Language barriers

Posted on 1 Nov 2011 by The Manufacturer

Struggling to gain all that was promised in profitability through accessing foreign markets? Sophie Howe, director, Comtec Translations says many manufacturers display a critical strategy gap when it comes to communicating with international customers in their own languages.

I was heartened to read the findings of the new Trade Confidence Index devised by DHL and the British Chambers of Commerce (2nd Quarter 2011) that UK exporters still show signs of strength. Orders and confidence remain robust according to the survey of over a thousand exporters and export documentation.

This is something of a relief, I’d say, given the Treasury’s hopes of an export-led recovery. But what of the companies who weren’t surveyed because they have yet to look beyond their home market? And I wonder how much higher the Confidence Index might be if these same exporters took a long, hard look at how they are communicating with potential overseas customers.

With so much marketing content online, buyers are becoming much less tolerant of content in other languages. Nine in 10 Internet users in the EU prefer websites in their native language according to the User Language Preferences Online Report from the European Commission in May 2011.

In addition, the International Data Corporation have recently shown that web users are four times more likely to purchase from a site that communicates in the customer’s language. Furthermore, compelling evidence from Common Sense Advisory shows that customers who buy online will pay more for a product if they can buy it in their own language.

Given the weight of evidence, why do so many English speaking companies across the globe continue to shout in their own tongue? To quote Willy Brandt, former Chancellor of Europe’s most successful exporting nation, Germany, “If I’m selling to you, I speak your language. If I’m buying, dann müssen Sie Deutsch sprechen [then you have to speak German.]”

I believe it is high time you, English speaking manufacturers, sat down and developed Languages Strategies for your organisations..

Open your web window on the world

Marketing consultancy Common Sense Advisory estimated that websites would need to be translated into 11 languages to reach 80% of the world’s online consumers. So you should start translation with your online presence to reach over 100 million people who access the internet in a language other than English.

Your website is the first point of contact with potential clients so any foreign language content must be up to the task. However, there are a number of points to consider before getting started; let’s look at just a few:

•What is the scope of the project? How far should translation go? Does it just require translation of key pages or should it cover translation of all elements of the existing site? What about downloads, blogs, bulletin boards and newsletters? Which languages should be included?

•How can you ensure that the copy is properly localised to be both accurate and idiomatically correct for your target market?

•How should you manage content updates?

•Does the existing website architecture support content in multiple languages? Does the content management system have a plug-in for translation?

•How will translation affect SEO? SEO is very language specific so while certain English words and phrases might be perfect keywords for the UK market, there is no guarantee that a direct translation of these will have the same impact in another country

•How will the company handle an overseas enquiry received via the website?

A highly cost-effective option is to set up a landing page or micro site for your company in one or more languages. It is perfectly possible to mirror the design of your existing site but in shortened form to carry key facts about what you do, plus a form to request more information Take time to find the most effective foreign language keywords based on search intent, relevance and volumes, and build them into your new site.

Made in Britain – for the world

Iconic British brands are in demand across the newly-emerging BRIC markets but I fear that many manufacturers will miss the chance to stamp Made in Britain across the freight container. There are a few exceptions where companies have embraced language in their marketing mix.

Take the prestigious car manufacturer, Jaguar whose strong brand has to be reflected through online and print channels. At Comtec Translations we were required to work on the translation and localisation of the new Jaguar website as well as marketing materials for the new XJ model.

All materials were translated into German, Italian, Spanish, French for the French, Belgian and Canadian markets, Flemish, Swedish, Dutch, Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese, Russian, Arabic and Korean. With such attention to detail, you can imagine how many potential clients this reached out to and continues to touch on an ongoing basis.

The bigger languages picture

So how are you managing in this multi-lingual market place? As a manufacturer of quality products, wherever you are based, as a potential client I need to know how great your product is; just speak to me in my own language.

Comtec translations will also be contributing to a January feature in TM located in our new Manufacturing Leadership zone. The article will focus on the skills and strategies manufacturing leaders must focus on in order to lead in globalised markets.