It’s Not Just About Translation: International Marketing Insights From Inbound 2018

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Distance is no longer a hindrance to conducting business on a transnational scale.

But, if you are trying to reach international markets, language and digital culture are still two significant barriers to success.

Increasingly complex cultural, linguistic, and multinational strategy-related obstacles impede businesses from expanding globally.

international insights from inbound 2018

Software providers that want to succeed in international markets need to adopt strategies that target non-English-speaking countries by methods other than simple translation. Otherwise, they risk alienating potential revenue-generating audiences.

“Reaching non-English speaking markets isn’t just about translation,” says HubSpot’s senior acquisition manager Ana Sordo, “but you already knew that.”

HubSpot's Ana Sordo at Inbound 2018

HubSpot’s Ana Sordo at Inbound 2018 (Capterra)

This year, Sordo provided the attendees of HubSpot’s Inbound Marketing Conference with her thoughts on how to reach non-English-speaking markets.

Sordo spoke about localization and how to examine your current international audience.

We’re combining Sordo’s advice with Gartner Digital Markets’ insights to give you a primer on overcoming the language and culture barriers to expanding your business offerings to international audiences

Language: The best marketing practices to reach a non-English-speaking audience

Marketers have known for a long time that non-English-speaking audiences prefer to consume digital material in their native tongue, with English as a close second in most cases.

According to Sordo, the key to creating marketing content for non-English-speaking markets is to leverage your existing content. The first step in this process is to go beyond translation to “localize” your content and “adapt it for culture and circumstances,” Sordo says.

Sordo made a great point at the end of her discussion for small businesses that aren’t operating on a Coca-Cola-level marketing budget:

“Sometimes the best way to speak the language of your consumers is to not speak any language at all.”

Sordo gave the example of Ikea’s instructions for putting together furniture, which have to be distributed to 30 different countries:

Image of IKEA instructions for assembling a shelf that contain no words to eliminate the need for translation.

IKEA instructions for assembling a shelf (Source)

“Imagine the budget impact if you tried to scale your written content across that many different languages,” says Sordo, “You can’t. Even HubSpot can’t do that.”

Sordo adds, “Localize your resources when you’re getting ready to expand internationally.”

HubSpot will be opening its first office in Latin America soon, in Colombia, to create localized content and resources for Spanish speakers in that region.

 KEEP IT SIMPLE:  In short, “localize” your content. Try to identify global and local barriers to buying before your business tries to expand internationally.

 TIP:  Consider contracting with an agency that has experience conducting strategic international marketing intelligence research to help your team decide where and how to enter your target market.

Culture: Key lessons from other companies’ multilingual marketing mistakes

Who can forget KFC’s 2003 international marketing blunder in China, where they incorrectly translated “finger-lickin’ good” to “We’ll eat your fingers off?”

I still shudder every time I see chicken fingers.

And that 15-year-old memory is the point Sordo makes in her presentation at Inbound:

“We’ve all seen translation fails like this Chinese food menu. If you aren’t careful, your customers will be eating ‘cigarette pie’ for dessert and remembering only your translation errors, not your brand,” Sordo says.

Example of direct translation gone wrong at a Chinese food restaurant

Direct translation gone wrong at a Chinese food restaurant (Source)

Besides the potential for translation disasters, consider cultural norms that only locals would understand and that business could easily violate.

When you have someone on the ground who not only understands the language but the local customs, you’re more likely to be successful.

 KEEP IT SIMPLE:  You don’t know what you don’t know. Hire someone who does.

 TIP:  For strategy-making positions, employ an individual with firsthand knowledge of an area’s cultural variations in buying behaviors and language. In other words: When in Rome, hire a Roman to figuratively “set up shop” for your digital product.

Going global is easier with Gartner Digital Markets

Marketing software to a non-English-speaking audience is difficult.

Gartner Digital Markets (GDM) has experts on the ground in France, Germany, and Spain, and we aren’t stopping there.

Reach out to one of GDM’s digital platforms and one of their advisers can help you develop a strategy to find and convert your international audience on Capterra, GetApp or Software Advice.

Looking for Marketing Automation software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Marketing Automation software solutions.

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About the Author


Tirena Dingeldein

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Tirena Dingeldein is a former Lead Emerging Technology and Business Trends Analyst for Capterra.


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