Tolerated today, gone tomorrow

Your products are stunning. Your brand is strong. Your social media and marketing teams do a fantastic job and online sales are growing. You know you’ve got something special and your customers seem to agree, in your home market at least. With so much going for your brand, you can’t fail in new international markets, right?

Sorry, it’s not that simple…

When it comes to international online sales, your brand, product and marketing may certainly drive shoppers to your site but it’s the experience that will convert curious visitors into loyal customers. And language is key to the international customer experience.


Let’s try to understand how an international customer (let’s call her Miriam) might experience your site…

Miriam is browsing Instagram. She sees one of your products and clicks through to your site. Miriam is excited at the gorgeous range of products by this unique new brand and is curious to explore further. Miriam doesn’t speak fluent English so looks for the translation option, but her language isn’t available. That’s ok, with a combination of intuition and recognition of a few English terms from her school days, she begins to navigate the site. With some trial and error, Miriam soon forgets her growing frustration when she finds the perfect item for her upcoming special event. The sizing isn’t localised, Miriam wonders if it will fit. It’s obviously not a local company, maybe there are extra costs involved in returning it. In fact, the shipping costs are probably extortionate too. Miriam clicks on what she assumes are the T&Cs.  She starts to feel a little overwhelmed. Maybe it’s not worth the risk.

Miriam abandons her cart….

Language plays a critical role in converting browsers to buyers. 70% of the online population are not native English speakers. That still gives you 30% potential market share though, right? Right…if you are prepared to limit your global potential to the 30% of fluent English speakers who may or may not want to buy your products.

Even the most proficient language speakers prefer their own native language by a wide margin. According to the Common Sense Advisory, 84% of shoppers prefer buying from online sites that are offer content in their own language. 74% will buy again if after-sales are in their own language and 75% would like to see reviews in their own language if nothing else. Some nationalities even prefer bad translations to no translations!

Despite these compelling statistics, many business owners still hesitate to commit to localising online content for international customers. Of course, some shoppers can and will tolerate English language business communications, but do you really want your customers to just ‘tolerate’ you? How sustainable is a customer toleration strategy?



How many minutes are there in a while?

Some months ago I bought myself a motorcycle. As you may know, it’s sensible for riders to lube the chain of their bikes from time to time. So, having read some “user generated content” in specialised blogs about which are the best products and how to do it, I bought what seemed to be the best chain cleaner and lubricant.

First you have to apply the chain cleaner in order to get rid of all the dirt and residues.

Wondering how long I would have to let it dry before removing the dirt with a non-abrasive brush, I thought it wise to check the instructions on the can … or rather first identify which of the languages I understood as the instructions came in no fewer 29 (!) languages.

Spanish, English … all fine … but let’s check if there is also a German version (there is nothing like your mother tongue when it gets down to the real nitty-gritty like checking instructions, descriptions, etc.)… And there it is!

“Auf die Kette sprühen und kurz einwirken lassen.” (Spray on the chain and let it work for a short time) …

But how long is a “short time”?! This is the first time I´m doing it and I don’t want to screw it up by leaving the product too long on the chain (which may damage the seal – who knows!) or leave it for too short a time (which may leave residues on the chain, again causing an issue).

20 seconds, maybe a minute, maybe two?

“Short time” …  a very relative expression …

So I started to see what the other languages said. ALL the other 28 languages state that you have to let it dry for 5 minutes. Except German …

In my opinion there was no need to be creative in translating such a detail.

That’s something the proof reader should have spotted!

And if the producer (a multinational company selling products across the globe) had integrated a quick internal language quality check into their translation process, I´m pretty sure they would have spotted the issue as well.

To be honest, in this case, this little detail may not be a matter of life or death. But when it comes to translating instructions on the correct use of a product the development of which has cost you millions, you had better ensure you take the time to get it right!

Shopping for Translations

The other day while I was at the airport waiting for my plane I sort of asked myself how I would go about shopping for translations services, assuming that I knew very little or nothing about the industry or services. How easy would it be to contact with a company who not only support me with my translation needs, but also to give me advice on how to best proceed, what content to translate? Going global can be very expensive and ROI is a major factor in any business, so it needs to be done right. With my budget in hand, my Director would probably ask me to arrange our AW15 Catalogue to be translated into the 6 languages.

A Google search for ‘translation agencies’ brought up ‘approximately 4,110,000 results’ (in 0.56 seconds). A good start would be setting a list of requirements and needs, checking with industry associations and getting some names, searching and looking them up, start a selection process. I realised that this was going to take a while and that is as far as my exercise got.

With literally millions of translation agencies on the internet, most of which seem to have the same offering, making the selection process even harder, shopping for translations may be a daunting experience.

A relationship with a Language Partner that fully understands the time, effort and skill involved in developing a distinct brand identity, which customers over the world will recognise and identify with, is the objective. A partner that helps you become a true global brand by capturing the elements which make your brand unique and successful in your domestic market, and transmitting the same message consistently to a larger global audience.