American businesses with plans to take their products global know they will need to overcome language barriers, but that little chore could prove to be a greater challenge than they realize.
The potential for missteps abounds as companies attempt to translate websites, apps, user manuals, print advertisements, marketing emails, and other materials for a customer base that’s not their usual audience.
“It’s critical that companies be aware of not just how their products will be perceived, purchased, and used in other countries, but also that selling internationally requires tweaking business processes,” says Ian A. Henderson, author of Global Content Quest: In Search of Better Translations and co-founder with his wife, Francoise, of Rubric (www.rubric.com), a global language-service provider.
“Many products designed for and by Americans are in high demand in other countries, but that doesn’t mean the user experience will be exactly the same.”
Some translation complications that businesses encounter could easily be avoided, Rubric’s founders say. A few of those problematic situations include:
Creating poor user journeys. The Hendersons say they sometimes encounter clients who have a general idea of what the content should be in English, but have not thought about what it should be in other languages, or how to adjust it for different cultures. “Because of this,” Ian Henderson says, “people often end up translating for the sake of translating from some vague idea of necessity, rather than to intentionally grow the international market for their product in a strategic way. This leads to a poor user journey.” If you don’t put time and thought into what you are translating and why, he says, you may end up with inconsistency in content.
Using misapplied tools. Companies often look for software that will solve all their problems, and in many cases a multi-language feature is sold as part of a content-management system, or a product-information management system. “Unfortunately, it is often not very effective,” Francoise Henderson says. “Translation is more of an art than a science, and it is rarely as simple as plugging words into a program.” She recommends running a pilot program to test out new software before committing to buying it.
Adding translation to someone’s other responsibilities. Companies often make the mistake of assigning translation duties to someone already on staff simply because they speak the languages in question. “On the surface, that seems to make sense because the person knows your product and is already on your payroll,” Ian Henderson says. But the employee won’t make translation a priority because of competing responsibilities. When the employee does prioritize the translation, the rest of their work suffers. Also, just because they speak the language doesn’t mean they are competent writers who can successfully convey a message from one language to another.
Being stuck in silos. If departments within a company fail to communicate, information might be unintentionally translated multiple times, costing the company thousands in extra translation costs, Ian Henderson says. Other times, different departments will use different vendors to translate. So when put through translation, a product’s packaging claim might not correspond to the material that marketing or legal is sending out. One solution, the Hendersons say, is to have a central communications hub through which everything flows.
“One thing we’ve learned is translation is more than just a language problem,” Francoise Henderson says. “People and the products they buy vary from country to country. As a result, marketing can’t be too uniform because it won’t speak to all the audiences. But if it’s too individualized, you can lose your brand identity. The trick is creating a balance that both preserves the global brand and serves the local needs.”
About Ian A. Henderson
Ian A. Henderson (www.rubric.com), author of Global Content Quest: In Search of Better Translations, is chief technology officer and co-founder of Rubric, a global language service provider. During the last 25 years, Henderson has partnered with Rubric customers to deliver relevant global content to their end users, enabling them to reap the rewards of globalization, benefit from agile workflows, and guarantee the integrity of their content. Prior to founding Rubric, Henderson worked as a software engineer for Siemens in Germany.
About Francoise Henderson
Francoise Henderson is chief executive officer and co-founder of Rubric, overseeing worldwide operations and Global Content strategy. Under her guidance, Rubric has generated agile KPI-driven globalization workflows for its clients, reducing time to market across multiple groups and increasing quality and ROI. Francoise has over 25 years’ experience in corporate management and translation.