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Cultural Context Translation

Translation and interpretation require a human review because languages and all their nuances are just that – human. When converting messages from one audience to another, words and phrasing will only get you so far. The history, cultural context, traditions and general background of a geographic location or demographic is the bow that ties it all together.

To Satisfy the Customer, You Must Think Like the Customer

On that thread, a recent Forbes article covered the possible reasons why many US retailers fail when launching overseas. Although this isn’t strictly translation or interpretation based, the role of cultural differences and context is a significant one in whether a new business will succeed in a new location.

The article uses examples of some large American retailers who struggled in other continents:

“Sometimes there are specific reasons for these failures. When Home Depot closed up shop in China it was because of a miscalculation of Chinese cultural attitudes towards home improvement: the locals wanted somebody else to do the work and didn’t have a heritage to do-it-yourself.

Likewise, Best Buy was trying to sell complex consumer electronics products when most Chinese households were still purchasing basics like TVs and DVD players.”

When it came to Walmart revamping a German discount store, the result seemed to be almost too American, in that everything was supersized and promoting the American dream, which isn’t always relevant outside America.

It’s More Than Just Language or Culture

A couple years back, Andy Molinsky from the Harvard Business Review wrote an article about how cultural differences are more than simply a place of origin. He suggested that, when creating a persona for your target audience or building out the details of your prospects, consider these questions as well:

  1. What do you know about the region? For example, those from the American Midwest and Northeast tend to have significant differences in how they interact with strangers or new acquaintances.
  2. What do you know about the company or industry? Is it more progressive or is it founded in more traditional values? What are the demographics of the executive team? What is their mission?
  3. What do you know about the people? What are their beliefs, values, traditions and morals?

These questions will help give you a more rounded view of your audience and take more than language into consideration.

Big Player at a Local Level

Brand Quarterly states, “With every aspect of global communication being influenced by cultural preferences or differences, global brands now need more than just attractive logos or a common philosophy to succeed. Brands need to develop the ability to engage customers in a way that feels local to them. Choice of medium, colour, font style or even size may have cultural overtones.”

They emphasize the importance of “glocalizing”, which is a term coined by the sociologist Roland Robertson to indicate the integration of local languages, cultures and customs into global products/brands.

The overall message here is to blend your product, brand or service into the local environment as seamlessly as possible without losing its identity. You must appeal to your target audience at their level.

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