International Trade

Why language needs to be a critical factor in your international marketing strategy

9 min read

11 November 2014

Getting familiar with a target country's language means that personalised and localised content can be created – helping an export push.

Independent experts at Cardiff Business School have stated that British businesses are missing out on £48bn worth of export business. But this isn’t down to businesses not wanting to export. Instead, many do not have the ability to effectively create multilingual sales and marketing content that allow them to break into non-English speaking markets.  

Given that the world’s growth markets are increasingly outside of Western Europe, being able to generate multilingual marketing material is a real asset for a business looking to crack emerging markets. This is particularly true when you think that Asia-Pacific will soon pass North America and become the largest ecommerce regional market in the world, worth $525.2bn compared to $482.6bn. 

Furthermore, according to these eMarketer findings: “China will take in more than six of every $10 spent on ecommerce in Asia-Pacific this year and nearly three-quarters of regional spending by 2017.” This seismic change further erodes the presumption that the prime language of ecommerce is English.

Growth in cross-border trade can also be seen in eBay’s statistics which show that 22 per cent of global trade is cross-border – up 26 percent year-on-year – representing $13bn of commerce across eBay. IKEA is another company that has seen greater overseas sales, recently announcing that trade has been buoyed by Chinese consumers. Therefore, for any business that wants to expand internationally, the importance of language cannot be underestimated. 

Alibaba’s recent move into the global scene further highlights this. When interviewed, Jack Ma, founder and chairman of the company, spoke about the challenges surrounding this decision, having encountered scepticism from different directions due to differences in cultural perspectives and values. 

The content that is being pushed out by businesses needs to be reaching target audiences in their language of choice and therefore language should take a key role in their digital marketing strategy. Indeed new studies reveal complex pattern when it comes to the language people prefer when browsing and buying online. 

We conducted a survey of the millennial generation (aged 18-36) and found that 32 per cent of millennial consumers in English speaking countries prefer a language other than English, and 46 per cent are more likely to purchase if information is presented in their preferred language. 

This is underlined by “Can’t Read, Won’t Buy”, a report from Common Sense Advisory, which states that 74 per cent of people are more likely to purchase from the same brand again if the after-sales care is in their language.

So it is imperative for brands to speak to consumers in the language they desire to improve the overall customer experience, foster brand advocacy and ultimately drive increased sales. Quite simply if a market doesn’t speak English, it’s no longer an excuse for marketing content to be only in English or hardly translated at all.

Access to specialist language skills is going to be increasingly critical to overall business success as international trade steps up a gear. But how can businesses realise this and effectively reach new markets? Achieving this goal in fast moving multi-national, multilingual markets is exceptionally challenging. It requires digital marketers to find manageable ways to translate high quality content into multiple languages at high volumes and high speed. 

Today businesses can enable their organisations to translate more content than ever before by implementing language platforms with a wide range of technology options available, from Machine Translation for large volumes of real-time translations, to directly accessing high quality human translations through integration with business applications. 

Language platforms exist that allow every customer interaction to be delivered in the right language and help to match the right content to the right translation method at the appropriate price point. Developments in making the most sophisticated machine translation tools and services more accessible, using new cloud technology platforms, are also key. 

In fact, thanks to the increasing amount of data being created in a growing number of languages, the need for machine translation is greater than ever. According to further research from Common Sense Advisory, more than 90 per cent of non-native English speakers rely on machine software to translate websites they visit. The latest cloud technology platforms address the industry demand and provide a solution offering organisations access to high-quality, pre-trained and industry-specific machine translation engines. 

Translation should come hand-in-hand with localisation to offer content that is both linguistically accurate and culturally relevant. While the challenges around this are great, so are the benefits of a solid localisation strategy. As a result, we’re seeing more digital marketers embrace integrated content and language solutions.

Take, GTA, part of the Kuoni Group, as an example. GTA recently addressed the need to prioritise and centralise the translation process within their organisation. They deployed a language solution with machine translation as a core component. This system enables the company to easily localise tens of thousands of hotel and ground travel descriptions for its global customer base, delivering a seamless and personalised customer experience by addressing cultural differences.

Furthermore, GTA looks closely into language nuances. For example, in the South American market, Brazilian Portuguese is totally different from the Portuguese that’s spoken in mainland Portugal. It’s worth noting that businesses should make different languages available to customers within the same country. In Belgium and Switzerland there are at least three languages spoken in each. It’s about taking into consideration your target audience’s cultural makeup. The company has removed this issue to provide a better service to its customers by translating and using colloquialisms to target customers to ultimately make its customers happier. GTA believes cultural subtlety through translation will bring about repeat business as customers will feel more cared for and more ‘at home’. 

Thanks to integrated translation technology that is more intuitive to customers’ language preferences, GTA can market itself to a much wider audience and know that its content is resonating with its global audience – no matter where they are or what language they want to communicate in. This shows that a single solution which offers a combination of human and automated translation options to provide local language interactions with customers, regardless of geographic region, is key. 

With the inherent global nature of businesses today, coupled with the current content explosion, organisations need to be able to produce content faster, easier and more accurately for all audiences. By offering personalised and localised content, businesses can achieve a critical aspect of seamless, global customer experience and drive global expansion.

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Dominic Kinnon is CEO of Language Solutions at SDL.