The internet is opening cross-border trading at an exponential rate. Yet problems arising from a neglect to acknowledge subtle differences in language and culture have detrimental consequences for international traders.
There is a case in point that international audiences enthusiastically embrace brands and products they consider exotic or will give them bragging rights. But at the same time globalised markets are fiercely contested.
Modern consumers have multiple options to purchase similar products and trusted brands that are already established in foreign markets have the edge.
Implementing a solid communication strategy enables businesses to emotionally connect with audiences and influence the choices consumers make.
When targeting international audiences, good communicating goes beyond effective copywriting and brand marketing – it requires cultural content.
Translating one language to another is only effective when done properly. Subtle differences in cross-cultural meaning can cause conflict, and in a worse case scenario tarnish the reputation of your business in your target market.
Issues with language and culture fall into three basic categories; gross translation errors, failure to convey distinctions in language, and cultural variations in overseas markets.
All three distinctions can be overlooked even when different nationalities share the same fundamental language.
Mistranslations can easily be avoided by using the services of professional translation agency that have knowledge of the local language and experience in avoiding the pitfalls of cross border marketing.
Numerous top brands have made marketing faux pas in the past. However, the leading brands had the distinct advantage that at the time competition in foreign markets was not aggressive like it is today.
Consumers are not as lenient with such a lack of respect for their language and culture as they were twenty years ago.
The global community may be getting closer, but tensions can still exist towards foreign nations due to popular misconceptions and stereo-typing. Businesses entering overseas markets need to consider attitudes, traditions and thought processes of their target audience.
How cross-border consumers think
It is not uncommon for individuals to perceive their own culture, logic and social behaviour is superior to other nations.
This type of ethnocentrism is born from a tendency for people to accept the values of their immediate environment are right, or the best. Since every culture has its own sets of values, the concept between what is best can become blurred.
In a business setting, the concept of ethnocentrism works both ways. International businesses not only have to consider the traditions and values of other cultures, but also how their own culture is perceived.
Cultural appropriation is a good example of the challenges international businesses can encounter.
Whilst it is acceptable to draw inspiration from other countries, neglecting to properly research the culture you intend to portray or earn acceptance from blurs the lines of communication and can be taken the wrong way and met with contempt.
Misuse of cultural appropriation can lose businesses customers in both the targeted nation and consumers of the offending companies own country. And the power of social media, marketing gimmicks that are mistaken for racism could be very damaging.
Promotional video ads
Video is one of the most powerful online marketing tools and on average, two-thirds of promotional videos ads are being viewed by overseas audiences.
Although video hosting and sharing platforms like YouTube and Facebook have tried to assist businesses promote their videos to international audiences, the automated video caption translations are insufficient for marketing purposes.
There are two ways of effectively communicating with an international audience through video; subtitles and voice overs. Dubbing is also an option although not recommended because it looks low-quality and therefore untrustworthy.
Professionally translated subtitles can deliver marketing messages in a much more powerful way. And translators with marketing skills know how to effectively communicate with audiences by pulling emotional strings.
Although some viewers complain subtitles distract them from the motion picture, when watched on small mobile screens, it is easier for consumers to absorb the imagery and the text.
The alternative is to use voice over actors, but poor delivery of the script is more damaging than beneficial. A great voice over actor will deliver lines naturally and find the story within the marketing message.
Non-native actors that speak a second language may not be able to capture the context of the script. Words need emphasising or de-emphasising in the right way so that the message is clear and not cringeworthy.
Attitudes towards accents can also create barriers for international audiences. This is an obstacle created by cultural prejudice. In order to communicate effectively, businesses need to be creative in how they place dialects in video ads.
For example, Indian accents in England can be perceived as humorous or annoying, depending on the context or environment. The same issues exist between France and French-speaking African nations, and Spanish attitudes towards Latin American accents.
Face to face negotiations
B2B companies that rely on face to face negotiations to conduct business matters can encounter problems when foreign partners do not have the same level of understanding.
This is particularly the case for UK firms since English is the established default language in multi-cultural business settings. Not having the incentive to observe the culture of other nations can be the cause of unwittingly offending foreign business men.
The subtle shadings of language can be easily lost when non-native speakers do not have a good grasp of English. Phrases and expressions can not only be misunderstood, but may be taken the wrong way and ultimately jeopradise the negotiation.
Skilled interpreters that are adept at both languages can be invaluable in business negotiations, not only to ensure the message from both parties is communicated but also to advice all sides about culture and conduct. Deals can collapse when intentions are lost in translation.
The need for effective communication is important in any language, and for international businesses is the line between success and failure. To avoid disappointment when venturing into foreign markets, respect your target audience and speak in a language they will respond to.