It’s also one that needs some careful planning to get the best return on your investment. Foreign markets involve not only different languages but different cultures. That sure-fire strategy for your home market won’t always win customers overseas. In fact, in this world of social media, getting it wrong can be a business disaster.
Let’s take a look at some things you can do to make your international launch a success – and what went wrong when others failed to pay them enough attention.
Look Before You Leap
There’s no such thing as too much research for an overseas marketing campaign. Your target demographic in a foreign market might appear similar to your home one, but could have very different buying habits. For example, in Russia 65% of consumer electronics were bought at a physical store, according to a 2012 Accenture study. Japan and China showed a similar preference. On the other hand, in Germany only 36% were purchased in this way.
The more research you can do into the habits and mindset of consumers in a particular country, the better informed you will be. On the other hand, even the best ideas can fall flat if the marketing campaign doesn’t appeal to your potential clients or customers. British supermarket giant Tesco discovered this when launching as ‘Fresh & Easy’ in the US. The supermarket spared no expense on a social media campaign, but failed to take into account the importance of TV, radio and print advertising. From the design of its stores, to its self-pay checkouts, the stores failed to meet American shoppers’ expectations.
Tesco’s example shows the difficulties that exist even with markets that share a common language. Bring a foreign language into the equation and overseas marketing can turn into a minefield.
The more care you give to the translation of your campaign, the better your chance of avoiding the dangers. Pay attention not only to translating the actual words but to phrasing them in ways that make sense to native speakers. Professional translators can help you to use appropriate idioms as well as find the right tone. Just as importantly, they can help you to sidestep slang or crude terms that wouldn’t be immediately obvious to an outsider.
Fail to spot these and you can end up with the same problem that Mazda had with the Laputa. The minivan’s name sounds like a term for a prostitute to speakers of Latin languages and had to be renamed in Chile. Clairol also ended up creating the wrong impression when launching its hair curling iron, the Mist Stick, in Germany. Not only does Mist mean manure, but when used with stick sounds like the insult “Miststück” (similar to ‘bitch’ and definitely not the best choice for a women’s product).
Cross the Cultural Divide
Culture is more than religion or festivals, it’s a whole way of living. It can influence everything from product branding to the formality of language used in marketing. The greater the cultural differences between your target country and your home country, the more carefully you will need to adapt your campaign. Those who neglect to do this risk coming across as insensitive or ignorant. It only takes a single cultural faux pas to undo months of good work, destroying trust in your business.
Most of us know that certain animals hold religious taboos, or that some hand gestures change their meaning from one country to another. Other cultural symbolism can be less obvious, such as the associations with certain numbers or colors. Take time to find these out beforehand if you don’t want a marketing disaster on your hands. This is exactly what happened to Pepsi in Southeast Asia when they rebranded their dark blue vending machines. The pale blue they chose was associated in the region with death, with the unfortunate result that their regional sales died too.
A Tourism Australia campaign is a good example illustrating the fine line between what’s culturally acceptable and what isn’t. Its tagline, ‘Where the bloody hell are you?’ combined with beer references hit the wrong note in several countries. The down-to-earth Australian hospitality they thought they were offering to overseas tourists came over as boorish and hard drinking.
There’s simply no substitute for local knowledge when launching in a foreign market. Even though some of the biggest companies have found this out the hard way, you don’t have to follow in their footsteps. Instead, arm yourself with the benefit of research and insider knowledge and you’ll be well-prepared to win friends and customers worldwide.
About the author:
Christian Arno is the founder of Lingo24, Inc., one of the world’s fastest growing translation services. Launched in 2001, Lingo24 now has over 180 employees spanning four continents and clients in over sixty countries. In the past twelve months, they have translated over 60 million words for businesses in every industry sector, including the likes of MTV, World Bank and American Express. Follow Christian on Twitter: @l24ca. Cont@ct Christian here.