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How to… write marketing content for translation into other languages

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Translating marketing content can be a tricky task and understanding your target market is vital to success.

Marketing your product or service in another country must take into account the culture of that country. If not, you can encounter problems with appropriate style, cultural norms and religious considerations.

The wording used in your international marketing campaigns will have to be carefully considered in this regard too. One constructive tip to bear in mind is that you’re communicating ideas, not words. Encourage your customers to interact with you as much as possible by using the active voice in your copy.

On your home market, your marketing content is written to motivate customers to buy your product or service. This copy is often created from scratch by a copywriting expert or written in-house at your company by someone who knows your product or service best and then copywritten or copyedited by an expert prior to being published. Highly visible content is rarely written perfectly the first time, so why would you expect marketing translations to be? Translating marketing content is not a simple task.

As a translation services company, we’ve often seen this being overlooked when it comes to having marketing materials translated for new markets. The expectation is that translators will simply recreate your perfected copy into a foreign language in one step.

What exactly is the problem?

Language translators aren’t copywriters. Translators aim to produce a text that reads like it was originally written in the target language in the first place, but creating something for publication is a different process. It requires craft. Think of the marketing translation as the first part of the process, or a draft version. It then needs to be reviewed by a second translator and, ideally, copyedited as a final step.

Translators can only work with what you give them – both in terms of your original text for translation and in terms of instructions. They are not in a position to make decisions about which parts of the copy are crucial to your message or move away from the source text to create something original unless you give them permission to do so.

Across languages, things such as idioms, colloquialisms and concepts are not always directly translatable – they have meaning due to the culture that created them, and can’t simply be uprooted into another culture and expected to produce the same meaning to native speakers. In some cases, there may not even be an equivalent. Your copy may need adapting prior to marketing translation services to avoid your message being literally lost in translation. These are an entirely different professional marketing translation services and ensure that your source content is suitable for high-quality translations.

What approach should you take?

A different approach is needed for translating marketing materials if you want to achieve similar results in global markets as those in your domestic market. Here are some useful tips that we’ve picked up over the years.

  • Market research: First of all (and it might seem obvious!), do your market research. How do you know that a product that’s successful in your domestic market will achieve the same level of success in an international market? Before you go down the translation route, ensure that the product is relevant to your chosen target audience and that you are putting in the right global marketing efforts.
  • Take a look at the copy used for your domestic marketing campaign: Your copywriter may have used a play on words, creative concepts, brilliant headers, and really enticing calls to action that sounds perfect in English. Problem: These may not translate well, so before giving your text to a translator, this text may need to be adapted especially for accurate translations. This doesn’t have to be a laborious task, and the result will be worth it.
  • Keep it simple: Keep sentences short where you can and keep the message simple. If time allows, ask your translation company to take a look through your marketing materials and suggest what won’t translate well beforehand. Alternatively, work collaboratively with them so that translators can discuss potential problems with you early in the translation process and find the right solutions!
  • Copyedit: A translator can only do part of the work – you will either need a second linguist to check the translation and smooth out any wrinkles or a copyeditor to bring it to life, depending on the type of content you’re getting translated. For example, a technical marketing text advertising to specialists will require a different approach than promotional content for dreamy travel destinations aimed at the general public.
  • Provide a brief: Let marketing translators know who the target audience for the content is. Providing information on your target demographic will make a difference in the style used by the translator and the copyeditor.
  • Check for cultural issues: Ask for advice on cultural norms and dos and don’ts prior to translation. Bear in mind what is acceptable in one culture may not be in another. Colours, religious beliefs, sayings and even brand names all need to be taken into consideration.
  • Localise or localize: Bear in mind there may be elements that require localisation, such as currency symbols and units of measure – or maybe there are terms that you don’t want to be translated, which should be kept in English for reasons of branding or similar. Letting your translator know how you would like these to be handled from the start will save time. Make no assumptions a translator will know what you want.

Here are a couple of examples:

    • Bread and butter: A person’s livelihood or primary source of income? This phrase won’t have any meaning other than the basis of a sandwich in any language other than English – if the target culture is even one in where bread is a staple food in the first place. 
    • Public Holidays: Thanksgiving is celebrated every year in the United States, but while other English-speaking countries will probably have an idea of what it means due to the dominance of US television and cinema, different cultures are less likely to be familiar with it. Depending on exactly why you’re using the term, what you might actually mean is “public holiday”; or, if the concept of giving thanks is more relevant, a good translation might be something like “day of gratitude”.

Take a look at this useful article if you’re interested in seeing more examples of phrases that don’t translate literally:

40 brilliant idioms that simply can’t be translated literally

Thank you for reading our ALM quick guide! Please feel free to download and share with anyone you think might find it useful.

There are other useful how-to guides here for you to read or download. They offer helpful tips on everything from choosing the right translation company to what to consider when running international marketing campaigns.


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