Get your message right, bitte. Merci!

Sarah-Jane Freni, Account Director at PR and marketing agency Shooting Star, has some advice on how to communicate in different languages and cultures…

Next week UK Trade & Investment is hosting Exporting is Great week. It’s part of the government’s initiative to inspire and support 100,000 additional exporters in the UK. For those considering taking their business abroad, now is the perfect time to think about how you communicate your brand’s key messages.

As a multilingual expat, I have specialised in international PR, helping big multinational brands securing good media coverage across the European continent. Once you start communicating on the world stage, there are subtleties and intricacies to be mindful of.

English is great: it is understood in most countries and lends itself well to short snappy taglines as well as puns and innuendos. But if you want to truly engage your customers in other countries, it’s always best to speak to them in their native tongue. And sadly, word play rarely translates well.

Here are a few top tips to ensure your brand’s key messages don’t get lost in translation:

Firstly, be clear about what your brand’s key messages are. They should be relevant to your customers, they must be true, they must be different to your competition and they should be timeless. Key messages aren’t meant to be used word for word, but rather as a basis for your communication, and they will give your brand a voice.

Keep it simple. You should have no more than five key messages and I would whittle them down to simple words or expressions where possible. Think: reliability, performance, innovation, steeped in history, great customer service … to name but a few. This will ensure that they will be easier to translate into different languages.

Don’t translate – localise. People don’t just speak a language; their cultural background shapes the way they communicate and think. English is not the same in Britain as in America. Similarly, French is spoken very differently in France, Belgium or Quebec. If you hire a translator, make sure they are native and give them the freedom to adapt the text so that it sounds fluent rather than translated.

Finally, remember that what works in one country might not work in another. Germans like short, straight-to-the-point press releases while the French like them long and detailed. This is not a cultural stereotype; I have experienced this at first hand. Enlisting the help of someone with local knowledge should help in determining what your best approach should be.