Unless you’re living under a rock – especially if it’s a rock without wifi - you’ll be carrying out your daily routine as part of a connected global landscape. The growth of the internet has made instant communication across huge distances effortless, bringing people, products and services straight to us from all countries and cultures in the click of a mouse, tap of an app, or blink of a virtual reality headset.
With that inevitably comes a meeting of languages, all infused by a rich cultural background with their own nuance, dialects and slang, and a demand for highly personalised customer experiences. With a plethora of choice and the ability to compare, contrast and purchase instantly, the consumer is in control - if you won’t give them the experience they want, they’ll find a competitor who will.
So what is multilingual communication and how can we use it to reach consumers and clients more effectively?
What is multilingual communication?
Although English can be considered the international language of business, it only has 360 million native speakers worldwide. Only 45% of our population in Switzerland speak it, and mostly we prefer to converse in one of our 4 official national languages (which are, of course, French, German, Italian or Romansh). And of course, every region has its own individual nuances - linguistic and cultural - that need to be respected in order for your message to resonate and build brand awareness.
Multilingual marketing focuses on making your messaging available to your customers in several languages, with the intention of reaching them in their preferred one. However, it isn’t enough to simply translate copy word-for-word when so much of language relies on culture, colloquialisms, idioms or metaphors that can lose impact (or make no sense at all) when translated literally. Adapting the content to convey the same – or similar - emotive meaning across the board is the key to creating a superior customer experience that will make your business memorable.
3 ways we can use multilingual communications to reach your audience more effectively
1. Speak their language (literally)
If your audience speaks a different preferred language to the one you’re communicating in, you’re immediately adding some emotional distance between your brand and your client. As with most things we class as part of our identity, the language we think, feel and speak in triggers strong feelings about ourselves, our outlook and our lives. Consumers strongly equate language with trust:
40% of consumers won’t buy a product or service sold in another language
65% favour content in their preferred language
73% would rather have product reviews in their preferred language
Those are significant barriers to securing a sale, and a simple way to meet that customer demand is to offer your website in multiple languages. Without it, your business risks losing out to a competitor who does provide that choice and flexibility.
2. Strike the right tone
Regardless of the language you’re working with, the best way to build trust in your brand is to speak authentically to your target audience, in a tone of voice they will respond to, to identify their particular issues and demonstrate how your business can solve them. Striking a jokey tone of voice for a campaign about cancer treatment, for example, is unlikely to hit the mark. Using long and complicated words to promote an app aimed at getting younger children to read will similarly fall flat.
That same tone applies to cultural differences: some regions respond better to humour than others. Some references will cause a raised eyebrow in French but heartfelt nodding in German. Ideal copywriters and translators have a deep understanding of not just the original and the target language, but also a grasp of the historical and political landscape, cultural ‘in-jokes’ and slang, pop culture and trends. These vary not just in the broader languages and countries themselves, but in the smaller regions with different accents, dialects and (often) ancient grudges against neighbouring countries.
Skilled copywriting and translation is vital to ensure that the right message is conveyed in the right way for the intended audience.
3. Remember your staff
It’s easy to focus on marketing, but the key to a successful company is happy and engaged staff. Investing in multilingual communication internally as well as externally demonstrates an interest in cultural competency, shared appreciation, mutual respect and a sense of growing together.
For legal, HR, financial documents and contracts, multilingual communication avoids miscommunication, offensive words or phrases, and other potentially negative reactions from clients or staff.
Advertising roles in multiple languages also positions your company to find, hire and retain the best talent. Without doing this, you may be losing out on staff who could be essential to your success in regional marketplaces.
How to invest in multilingual communication
Now that you’ve seen some of the benefits of multilingual communication, how do you put it in action? As tempting as it can be to write in one language, stick it in Google Translate and be done, that’s a bad idea. Another option is to use a standard translation service, but a word of caution: get recommendations! Some cheaper providers may translate the words themselves but not the meaning, leaving slang and idiomatic expressions literally lost in translation.
Even when working in the same language, but crossing international borders, mistakes can creep in – as in the case of Coca-Cola’s bottled water brand, Dasani, whose American marketing proudly proclaimed you “CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT SPUNK”. Of course, in the US, ‘spunk’ means ‘full of energy’. In the UK, however, it means something very different (Google at your own risk …). An example of localisation failure at its worst.
To effectively adapt your communications for different audiences, someone who is fluent in two languages just won’t cut it – you need a transcreator: a translator, cultural attaché and copywriter rolled into one.
In a way, basic language differences are the easiest ones to overcome. Yet so much of the invisible undercurrent of communication is threaded through with traditions (habitat, food, folklore, music, dress), cultural practices, taboos, values, prejudices, and preferences. When those things remain invisible, your communications suffer. By weaving them back into multilingual copy – sometimes in highly subtle ways – copy can be elevated from confusing to captivating.
At LLS, we work closely with our clients to craft compelling copy - on deadline, on budget and on point – that hits the right emotional touchpoints, regardless of your audience’s language, location or background. We deliver effective and emotive multilingual content that turns potential customers into loyal supporters.
Make sure your business isn’t missing out on a large and vibrant multicultural market. Invest in multilingual communications that make a difference.
Written by Lisa P./LLS
Image by Lisa P./LLS