Mission Complete or Failure to Launch?

As a self-proclaimed globe-trotting adventurist and former U.S. expat living in France, I can say one thing for certain: love is humanity’s one universal language. For all other things, especially the language of business, you’d better hit the books for lessons in linguistics before liftoff.

When you’re moving a thriving brand from one culture or country to another, the key to successfully transplanting is to understand the language of the natives. Launching a brand on foreign soil, or even in a different culture on the same soil, is filled with pitfalls of “untranslatable” moments because there are few or no cultural references.  

While this may seem like Marketing 101, I am always shocked at the number of television advertisements, websites and in-store promotions that fail because someone didn’t study their target demographic well enough. They didn’t take the time to understand the nomenclature of their early adopters,  mistakenly used the word ‘colour’ instead of ‘color,’ or used imagery that arrived off the boat as tasteless or bizarre in some way.  

BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT (British Computing Societyis trying to get it right. We have been fortunate to support the launch of their educational and consulting services in North America. SFIAplus (Skills Framework for the Information Age), helps organizations map their IT team’s skills with their technology strategy for significantly enhanced productivity and business readiness. BCS worked with us to evaluate their existing messaging and images, and adapted them for North American speakers. The result? Marketing messages and materials that are hitting the mark and generating lots of positive feedback – and new business. 

Here are a few tips from successful launches I’ve seen:

  • Find your cultural Captain Spock — An ambassador in-tune with the needs of your target audience and the needs of your brand. This person will check you before you head for the “bizarre in a bad way” category.
  • Dispatches from outside the bubble are important — Don’t sit in your office, dreaming up all the ways your brand is important to you and your current client base. That only validates your brand in your culture. Get out there and do your homework: learn the language; surf foreign social media; stream ads and get into the mindset of who you’re targeting.
  • Patience is a virtue, seriously — Consumers can tell when something is half-baked and half-hearted.
  • Test, test and test — Don’t leave it to chance. Join in with those you need to make your brand successful. You may even benefit from riding the crowdsourcing movement.

Don’t believe me? Here are some gems that made a big splash…but not in a good way:

McDonald’s most bizarre ads seen around the world.

Amazingly bad translations of ads sponsored by major brands in foreign markets.

Photo gallery of terrible English translations in foreign ads.

Advertising FAILS 2012: The 9 Worst Ads For Women This Year