When marketing a business overseas, you need to think about getting that message out to the local audience. But let’s face it – it’s hard enough to get a clear marketing message across to your target audience in your OWN language. Overseas, you’ve got a whole new set of problems, my friend.

Most companies make the mistake of requesting for translation services and thinking that will suffice. Yes, of course you need the copy translated. But when you are marketing your business overseas, translation alone isn’t going to do the job.

You need more than just translation

Ask for translation, what do you get? A roughly translated draft that gives you the meaning of the original text so you can understand what it’s about. But that’s not enough when you are relying on your copy to sell your products or services and when you are wanting to appear credible to the local audience.

Think for yourselves of bad English signs you’ve seen translated from foreign languages. They are the subject of many a hilarious Facebook post and have given us great enjoyment over the years. But the businesses who put that out for all to see wouldn’t have done so if they’d known they’d be the laughing stock of the world. If it happened to them in translations to English, it can also happen to you when you translate your English text to other languages.

When marketing a business overseas, localisation is a must

When marketing a business overseas, you need a further check of the text to rewrite it into copy as if it had been written in the target language – so you need to hire a copywriter in that language. That copywriter should also be checking to localise the language. What is deemed as a good technical translation may not really serve your purpose.

Here’s a few examples of localisation mistakes you don’t want to make:

  • Working in property? Describe Singapore’s landed property as a bungalow to a Brit and they are going to think they’ve been astronomically cheated! Why? Single-floor houses called bungalows in Britain – often built to accommodate retirees who can no longer manage the stairs in a standard house.pale in comparison to the palatial and spacious 3-4 floor monstrosities we call bungalows here in Singapore – pale in comparison.
  • Think it’s OK to refer to a colleague as “out station”? Outside the Singapore context, this term won’t be understood. A confused “What station?” will be the reply you get. “He’s on an overseas trip”, however, is universally understood.
  • Selling stationery? Avoid offering a rubber to an American. While you are innocently offering an eraser, they’re thinking condoms. Brand names can catch on in some countries and become the accepted generic noun for the product. In the UK, Cellotape is better understood for sticky tape and Tippex has become the accepted name for what is known in Singapore as liquid paper.
  • Speaking of brand names – while Pampers is generally understood, the generic name in the USA is diapers, while in the UK it’s nappies. The Brits “hoover” their carpets while we may “vacuum” the floor.
  • Even a simple thing like the labelling of floors can cause confusion if not localised properly. In Singapore, what we call the first floor is the ground floor in the UK, and their first floor is our second floor. This can lead to confusion, embarrassment and late appointments! Don’t worry, though – the basement is still the basement.

So to be understood in the local language, make sure you also ask your copywriter to tidy up the translation for the local audience.


Ange Dove

About Ange Dove

Master copywriter and content marketer Ange Dove, AKA Your Business Transformation Fairy Godmother, founded Proof Perfect in 2003 to improve business communication and marketing, one business at a time.

Ange and her Proof Perfect team focus on providing compelling copy backed by powerful visuals to make clients’ content stand out both online and offline.

She is adept at planning strategies for her clients and using the best of today’s technologies to automate their marketing so they can Get Ready, Get Seen, Get Business.

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