Going Global in Marketing Involves More Than Just Translating The Words

Globalization is key to Modern Marketing. Global companies stand out from competitors, can work with remote teams in other countries, reach new and different kinds of customers and engage more deeply with segments in alpha cities.

But as the Harvard Business Review points out, going global is “much easier to admire than to imitate.” After analyzing 20,000 companies in 30 countries, HBR “found that companies selling abroad had an average Return on Assets (ROA) of minus 1% as long as five years after their move.” As the magazine notes, this may be because companies aren’t learning enough about the culture of their new markets.

Getting tone right is critical to success in marketing abroad.

Formal or Informal

Translate everything! This is the first thought most companies have when they want to go global. But translation is more than word-for-word substitution. It’s also about using the words people prefer and expect. This is a matter of tone. What good is a message that cuts through all the noise and clutter, just to be ignored by customers because it’s boring or offensive? As our mothers taught us, “It’s not what you say, but how you say it.”

One measure of tone is formality or informality. Do these customers expect you to be buttoned-up and business-like? Or do they expect you to be conversational and familiar, using idioms and slang that bridge the gap between business and customer? Marketers must research customer groups in these new markets to understand which tone is more appropriate.

Marketers must also remember to ignore their own preferences. When being sold to, most people enjoy formality or informality based on the country they grew up in and the kind of advertising they’ve internalized. But around the world, different segments respond best to different approaches.

For example, Native English speakers from North America often like informal tone in B2C communication and prefer to be treated like an old friend by businesses. This is evident in the success of US campaigns, like Budweiser’s “Whassup?” ads, McDonald’s “I’m Lovin’ It” motto, and “PC vs. Mac,” which ridiculed formal PC next to informal Mac.

However, not all customers will appreciate it if a company speaks to them this casually.

The French Connection

Recently, I became the B2C liaison between North America and EMEA at Oracle Marketing Cloud. As a result, I spoke with my colleagues — who manage the UK, Germany, France, Spain, and Portugal offices—to learn more about their customers.

A French manager revealed something new to me: French customers prefer a certain distance between themselves and companies, which is unlike other European countries that embrace the US’s more relaxed B2C culture (like Germany, for instance). French customers want companies to speak to them in a way that US marketers would probably think is ornate and long-winded. What US customers might think is fluffy or maybe uptight, French customers tend to embrace as a sign of elegance and respect.

McDonald’s slogan in French isn’t Je l’aime, the literal translation of “I’m lovin’ it.” It’s C’est tout ce que j’aime, which means “It’s all that I love.” The takeaway? French customers, generally speaking, expect formality!

Here are the three things that I learned from these experiences: 

1. Qualitative Research

Personally talking to a native speaker to learn about their region’s culture is critical when entering new markets.

2. Translation Takes Time

Translation is so time-consuming because, if done right, it reflects not only fluency of language but also fluency of mindset.

3. Emotion Plays a Role

Translation, intonation, and globalization all involve what sociologists call emotional labor, or work that has “deliberate attempts to shape [other peoples’] feelings.” Emotional labor is exhausting, but often it’s not seen as the challenge it really is—both in the workplace and in life.

Before you communicate with new customers in a new part of the world discover the nuances of their linguistic culture. Translate with the right tone to craft an authentic message, even in a new language that may be Greek to you.

What are some other concerns your business should consider before going global? There are a lot of details to address when it comes to building an organization, especially abroad. Download the The CMO Solution Guide For Building A Modern Marketing Organization today to get off to the right start!

CMO Solution Guide for Building a Modern Marketing Organization