Transcreation: Customizing Your Content for a Global Market


As you may have read in previous blog posts on this site, the changing customer journey is the megatrend in B2B marketing today. That is, with 50-80% of the journey to purchase taking place before sales steps in, B2B marketing must focus on the environment through which potential customers travel.

Let’s take that a step further. When products or services go global, it’s crucial to adapt a B2B marketing plan to suit the unique language, culture, and media of foreign customers. Translation alone is not enough, but starting from scratch with a different creative partner in each foreign market can be time consuming, risky, and expensive. A compromise is “transcreation:” a mix of translation, cultural consulting, and foreign-language copywriting to transform your message and tell your story so the world listens.

When working with a language partner to internationalize your marketing materials, you can expect to discuss several options, ranging from a basic cosmetic review to a deep-dive overhaul. 

Tier One: Copy Finishing
The first tier of transcreation combines translation and copywriting. This is best done by a bilingual in-country copywriter. Some materials require a translator teamed with an in-country copy editor, for example, when technical information requires a subject matter expert, but the text needs to flow in a natural, appealing way. An ideal writing team must be native speakers of the language and steeped in the culture in order to capture the right tone. In languages such as Korean, which employ complex rules for different levels of formality, this is essential.

Tier Two: Pre-translation Assessment and Source Preparation
The second tier looks beyond the text and searches for “red flags:” elements that might be inadvertently offensive in another culture. A consultant reviews not only the copy, but also the visuals.

For example, one of our clients requested pre-translation review of ads targeted to medical facilities in 13 different countries, and our consultants made some interesting observations:

  • Our Finnish reviewer pointed out that the English copy was too casual and “familiar” for buyers in their market.
  • Our Chinese reviewer was alarmed by the Caduceus symbol – the winged staff with two snakes entwined. It’s an appropriate symbol for medicine in the U.S., but not in China
  • Our Ukrainian reviewer pointed out that the regional boundaries depicted on a world map followed the now-obsolete Soviet Bloc boundaries. 
While cultural assessment identifies problems, source preparation provides culturally appropriate alternatives. If your marketing copy is carefully tailored for a domestic market, it might employ idioms that make no sense in another language. Source preparation by a bilingual, bicultural consultant would identify potentially confusing references and replace them with culturally relevant substitutes, to create an English version that could then be translated and copyedited for a foreign audience.

Tier Three:  Full Treatment Transcreation
A third tier provides a range of services. Guided by your creative brief, the localization team might completely re-create some or all of your collateral. Through brainstorming and in-country focus groups, new slogans, scripts, or visuals can be developed and tested. A typical project might involve a series of “headlines” for a campaign.  A deliverable would include:
  • Several choices for each headline in the target language
  • Back-translations (literal English translations) of each headline
  • Rationales (in English) describing the strengths of each choice, including explanations of cultural references and word choices.
Additional rounds of in-country review can winnow down the final choices, but the extent of the review remains up to the marketer. One of our recent clients engaged its in-country sales teams to evaluate transcreated materials and make final choices. Your language partner should work with you to make sure the process is scaled to suit your needs as well as your budget.

Cultural customization in a global market is no longer an option, but a necessity. Working with a Language Services Partner can expand your resources to meet B2B marketing needs by making sure all encounters in the customer journey are impactful, influential, and above all, culturally relevant.

Learn more about the changing buyer’s journey and how it impacts your marketing efforts at the upcoming FWD:B2B conference.

About the Author

Jen Horner
Partner Liaison
MTM LinguaSoft

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