Speaking to a Global Audience: 4 Tips for Doing It Right


The world is definitely a smaller place because of the internet. You can reach out to practically anyone these days, which opens up the opportunity for you to spread your message farther and gives you the opportunity to become even more profitable.

However, global marketing isn’t always easy.  

There are cultural and language differences that can pose challenges. That’s why I wanted to chat with Nancy Hernon, an expert in the translation industry.

Nancy has helped major corporations over the last 20 years with their translation needs, providing a global voice to her clients across multiple industries. She helps them launch new products and websites, and oversees the translation of technical, branding, and advertising content, in addition to legal contracts.

Over the past decade, Nancy started G3 Translate in order to focus more on communications and market research.

Her understanding of global audiences, and translation as a whole has helped her clients adapt to and overcome cultural and language barriers. Her insight can help your company make a smooth transition from national to international marketing.


Speaking and Translating for a Global Market – the Significance of Doing It Correctly

Almost anything can be translated, but according to Nancy, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be translated well. And this is where most businesses get themselves into trouble.

Many companies try to make a word-for-word translation, but that doesn’t work out so well. Some also fail to take into consideration the culture that they’re marketing to, which can lead to some funny outcomes at the very least.

In some cases, the translation can turn out to be downright offensive.

It’s incredibly easy to make mistakes, so it’s important to think through your marketing process and take proper measures so that those mistakes aren’t made.

Otherwise, it could be detrimental to the reputation of your company, as well as your bottom line. Not only will you miss out on attracting potential customers and the money they’ll spend on your products or services, but your marketing budget as a whole will have been spent in vain.

Making mistakes isn’t something that’s just done by smaller companies. Businesses of nearly every size have made translation mistakes.

And while it may seem like a small oversight, the fact is that these mistakes show consumers that the company didn’t do their research and they might think the company doesn’t care whether they address other cultures in a proper way or not.

Here are a few examples of some of the more comical mistakes that Nancy has seen in recent years.

  • Selling American Beer to Spain: In the U.S., a beer company had a great campaign called “Turn It Loose.” Unfortunately, in Spain, this phrase refers to a person suffering from diarrhea.
  • The Curling Iron/Mist Stick: An American company sold a curling iron called the mist stick. They decided to sell their product on the German market without changing the name. They figured Germans spoke enough English that there wouldn’t be a problem. Unfortunately, in Germany, “mist” means horse manure.
  • “Benzie” Doesn’t Work So Well in China: Mercedes Benz used to use the nickname “Benzie” when selling their vehicles. Unfortunately, in Chinese, the word “benzie” means something along the lines of rushing towards death.

Effective and Non-Offensive Marketing: 4 Tips to Help You Speak to Your Global Audience

The important thing to remember is that most errors made are not necessarily a translation error, but rather an imagery problem.

How can you avoid these mistakes? Here are four tips that can help.

1. Who Is the Audience and Market?

The first thing you need to do is get really clear on who you’re talking to. Thoroughly research your audience. Understand who you’re talking to and what their voice has been historically. Look at campaigns from the past to see what’s worked and what hasn’t.

2. Make Sure Your Translator Understands Your Product

Your translator needs to understand what your product is, what it does, and how to speak to the audience in a meaningful way.

Once your message has been translated, make sure to have someone proofread it and edit it so that it speaks directly to your international audience.

It’s best, too, to have multiple people working on the translation project and that they communicate regularly. This will help them fully understand the mindset of the company as well as the customer.

3. If You’re Not a Native Speaker, Don’t Do Any Translating

Even if you’ve took a language in high school, it doesn’t mean you’re equipped to do any translation work.

There’s still a lot you don’t know, which means there’s potential for a lot to go wrong.

Find a native speaker and communicate your idea with them clearly. They will let you know what will and won’t work in their country or culture in regard to your campaign.

4. Your Message Goes Beyond Words

Translation isn’t just about words – it’s about the images you use, too.

For example:

  • Women in bathing suits might work for a U.S. campaign, but not for one in the UAE
  • Bold colors might speak to a buyer in Mexico, but not necessarily for someone from Denmark
  • If you sell coffins and have a picture of mourners in all black, that might work fine in the U.S. However, in some Asian cultures (China and India, for example) this won’t work because they wear all white when in mourning.

Look at your audience again and see if your graphics match their needs, wants, and culture.


You Won’t Regret Investing in a Quality Translator

We are a part of a global economy. Our sales aren’t limited just to what we can sell in the U.S. – we have almost unlimited income potential from foreign markets.

And that’s why hiring a translator is such a crucial investment for your company.

Almost anything can be translated, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be translated well.

Hiring the right person for the job will help you avoid making mistakes that could not only embarrass you, but could actually damage your international reputation.


About Nancy Hernon

If you’re interested in introducing your brand to the world market, make sure to follow Nancy Hernon for more translation tips. She can be found on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, as well as her website, G3Translate.com.