Let’s be honest: Are you positive that your international marketing efforts resonate with your multilingual target audiences? That is, of course, assuming you’ve put the effort into targeting foreign-language markets in the first place.

According to a recent study by translation technology company Smartling, only 15 percent of marketers whose organizations target multilingual audiences are very confident that their messages are resonating with them. That leaves a lot of companies who are unsure about the effectiveness of their multilingual marketing efforts.

If you’re marketing to foreign-language audiences without a clear strategy, you’re likely throwing money out the window. Simply translating your U.S. campaign often won’t cut it in a foreign market. To engage your audience, content must be personalized and messages may need to be adjusted. The Internet is full of examples of international marketing fails that resulted from poor knowledge of the target culture. Consider a Proctor & Gamble campaign for Pampers diapers in Japan, which used the image of a stork delivering a baby. Unfortunately, this image left Japanese consumers confused – in Japanese folklore, babies are not delivered by storks. A more common allegory there is that babies are born from plants, such as in the story of Momotarō, who came floating down the river in a giant peach.

And who could forget the famous Clairol naming faux pas when the company tried to sell its “Mist Stick” curling iron in Germany – where “Mist” is a common word for “manure.” As it turned out, demand for a manure stick wasn’t all that great.

Cultural insight is critical in marketing. And yet the majority (86 percent) of the marketers surveyed by Smartling admitted to generating US-centric content and simply translating it for a particular market.

So what’s a small business with a limited marketing budget to do?

In the Smartling study, 14 percent of the respondents said they create original content and employ local or native marketers in the countries where they are seeking to expand their business. That is a great approach, but if you’re running a small- to medium-sized business, it may not be feasible for you.

However, there is a middle ground. You don’t have to hire in-country talent and start your marketing campaign from scratch in order to reach target audiences in Europe, Asia, or South America. Professional translators with a specialization in marketing and cultural knowledge of the target country or subculture can help you adapt your existing content. These experts know what’s important for your campaign but also understand the cultural environment of your target market.

Multilingual marketing means business growth

Another interesting finding of the Smartling study was that many organizations are still overlooking the growth opportunities that come with expanding marketing efforts to non-English speaking audiences. This is highlighted by the fact that

  • nearly half of the respondents (49 percent) said they had a foreign customer base of less than five percent,
  • 48 percent admitted that they had no budget for translating materials for foreign markets, and
  • 53 percent said they were either not translating their content at all or only translating into one language.

These findings are rather surprising, considering 75% of consumers in non-Anglophone countries in Europe, Asia and South America prefer to buy products in their native language. What’s more, 60% rarely or never buy from English-only websites, according to research by Common Sense Advisory. By failing to adjust their content for multilingual audiences, companies are missing out on potential customers.

Finally, there was another finding of the Smartling study that struck me:

Nearly 9 percent of companies that are translating still rely on machine translation.

Marketing is a creative process. It requires human insight. Many marketing campaigns include highly branded texts and culture-specific references. With all the time and effort that goes into creating a marketing campaign, how can anyone believe that crafting effective foreign language versions could be handled by a computer? In terms of ROI, it would seem to be much more sensible to invest a little more up front and create content that actually speaks to the people you are targeting.

There is a place for machine translation, but marketing isn’t it.


Are you ready to expand your reach by creating multilingual versions of your own marketing materials? You can trust me with your German translation needs, and I can help you find a qualified translator with expertise in your area for many other languages. Just send me a message.

About the author - Marion Rhodes

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