Guest Blogger: Producing Direct Marketing Materials for Non-English Speaking Prospects

Targeting your direct marketing materials at non-English speaking prospects and customers in their native languages is an increasingly critical aspect of business success.  As easy as it might seem, however, translating and producing a product brochure into a foreign language can be tricky business.

Just ask Pepsi, which in the mid-Sixties launched an ad campaign in China using the slogan “Come alive with the Pepsi Generation.” Unfortunately, in Chinese it reads, “Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead.”  This example illustrates the risks in not properly acculturating your marketing collateral and in not doing language localization correctly.

General Motors famously bombed with its Chevy Nova in Mexico because “no va” means “it doesn’t go” in Spanish.  And Nokia overlooked the minor fact that its Latin American smart phone, the “Lancia,” means “prostitute” in Spanish slang.  Unfortunately, such mistakes are horrifyingly common.

Nonetheless, communicating in the language that your customers and prospects speak is good business.  With 40 million+ Latinos in the US and 500 million in Latin America, savvy companies would be remiss not to focus on these huge nearby markets.  For example, communicating in Spanish not only reaches those who do not speak English, but also ingratiates your company culturally.

After all, how would you feel if you received a mailed brochure that was badly translated and on a foreign paper size?  Even if you liked the product in the promotion, you would immediately conclude that these people do not care enough to communicate with me correctly in my language or in my national business practices.  And since they do not focus on details, they likely will not care about giving me good service either.

To stay clear of the linguistic offenses that landed Pepsi and others in the infamous Translation Hall of Blunders, avoid these tempting shortcuts and keys to failure:

1.    Give your translation business to the guy in the next cube or the college kid advertising in the Local Shopper.

The first step in ensuring high-quality document translation services is giving the job to a well-established language localization agency that relies on professionally trained linguists with expertise in your subject.  Yes, we all have colleagues who speak Spanish and we know students offering a translation service.

Few are certified, professional linguists who know the correct process — including use of a second translator for Quality Assurance review; final proofing for spelling, punctuation and grammar; and discounting for text repetitions.  In addition to accuracy, with a professional translation, you will likely save money and sleep well, assured that your 50,000 newly translated and printed catalogs or web sites will be gaffe-free.

2.    Invest in a software localization program or take advantage of a free online translation service.

Software solutions and free online translations are tempting.  However, for your purposes, they are still way too rudimentary.  Their grammatical deficiencies and mistakes in translating marketing and advertising terminology alone can doom your entire effort and make your company look foolish.

For example, a prestigious hotel “on Jones St. near the historic Flood Mansion” advertised itself using translation software as “we are located on Saint John near the historic great house against inundations.”  Is no-cost software worth the risk of jeopardizing your image?

3.  Print everything for your worldwide campaign on 8.5 x 11-inch stock. What are those foreigners thinking? That money grows on trees?

Normally, the last step in the process is to paste the translated text back into your English template.  Unless your market is larger than the US.  If you target foreign markets, you should remember the importance of other countries’ paper sizes.  For example, 8.5 x 11 inches is the US standard.  Size A4 (11.69 x 8.27 inches) is the common size in Europe.  Then, there’s A5 (8.3 x 5.8 inches) and . . .

So if your business extends overseas, your layout should correspond to what is familiar in each national market.  Fortunately, in addition converting your copy into other languages, a good translation service can finish the job by preparing it in layouts for whatever paper sizes you need.  And good printers can print your desired quantities on varying paper sizes for minimal extra cost.

Although these are the three offenses I see most often, preparing copy for translation does require attention to numerous other details.  We have compiled a number of them in our own checklist for proper acculturation.

Avoid the shortcuts above if you want to maximize your return on investment.  When doing the process correctly, each piece of collateral will come off the printing press reading and appearing as if it’s homegrown, exactly the way it should to impress non-English-speaking audiences that you communicate with through trade shows, direct mailings, in-country distribution, on the web or any other communications medium.  Careful attention to professional translation, localized layout and target-country print sizes will help ensure your overseas ventures are successful . . . and that you avoid infamy in Translation Hall of Blunders.

Do any of you have any questions, advice or experiences with translating marketing materials? If so, let us know.

Péllo Walker

(925) 935 – 3621' About Pello Walker

Péllo Walker is president of Daily Digital Imaging, an all digital "Green Certified" Direct Marketing and Commercial print & mailing company that consults with companies to help structure & the implementation of personalized targeted direct mail campaings that result in double digit response rates that are trackable & measurable; manage customer data bases for an automated web enabled personalized touch drip marketing campaigns thru e-mail & direct mail for the right message to the right person at the right time.

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