HarewordHareword logo
Back to blog

Why Marketing Translations Fail & Tips to Succeed

April 01, 2023
The translation is an important part of almost every business process, especially for marketing departments.
Like the article? Spread the word

Translation is an important part of almost every business process, especially for marketing departments. However, there are some real horror stories about marketing translation fails that rookie marketers are told at work, making them lose a little sleep at night. You have probably heard of the hilarious examples of some giants such as Coca-Cola and Ford -mistakenly- translating their mottos into curse words or sexually sensitive phrases in other languages. 

When this is the case, even for well-known brands, you might want to stay away from mistranslation and being pointed and laughed at by your competitors. Here is a sectoral look at why marketing translations fail so much and suggestions to avoid them.

Marketing 101: Localization is Key

Globalization has brought about an urgent and immense need for marketers to promote their products or services internationally. Doing it successfully takes a lot more than it meets the eye though, such as knowing if your product is needed in a specific country and how to promote it in different cultures. Well, the answer to the first question lies within your heart or, hopefully, with your production department and marketing specialists. As for the second one, marketing strategies must be developed by the relevant departments and people, and this is where we step in and explain the role of translation in marketing. 

As the internet and especially social media evolved and had a stronger influence on our lives, it became much easier for people to reach any product or service online. Well, it also became inevitable because the internet is full of advertisements now, which makes it harder for brands to stand out and attract more customers than their competitors do. And this requires using effective marketing strategies and localizing their product or services. Properly localized content is essential for brands to keep a few steps ahead of their competitors. This is the ideal scenario, of course. Let’s find out why this does not work every time.

5 Reasons Why Marketing Translations Go So Wrong

If you tried translating your marketing materials before and faced multiple problems during or after this process (you probably did), you might have done something wrong or missing. Here is a little simple no-no list for marketing translations, which the decision-makers of your company could use effectively.

Reason #1: In-house sources can’t handle translation

We all have that friend at the workplace, who is good at languages and willing to translate a text or the lyrics of a popular song, even though we didn’t ask. Of course, you may trust your employees or colleagues with challenging tasks, whether or not it’s their specialty. However, you can’t expect them to translate a vital company document or the text of an ad for your product, no matter how advanced their proficiency level is.

Although it seems convenient and cheap, you should not use your in-house sources for the translation of your company-related content. This can never replace the customer service of a professional LSP and the efficiency of trusting your translations with an expert team. Your sources most likely won’t have enough experience and time to take every aspect of translation into consideration.

How to avoid it: Outsource your translation needs to a professional translation agency.

Choose one that has expert translators’ network, smart tools, project managers that could keep you updated at all times, and an automated system to manage workflow and in-time delivery. Suppose you are worried about the costs of translation. In that case, your agency can offer cost-effective solutions through smart technologies such as Translation Memory.

Translation Memory (TM) is a technology that allows you to pay less for your repeating or updated content, which helps you minimize your costs and improve operational efficiency over time. Here is a simple demonstration from Hareword’s TM feature, which explains how it works better.

Reason #2: Ignoring localization can result in absurd translations

The difference between translation and localization is profound. The former means converting words from one language into another, while the latter means adapting your product, content, service, etc. to your target audience more comprehensively. 
Consider McDonald’s, for instance. They sell different products specific to different countries, such as ayran (a traditional drink made of yogurt) in Turkey and beer in some European countries. This is localization. 

But how do you localize a text? You do not translate word by word. If there is an idiom or a saying in the source text, you find its equivalent in the target language and use an expression as original as possible. If the source text, let’s say a tagline, has a humor element that connects to the brand, the translation should reflect it in the most original and relatable way possible.
Failing to do so will result in absurd and even offensive translations, which can easily harm your brand's reputation.

How to avoid it: Just ask for a native translator expert in marketing translations and double-check the most eye-catching parts of your content.

Make sure your marketing materials are localized by expert translators, even natives if possible. A professional translator will take into account your target audience, medium, and every little detail about the source content to ensure a successful localization.
If your material is website content, you should definitely ask for a transcreation service for the most engaging parts such as slogans, taglines, and homepage content. Transcreation means taking a text in a language and practically re-writing it in a whole new fashion in another language, of course, without changing the main message. This way, your content will sound a lot more natural and striking in the target language. 

Reason #3: Using machine translation damages your brand image

Technology is vital to translation as it is to any other task or activity. Professional translators and large companies in the industry make use of smart technologies such as QA tools, translation memory, API integration, CAT (computer-aided translation) tools, and machine translation. They are great helpers and are all used for a specific reason in some level of human control. 

We all copy/paste some foreign text to an MT engine such as Google Translate and are surprised by the result from time to time. It is because a software translates text into the target language without human involvement, and it is learning as more and more input is provided to it. 

MT is a cheap and convenient way to translate written content, especially when you are just aiming to understand a text at some level. Even then, you’ll probably have difficulty understanding some parts of the translation because MT engines can’t guess the context as a human does. Context is key to translation. That’s why an MTPE (machine translation-post editing) process is always needed, where a human translator checks the machine translation for errors and refines the text.

So, is MTPE good for marketing translations? Unfortunately, it is not. MT can be a good alternative for some content, especially if it is context-independent. However, using machine translation for your marketing content is more than bad, it is practically murder. Marketing materials involve a lot of cultural nuances and context, and machine translation will most definitely kill it. When you translate your website using an MT engine, your taglines, hero texts, and meta titles will look ridiculous. Some companies do it and lose so many visitors due to poorly translated content, not to mention that it will also affect your website’s SEO performance badly.

How to avoid it: Stop worrying about translation costs and seek a budget-friendly localization solution.

If you’re concerned about the costs of working with professional human translators, well, don’t be. It is no secret that it will cost you a lot more than machine translation but will definitely bring you much more gains in return. 
You should first change your mindset about marketing your product/service in the right way and communicating with your prospects more effectively. Then you’ll see how your international customers react to your promotions and how engaging your website becomes.

Plus, some language service providers offer multiple localization services, among which you can choose the one that suits your quality expectations and budget. Hareword is one of these LSPs, having different package options as follows:

Reason #4: Leaving the translator all alone is a mistake

You have found the perfect translator and agreed on a deadline. Your marketing team is super excited. You have sent the translator(s) your text files. Now, you sit and wait. Everything is going great. It’s time your translated texts are delivered. You check them, O-M-G, what’s that? That’s a potentially unintended consequence of your negligence.

It can be a little problem with the tone or style, the way your audience is addressed in translation, or the misinterpretation of a hidden message in the source text. Of course, it happens to the best of us and all these complications can be resolved after translation. However, these little things take time to fix and cause delays in your schedule.

So, what’s actually going on here? Do translators always make such mistakes? Should you be expecting more trouble? Or how do you make sure you get the perfect translation? These questions lead us to the root of all problems: not providing enough input for the translator and expecting them to understand everything at first sight or magically resolve every issue.

How to avoid it: Make sure the translator knows what you want and all the details about your materials

Of course, you should be asking for the highest quality possible when receiving translation services. Also, an experienced translator will most likely minimize the chance of such problems in translation happening. However, you should do your part. That is, you should guide the translator or the translation agency through the translation process.

How do you guide a translator? You let them know about your target audience, where and why you will be using the material in question, specify the preferred dialect or tone, and provide reference material or term lists if any, which would be really helpful for the translator to understand what they’re dealing with.

Some LSPs facilitate the creation of company-specific glossaries with the customer’s comments and suggestions. Hareword’s glossary feature is a good example of translator-customer cooperation. Customers can comment on the terms in the list or suggest new terms for the linguist’s approval. It is a great way to make sure the translator knows he is on the right track.

Reason #5: Failing to internationalize your product/service will decrease customer engagement

Internationalization is designing everything related to your business conveniently for growth and adaptation to international markets. So, when you’re designing a product or service, you should think about how it is going to be internationalized in the first place. It includes the internationalization of your website content, customer service, support line, knowledgebase, and even interfaces/applications.

If you’re internationalizing your website for Germany, for instance, it’s not enough to translate the written content into the German language. You should also make sure that you have a customer support team that could communicate with and actually help German customers. Otherwise, your website’s customer engagement will decrease and eventually fail you.

How to avoid it: Develop your website and produce content with internationalization in mind.

Let’s face it. Not every content or word is translatable. If your taglines are a product of language-specific elements, such as idioms, it will most probably be impossible or at least very difficult to translate into another language. That could be addressed with transcreation, as we mentioned above, but the original message can still be somewhat lost in translation. 

So, what you need to do here is keep in mind in the first place that you might want to expand to international markets someday and design your website and operations accordingly. As for the last step, make sure that your website is ready for global customer service. You can try your services on a sample user base and test its success in customer engagement.

That’s all we’ve got to say about marketing translation fails. To err is human, after all. But some errors might cost you a lot more than you think. With Hareword’s expert human translators and localization offers, we can help you avoid those costly mistakes.

Like the article? Spread the word
Subscription icon

Weekly Newsletter

Get Guidance on Localization, Drive Top-line Revenue