Don't Say Hi! And Other Lessons In Global Marketing

I learned a new word today: transcreation. Transcreation is the art of translating and adapting your email and other marketing assets for use in other countries and regions. Any educated, bilingual person can translate your marketing message literally into another tongue. But can they capture the quip in your headline and render it creatively so it still tickles the imagination in France or Russia? Does your clever tag line - which expresses so much in just five or six English words - become a cumbersome paragraph when rendered in German? (The answer is Yes.)


 According to Gordon Husbands, vice president of sales & marketing at Wordbank and an active member of the Globalization and Localization Association (GALA), translation is just the tip of the iceberg when rolling out marketing campaigns globally. I chatted with Gordon via Skype at his home in Andalucía, Spain, to learn about globalization of email and digital marketing in general. In our conversation, Gordon explained to me that transcreation is the process of rendering creative ideas so they resonate in other idioms and cultures. Another key process is localization -- in essence, correcting the content so that it conforms to common protocols, cultural practices, audience expectations and legal requirements in different countries.



 Setting up the technical platform

 A company that plans to market multinationally needs to start at the template level of all digital communications in order to allow for differences in languages. The HTML or content management system has to be able to render the required character sets - such as Greek, Turkish, Latvian, Russian, the many idioms of Chinese, and Indian languages - and to allow room in the templates for expansion. English is a wonderfully succinct language, and its grammar permits certain bending of the rules while still communicating clearly. However, Gordon warns that you cannot get away with this in other languages. Sentences must be structured more formally, lest you offend the readers, and in languages like Russian or German, the content size may grow threefold once translated. In a Flash demo or a video where there is a voice-over timed to the action, the sheer length of the translated script is a consideration that must be accounted for technically in the earliest stages of development.

 Preparing the message for local audiences

 For email marketers, it's not enough to translate your email. Clearly you need to have an appropriately translated landing page and Web site for readers to click through to; any support materials, such as white papers, must be professionally translated and localized, too.

 Localization of your messaging will take into account differences in currencies and the various uses of decimals or commas in numbers, which differ from American usage; and ensuring that references common to one country are contextualized meaningfully for another culture. Photography is an important facet - will consumers in South America relate to the blonde, blue-eyed models in your U.S. advertising? (The answer is No.)

 Salutations in emails are an especially tricky issue. In the U.S., you can use first names almost always. "Hi, John," doesn't offend many on our shores. But take care in Germany or Italy. Formal titles are of supreme importance in many countries, so you had better capture those with your acquisition efforts. It's "Herr Direktor," or  "Signore Professore" to you!

 In surveys delivered by email, it's unlikely that you can ask the same rather personal questions that we often see in the US: age, income level, home address - many other nationals simply won't answer.

Gordon's advice to U.S. marketers in a global economy is: Don't think like an American. Lose your domestic mindset. Learn to think like a Belgian, or an Argentinean, or a Japanese, if you intend to market to those audiences.

 My advice is to hire experts and let them guide you through every stage of campaign development and rollout. Better to spend a small sum at the beginning than thousands putting it right in 20 languages later. Let's face it, you don't want this to happen to you:

Sign on Laundromat in Utsunomiya, Japan: I have feelings towards saying that I "Wash" it and pray a visitor for it being loved healed air space such as a fragrance of a lavender by the making of, a visitor. (From

8 comments about "Don't Say Hi! And Other Lessons In Global Marketing".
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  1. Rebecca Petras from Globalization and Localization Association, April 5, 2010 at 11:58 a.m.

    Great article, Cynthia! The Globalization and Localization Association is a non-profit resource for all translation and localization needs. Our website, is a deep resource with a directory of suppliers, a knowledge center with many facts and figures on localization and a very extensive article database.

  2. Ute Hagen from YSC Your Success Counts GmbH, April 5, 2010 at 12:30 p.m.

    Cynthia, this is a very important reminder to marketers. I have lived the global marketing world for over 20 years at a big global CPG company and have seen this understanding ebb and flow. I have recently moved back to my native Germany. After practicing "marketing" in English for the past 20 years, I realize that I have to learn a completely new language here in Germany.

  3. Ana Yoerg from Ana Yoerg, April 5, 2010 at 1:23 p.m.

    Excellent tips, all of them - especially the overriding "Don't think like an American." Easier said than done, of course...

    For more tangible tips like the ones above, see Top 10 Tips for Marketing Translation, posted on our company site:

    We've also written a few guest articles, for marketers:

    Don't Drink the Sweat (for Adotas)

    A Five-Step Guide to Take Your Campaign Global (for MarketingProfs)

    One more quick tip: Many companies do remember to localize their website content and landing pages for emails, but it's worth looking into translating your SEO metadata and your PPC campaign as well, particularly if you are a retail brand or e-commerce site.

    Remember, though, that like email and other marketing communication, SEM localization does require "transcreation," not simple translation. (We'll be posting tips for SEM localization on our site soon.)

  4. Jerry Foster from Energraphics, April 6, 2010 at 5:38 a.m.

    Excellent article. In practical terms, I have made some sacrifices, however, to get business done where I wouldn't have had the time otherwise. That meant letting Germans get the Hallo [first name] in a mailing to 1000 people in the German language. This is because the use of Herrn [Last Name] would insult various women and still wouldn't placate those with Doktor degrees. Databases mostly don't carry the gender or Doktor status of entries, meaning that doing a proper mailing would involve writing each letter manually (and still screwing up due to lack of gender and education data). If anyone has a very, very, very realistic way of doing proper mass-mailings to Germans, I am all ears. Most Germans, in my experience, understand that Americans operate the way we do and don't penalize us for that if they otherwise want to do business with us. But this advice does not count for emails to very important people that you won't be silly enough to send a mass mailing to.

    Obviously, it is only common courtesy to do mailings in major languages where the receiver expects businesses to write them in their own language. French, German, Russian, Spanish...these are languages that receivers can reasonably expect to receive marketing material in.

  5. Gordon Husbands from Wordbank Limited, April 6, 2010 at 9:16 a.m.

    Just couldn't resist coming back on a few of these comments!
    1 )Jerry - I agree mass-mailing to the consumer market cross locale is tricky from the outside. But I disagree with the database issue - that's down to the quality and granularity of your CRM/data collection strategy
    2) You are a very brave guy (or maybe gal?) making a statement like "Most Germans, in my experience, understand that Americans operate the way we do and don't penalize us". They might forgive an errant American or Brit or Aussie but I would suggest that forgiveness is not a great theme to begin a marketing campaign on?
    3) Several of our clients are doing email marketing to 9 or more European languages alone, never mind the huge BRIC (+Turkey) opportunity - agreed they have made a big investment in it.

    10/10 for Ana Yoerg getting her sales pitch in like greased lightning.! She is correct in that there is a whole lot more to it than what Cynthia very ably crammed into 700 words.
    Finally not to be out done check out

  6. Lisa Lee, April 6, 2010 at 7:08 p.m.

    Couldn't resist coming back on Jerry's comment either. French, German, Russian and Spanish are hardly the languages 'receivers' in China, Korea, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brazil, Indonesia, etc etc etc can 'REASONABLY' expect to receive their correspondence! It's not a courtesy, and it's not something a receiver should 'reasonably' expect - it's a necessity to speak to people in their own language or you may as well not bother sending anything at all. And...Germans or any other nationality outside the US receiving US-centric content (translated or otherwise) may 'understand' how Americans 'operate', but don't think you aren't being marked down for it.

  7. Parthasarathy Sridharan from Cosmic Global Limited, April 8, 2010 at 12:53 a.m.

    Excellent Article Cynthia!!! I would say that me also learned a new word and its(trans creation) meaning today. We are a translation service agency located in India. Our website, we work with the freelancers all over the world.

  8. Hanna Sles from Freelance Translation Studio, June 10, 2010 at 4:24 p.m.

    Thank you for the article! But it is still unclear what's the difference between transcreation and localization. It looks like both adapt a text to a local culture. Are the terms just synonyms?

    Freelance Translation Studio
    Translation and Localization into CIS languages

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