sure your site is authentic.
Transcreate, don’t just translate. If you use colloquialisms and idioms on your site, they may not translate literally. Either avoid them altogether, or find the local equivalent. (Two of my favourite examples: in Norway, you don’t get caught with your pants down, but ‘with your beard in the mailbox’. In Italy, you don’t rekindle an old flame, but ‘reheat the cabbage’.)
And there may be wider issue that you should address. Does your brand name have a hidden meaning in another language? (The Polish fruit juice brand ‘Fart’ might be better named for the UK market.) Or would something slightly different just resonate better?
Even the international brand Harry Potter had a slight edit between the UK and US markets: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in the UK, became ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’ in the US.
Make sure your customers can find your site, in their language. Once you’ve optimised and then translated the site, use multilingual SEO, and optimise your regional site appropriately to each language.
Translation goes beyond just text. The pitfalls of creating an ecommerce site in different countries extend beyond language alone. In China, red symbolises happiness. In Egypt, however, it symbolises death. White stands for death in Japan, but purity in the US (in China it can mean either). Images that that you use on a UK ecommerce site may not be appropriate in the Middle East. Even a brand logo may not travel well so check locally before launch.
There are huge opportunities for UK retailers to do business abroad. But those that will succeed are the ones that look and feel as though they’re built and run within the local market.