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CultureShocks Blog

world map with flags showing culture shocks from around the world

Business Etiquette Across the Globe: How to Navigate the Culture Shock

  |   CultureShocks Blog

The world continues to become a smaller place as digital technologies transcend oceans and dissolve borders, allowing corporations to forge international relationships and partnerships that would otherwise have been missed opportunities.

These modern-day miracles do not come without their complications, however, as business etiquette can greatly differ from region to region. Culture shocks from around the world can often lead to potential business associates embarrassing themselves and completely botching deals.

These mistakes come in many forms, whether it be an improper greeting, social media conundrums, or producing inadvertently disrespectful marketing materials; this makes it vitally important to have a keen understanding and perception of local business customs.

In an effort to help business leaders avoid succumbing to cultural formality mishaps, here are some of the most prominent business culture shocks from around the world.

 

International Styles of Communication

 

International globe with hands showing culture shocks around the world

Proper communication is the basis of every relationship, business or otherwise, and needs to be effectively managed. If a company representative is unaware of a certain territory’s style of conversation or negotiation, it could be detrimental to the way foreign business leaders view them and their brand.

In American culture, it is considered normal to ask about a business prospect’s day and ‘how they are doing’. This is often viewed as a way of showing that they are interested in both the personal well-being of an individual and of their business. Countries like Spain are also quite receptive to discussing personal matters as family and relationships are highly valued.

In the United Kingdom, however, delving into more intimate exchanges is somewhat frowned upon. Additionally, these folks are less inclined to retain eye contact during a dialogue; a tendency which would be considered disrespectful in the States.

Similarly, countries like Germany and Japan are all about business. Asking personal or emotional questions to business colleagues in Japan is inappropriate and makes one look foolish.

More than just the type of questions that are asked, it is also necessary to be mindful of the verbosity that is used. In places like Japan and India, the word ‘no’ is viewed as rude and disrespectful; it is best to use phrases like ‘maybe’ or ‘possibly’.

Body language also plays a huge role in international business communications. Much as the Brits have no time for ‘niceties’ around personal conversation, they also prefer their personal space, similar to Americans and Chinese business people. If corporate dealings are taken to Brazil, however, you may be in for a bit of a culture shock as Brazilians are accustomed to physical contact during conversations. It is seen as a sign of trust between business partners, so they may end up standing closer than what feels comfortable for some; take this as a good sign.

Navigating the conversational terrain can be tricky business so it is best to study the practices of the place you will be visiting as well as learn some of the countries phrases.

 

The Art of an On-Time Arrival

 

The Art of an On-Time Arrival

Punctuality is another valued trait in American culture. If an individual is late to an important meeting, they are viewed as disrespectful and unreliable.

Business folk in Germany and Australia share a similar viewpoint. These people are extremely hard workers and their time is perceived to be valuable. If you are late for a meeting in Germany, you may have jeopardized the deal. While these cultures value punctuality, this is not the case in other parts of the globe.

In Italy, punctuality is more of a casual ideal. In this part of the world, meetings frequently get off to a late start. If there are any hard deadlines that must be satisfied, be sure to make this clear to avoid coming off as boorish.

France and India are similar in this regard, as things can typically be delayed due to a late arrival. Despite this, staying late is a common practice.

The same can be said for business meetings in Brazil; they may get started late, but often can last longer than expected. To avoid being seen as rude or disinterested, be sure not to excuse yourself early.

On the other hand, places like Morocco, Nigeria, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia place zero importance on early or punctual arrival at meetings. In most of these countries, it is completely acceptable to arrive 30 minutes or more ‘late’ to a meeting. In Saudi Arabia, it’s even considered rude to look at one’s watch during conversation.

As a best practice, avoid tardiness no matter what area of the world you are in. It is better to play it safe than to risk offending a potential business partner.

 

Global Gift Giving Formalities

 

international gift etiquette. person giving a present with both hands

Another culture shock from around the world comes in the form of gifts. Supplying a business acquaintance with a gift is perceived differently in different cultures, and even the types of gifts that are given could be misconstrued.

For example, it would seem appropriate and somewhat obvious to give a watch as a business gift. In China, however, this represents death. Additionally, black, blue, and white wrapping paper should always be avoided. When giving a gift in China, present it with both hands, as is customary.

In Japan, this courtesy is expected but also needs to be presented properly. It is rude to attempt to give a gift that is unwrapped. It is also advisable to carry the offering in a bag to avoid appearing to show off. Moreover, gifts should be discreetly presented toward the closure of a meeting and presented with both hands, as is done in China. Some great items to give would include cuff links or high-quality alcohols like cognac or brandy.

Places like France and Italy are less enthusiastic about presents. In these countries, gifts are typically only exchanged after business partnerships have long been established.

In the United Kingdom, gifts are not typically given. The only scenarios this takes place in is when visiting someone’s home; in which case, bring a small gift, like flowers, for the hostess.

Saudi Arabia, however, has a very different stance on gifts. For these folks, exchanges only occur between extremely close colleagues and are often extravagant items. Be wary, however, as if the present is for a Saudi man, gold and silk would not be acceptable; silver is much more appropriate.

No matter which country you are headed to, it is important to understand what role gifts play in their culture and what type should be offered. It would be awfully awkward and potentially disastrous not to present a gift to someone who is expecting one.

 

Conducting business with foreign partners can be a complex and intricate dance. It is necessary to properly research ethics and rituals, learn a bit of the language, and properly understand the customs of the region. Culture shocks from across the world vary greatly from region to region and should be respected and honoured. If you fail to show esteem, grace, and reverence towards individuals in a land foreign to your own, your chances of gaining a new business partner are greatly diminished.

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Will Google’s New Approach to Translation Make Agencies Redundant?

  |   CultureShocks Blog

Google says its new artificial intelligence powered translation tool scores nearly the same as human translators. Does this mean that translation and transcreation agencies are no longer relevant in 2016?  

 

Google Translate supports 103 languages and generates one billion transactions by over 200 million people every day. It processes daily quantities of translation that surpass what the world’s professional translators manage in a year. The facts and figures are extraordinary, but anyone who used Google Translate in the past will know that it often wasn’t that accurate. It relied on individually translating words and phrases that produced mixed results and struggled with the intricacies of complex changes like Chinese to English. Even Google admitted that its Phrase-Based Machine Translation (PBMT) service wasn’t good enough to be used to power single websites in multiple languages.

 

Technology that learns from its mistakes

However, things have just changed. Google’s latest version of Translate uses new techniques reliant on artificial intelligence (AI) for vastly improved results. Google Neural Machine Translation (GNMT) is based on the science that is used to build computer systems which imitate biological neural networks in humans and other animals. Such systems learn to make decisions through feedback in the same way that we do. You may have come across similar technologies before – they allow Facebook’s image recognition software to identify individual faces, virtual personal assistants

The bottom line for those who use the GNMT? In some of Google’s human-rated and side-by-side tests, GNMT approaches the accuracy achieved by average bilingual human translators and reduces translation errors by 60% compared to Google’s old PBMT system.

translation tool artificial intelligence

 

Subtlety, nuance and creativity a machine can never match

Such compelling technology and results might lead you to wonder if there’s still a place for professional human translation. Artificial intelligence has certainly brought Google Translate a step closer to human translation but for critical communications, a machine may struggle to ensure that words are interpreted by the target audience as intended. A machine might miss the nuance that a native speaker and translator will intrinsically feel. A machine won’t easily know when a different approach might be needed to make a point creatively, clearly and persuasively enough to truly engage a reader. And a machine could miss the overall intent and feel of your text due to focussing on the details.

 

The role of language service providers

The role of Language Service Providers, be they translation or transcreation agencies, can never be obsolete, as they have the best access to a wide network of language professionals who are well-equipped to interpret and create outstanding, industry-changing campaigns for their markets. No technology, however advanced, can match or surpass the eloquence, accuracy or cultural insight that a team of (human) copywriters will bring to the table – no brand will ever be able to rely on technology alone to enhance their influence on any target audience. Furthermore, it will take a miraculous technology to match the ability of human translators and copywriters who have their finger on the pulse of the rising and waning trends in their market and specific industries, as well as taking into account any current social and political trends that may affect a global campaign.

 

Nearly human, but not really human

Overall, Google’s new tools are  very helpful. For day-to-day work that isn’t too important, they compare very favourably to human translation. But what they’ll never be is actually human. And you can only communicate like a human if you are human.

 

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Top 4 Soft Skills for Cross-Cultural Marketing

  |   CultureShocks Blog

Today there is much talk about the importance of soft skills. Be it at the start of one’s career or in a position of leadership, soft skills are necessary to succeed. In fact, in the Bloomberg 2016 Skills Report, recruiters were asked which skills they wanted most and an overwhelming focus was put on soft skills!

 

What are Soft Skills?

Soft skills are simply the less tangible qualities people possess. This includes one’s strengths and weaknesses, one’s personality traits and characteristics and one’s attitude. Typically, soft skills are learned through experiences and interaction as opposed to technical knowledge that is often gained through direct teaching. There’s no doubt that soft skills play a very important role in career matters. Even as the world becomes more digitised with face-to-face interaction cut to the minimum due to developments such as email, social media etc., basic soft skills are necessary to succeed in any job. In a field like global marketing that involves everything from meeting people from various backgrounds, travelling to new countries, to being truly immersed in a culture at its base level, having a set of certain soft skills at one’s disposal is especially handy. Here are the four top cross-cultural soft skills that a global marketer should aim to perfect.

 

1. Communication

Stellar communication skills are critical so as to interact professionally with people from different cultures and backgrounds. This doesn’t mean being an accomplished writer or a brilliant orator. Having good communication skills consists of being able to coherently express oneself, from writing a memo to giving a persuasive presentation. The role of communication is exponentially important in a cross-cultural setting where there may be innate language barriers already in place. In this way, one should be able to communicate effectively and efficiently so that all parties are on the same page, regardless of cultural differences. Since people from different cultures have very different communication styles, it is important to quickly pick up on said style so as to gain an appreciative audience. In an article on the BBC, Erin Meyer, a professor at INSEAD business school in Fontainbleau, France, who specialises in cross-cultural management, tells the story of a French employee who was recently relocated to the US. “Her boss informed her that her performance needed to change. But because he delivered the negative feedback by expounding first on what he appreciated about her work – and she was generally unaccustomed to receiving positive feedback – she floated out of the meeting thinking it had gone well,” said Meyer. This is an example of failed cross-cultural communication, where the objective wasn’t conveyed or understood well, highlighting the importance of better communication skills.

 

 

2. Adaptability

Being adaptable is a key soft skill in the realm of global marketing. According to Lynne Sarikas, MBA Career Center Director at Northeastern University, “To succeed in most organisations, you need to have a passion for learning and the ability to continue to grow and stretch your skills to adapt to the changing needs of the organisation.” In a field like marketing, this is even truer. Marketing campaigns are constantly changing and evolving, even more so when marketing moves to a global scale. Due to the everyday dynamism of cultures, anyone engaged in cross-cultural marketing must be adaptable and open-minded to succeed. Furthermore, being adaptable to any sort of environment is extremely useful when having to deal with culture shocks that arise from moving to a new country for work. Consider this example given by Gayle Cotton, now president of Circles Of Excellence Inc, from when she first started working at the United Nations in Geneva in the early 90s. Cotton answered a phone call with a regular “Hello, how are you?” Her seemingly normal greeting was met with a curt response, “That’s none of your business. Now what I want to talk about is…” As Cotton recalls, “it wasn’t personal, the caller, a Swiss German, wanted to get down to business, and the personal element was irrelevant.” This sort of minor culture shock was handled easily by Cotton, who simply adapted to the Swiss norms of phone protocol – she began answering her phone with just her last name, emulating her colleagues in Geneva.

 

 

3. Listening and Awareness

Even though listening may not seem like much of a “skill”, it is something surprisingly few people actually excel at. Listening as a cross-cultural soft skill doesn’t entail just hearing people talk. Rather, it consists of hearing, understanding and processing so that one is able to make informed decisions. Paired with listening is the ability to be constantly aware of one’s surroundings. Within the spectrum of cross-cultural marketing, it is vital to listen so as to understand the intricacies of different cultures. An added bonus comes in the form of language gains – by listening intently and being observant, local jargon as well as non-verbal cues are learnt. Similarly, being aware of the surrounding environment can give insights into cultures that mere indirect research might not. Consider the example of Airbnb’s global campaign that continues to shine. By actively paying attention to colloquial ways of speaking, Airbnb was able to incorporate their findings into localised websites. Today, Airbnb has websites that cater to specific forms of the same language. Depending on the language of preference, Airbnb translates spellings (for example, American English versus British English) and colloquial terms and usages (changing, say, “vacation” to “holiday”) depending on the country version of the site. Airbnb’s success is a great example to show how attention to detail does indeed pay off.

 

4. Creativity

Urban studies theorist Richard Florida wrote in his book ‘The Rise of the Creative Class’, “What powers economic growth? It’s not technology – technology is a raw material. What makes human beings unique is one thing – creativity. are subsets.” These words bear testament to the power of creativity as a soft skill. Creativity encapsulates many forms – from creative thinking in a more traditional and artistic manner to creative problem solving. Cross-cultural campaigns come with their fair share of challenges, and more often than not, traditional thinking doesn’t lead to the solution. Rather, thinking outside the box, or tackling a task from a different perspective yields much better results – and this is where the ability to be creative in any situation that requires it, is a great cross-cultural soft skill to hone.

While having knowledge of international marketing is of immense importance, honing the above cross-cultural soft skills is also essential to succeed as a global marketing maverick. Technical know-how will get one far, but it is great communication, an ability to quickly adapt, listen, pay attention to detail as well as be holistically creative that leads to true success!

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transcreation best practices

4 Key Elements to Achieve Global Brand Success

  |   CultureShocks Blog

There has been a lot of discussion as to whether ‘Transcreation’ is a necessary term or if it is another fancy way of saying ‘Translation’. But companies, agencies, and linguists now understand that marketing text is not like any text. It not only implies culture, as translation does, but also other language nuances such as humour, irony, timing, momentum and creative intent.

 

Transcreation means freedom, but with certain limitations. And these limitations are not the same as in Translation.

 

A successful tagline may work in the US, but not in China. This is kind of obvious. But that’s exactly why agencies rely on linguists with experience in target markets. As well as helping you with translation, agencies have reliable human resources to work as cultural consultants. This is really helpful when it comes to knowing if a similar campaign is currently running on tv, if there’s a recent ad on the radio with the same creative concept or if the print they’re working on has been used by competitors three months earlier. It’s not only about achieving the highest possible standards, but also about preventing a campaign from disaster.

 

Which elements should we take into account when adapting or creating campaigns that will later feature in other countries? These are some basic questions that will lead you to success:

 

1. To whom are you speaking?

 

transcreation best practices-communication-min

This is a tricky one! While in several countries it is possible to approach the target audience in an informal tone, this could mean a total catastrophe in other countries. Something as basic as using ‘you’ can change the whole feeling of a sentence depending on the location. For example, in Spain, ‘usted’ is used by formal industries like medicine or law. However, many banks — which could be considered as part of the most formal industry —are now choosing ‘tú’, which is a more relaxed way of saying ‘you’ with the objective of appealing to a new generation and to differentiate themselves from competitors. This may seem insignificant, but a social change is implied and that is why professionals that understand the culture, the history of advertising and their own language must be involved when adapting the original copy to a new audience. Only a curious transcreator (who is experienced in marketing) could say which way the wind is blowing.

 

2. Are you using the right emojis?

 

transcreation best practices-emoji-language-barriers-min

Emojis are here to stay, but they should be treated with caution. In some languages copy can be so powerful that adding an emoji is redundant. However, when adapting a campaign to another language, that ‘powerful’ nuance could mean ‘serious’, so to relax the intention of the message, an emoji could help a lot. The same happens when an emoji is out of place and should be removed.

Emojis should be reviewed depending on the market. And, of course, linguists and copywriters should put quality before quantity, as it is a resource that should be managed in a smart way so it preserves its effect and adds to the copy.

 

3. Which are the forbidden words?

forbiden words in transcreation best practices

This is probably the most important point. There are certain words that should be avoided in some languages, while in others can mean beautiful things. Language specialists are aware of this and will keep this in mind when it comes to ‘adapting’ a campaign. But what exactly does adapting a campaign mean? We could say it is getting final copy that works as the original would, accomplishing the marketing objectives, and maintaining the spirit of the brand. Sounds complex right? It is also exciting. No need to worry, a good agency and a good linguist would recognise a ‘wrong’ word immediately in their own language.

 

4. Is your company ‘translatable’?

 

transcreation best practices-brand translatable-min

When a company is global, it understands the power of good copy. When a global company has a vision, it understands that copy is only good if it can be adapted to other countries where it has presence.

It is wise to count on a copywriting team in-house to create the content. But this only works if these copywriters are aware that they’re crafting content that will later be adapted for another market. This doesn’t mean creating plain, neutral text. It means forward planning and taking care of elements that, if not observed, could be an issue for the company in the future.

 

Do you think there’s something more to be considered? Share it with us!

 

Written by Spanish transcreator Maria Godoy.
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suprised woman because of the brand mistakes brands have made

10 of the Biggest Marketing Faux Pas of All Time

  |   CultureShocks Blog

It’s always a good idea to check whether your name, logo, or tagline means something different in the regions where you’re expanding. Otherwise these blunders can cause brands a lot of harm. We’ve gathered a list of marketing blunders made by some of the biggest and most loved brands.

 

1. Wake Up!

10 Biggest Brand Blunders in History, pepsi brings your ancerstors back from the dead

Back in the olden days, Pepsi’s wholehearted approach in creating prose to attract a younger generation sadly backfired in China when their ‘come alive’ slogan was mistranslated to mean ‘Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the dead’. I know fizzy drinks wake you up, but my great-great grandma here says somebody must have been sleeping on the job…

 

2. Happy Accident

10 Biggest Brand Blunders in History, only exit signal from starbucks

More recently a Starbucks sign unknowingly created an invite many would not want to refuse. The mistranslation from English actually read ‘Success here’ in Spanish. I wonder how many budding entrepreneurs waltzed through the doors after seeing this…

 

3. Mind the Design

allah script that offended muslim community10 Biggest Brand Blunders in History, allah script considered an insult for the Muslim community

Two products which have offended some in the Muslim community by making the mistake of using Arabic lettering that looks uncomfortably similar to the script for ‘Allah’.

 

4. Burned

mac donalds blunder in mexico, unidos por el destino

Another cultural slip up, this time in Spain. The ad featured a TexMex burger illustrated by a stereotypical short Mexican man standing next to a tall dude from Texas, draped in the Mexican flag – which is not legal back home. The Mexican ambassador for Spain was quick to express his disapproval. The news went viral in Mexico and spread to the Hispanic population is the U.S., one of the chain’s big consumer segments. I guess even the best burgers get burned sometimes…

 

5. Oldie but Goldie

Coors slogan read suffer from diarrhoea.

Coors’ slogan ‘Turn it Loose’ got somewhat lost in translation, telling Spaniards to ‘suffer from diarrhoea’. Not sure I’d be in a hurry to drink that…

 

6. One for the Dogs

mc donalds blunder in the Middle East

Adapting languages across regions such as the Middle East requires even more care as script must also be taken into account. One simple misplaced dot or line can change an entire meaning. A fast food giant fell victim to this after adapting their ‘I’m loving it’ tagline into Standard Modern Arabic, which translated to ‘I’m a bitch’ in Egyptian dialect. I guess this one went to the dogs…

 

7. Ballsy

faux pas Nissan turbo cojones

This mishap saw a car maker forget America’s multicultural population with the headline ‘Turbo-Cojones’. In English, the expression refers to someone with a daring attitude, but in Spanish it means ‘Turbo Sweaty Nutsack’…. Ay, caramba!

 

8. Clean Up Your Act

nothing sucks like an electrolux

Rewind 25 years to when a Swedish company became one of the highest performers in the white goods category with its award-winning slogan ‘Nothing Sucks Quite Like Electrolux’. However, while expanding into the UK, they were unaware of the negative connotations ‘sucks’ held in Britain. I hear the brand quickly cleaned up its act and sucked up market share…

 

9. Taking the Piss

pee cola marketing mistake

Tourists visiting Ghana will have been surprised by their discovery of ‘Pee Cola’. The name of this highly popular soft drink actually translates to ‘very good cola’. I usually don’t take the piss, but in this case…

 

10. Food

puma faux pas in the uae

For the United Arab Emirate’s 40th anniversary, a sportswear brand decided to show solidarity with the nation and release a limited edition pair of trainers with the UAE flag’s colours. Little did they know that showing the bottom of your foot is a huge insult in Arab countries, and wrapping the flag around it even worse. I guess someone put their foot in their mouth…

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Chinese translation fails in the film industry

How Nonsensical Chinese Translations Can Utterly Ruin a Film

  |   CultureShocks Blog

Cinema is a cultural force held with great regard and reverence the world over. Films can be powerful motivators in provoking thought, action, and a wide array of emotions. Films can make us feel more human, heighten our sense of awareness and compassion, and they can even change our lives for the better.

China is the world’s second largest movie going population behind the United States, and is on course to become the number one largest film audience in the world by 2020. In the past several years, American and Chinese audiences have been intertwined thanks to major co-production deals; case in point, Lionsgate Entertainment recently reached a $1.5 billion agreement with Hunan TV, China’s leading provincial broadcaster. Additionally, 2017 will see China’s most expensive film to date, The Great Wall, starring Matt Damon. More deals like these are currently in the works, indicating the incredible momentum the Chinese are experiencing in the film industry.

Despite the country’s love of film, there are still major issues in the department of Chinese translation. Many movie elements are often lost or misinterpreted; this can have a severe impact on the motion picture’s box office success in such international markets. Ranging from funny to grotesque, nonsensical, and more, a movie’s dialogue can become unintentionally yet relentlessly butchered thanks to translation issues when a film crosses oceans.

Let’s take a look at how Chinese translation has effected movie-going experiences and how the situation can be remedied.

 

Title Translations that Caused Different Expectations

 

chinese translation fails in the film industry, death at the old and dirty gas station

The title is part of a movie’s hook; how it reels in audiences and persuades them to perceive the visual story. It often reflects the film’s topic, tone, and subject matter, and can be rolled into a witty little package. When translators aim to express this wit in another language, however, things can most definitely go awry.

Over the decades, there have been a plethora of movies whose titles didn’t make the same impact overseas as they did in America. Films like The Full Monty, ended up as, “Six Naked Pigs” while smash successes like The Sixth Sense had its ending utterly ruined with the translated title, “He’s A Ghost!”

Some of these Chinese translation blunders are due to direct transcriptions which do not make sense in other languages, while others like the ones above are brought about by trying to interpret cultural phrases into something that is more meaningful for the audience that it is translated for.

At times, this can even result in a more accurate depiction of a film’s content. For instance, the critically acclaimed U.S. movie Boogie Nights became “His Powerful Device Makes Him Famous.” Accurate, but not necessarily catchy or alluring.

These kinds of translational discrepancies are not limited to just movie titles. The dialogue gets in on the action too. . .

 

Film Conversations Translated into Unintelligible Communications

 

chinese translation fails in the film industry 3

More important than a movie’s title is its content. Dialogue between characters is the very core of the film’s communication, in most cases. Much of this impact can be lost when translated into foreign dialects, making the translation process a tricky task indeed.

A prime example of this is the movie Harry Potter. The movies are blockbuster hits all across the world and have received much acclaim. When the movie received a Chinese translation, many of the exchanges came out completely unintelligible and nonsensical. The movie’s translated conversations included lines like, “dirty name of my melon father”, “Ron got a yelling email”, and a variety of other senseless lines.

But it isn’t just Chinese translations that are butchering dialogue. Many have seen, or at least heard about, a variety of Kung Fu films which were subsequently given hilariously irrational English subtitles. In these movies you can often find lines like, “Beware! Your bones are going to be disconnected”, or “Who gave you the nerve to get killed here?”

 

Much of the problem with dubbed or subtitled translations comes from the use of software to interpret conversations. These tools are only capable of providing direct translations of words and do not understand cultural context, undertones, or nuances of language. When an actual person is conducting the transcription duties, things can still be wrongly interpreted as many don’t comprehend witty idioms, cultural references, and other societal differences that are misinterpreted or mistaken.

With a variety of Chinese translation complications, how can these issues be remedied as to not impact a movie’s overseas ticket sales and reputation?

 

How to Alleviate Translation Troubles

 

chinese localisation services as a solution for chinese translation fails in the film industry

A rather large issue is that movie studios do not spend the funds that are required to properly transcribe a movie into alternate languages. Many have denoted that the majority of studios don’t even budget for this service at all.

Instead of allowing a movie to be released with silly and senseless titles or ramblings, a more desirable and professional approach would be to hire reputable Chinese localisation services that can provide the cultural context that is needed to properly decipher intonations, sayings, and so forth.

If movie studios don’t want their productions to look like half-witted jokes in various countries across the globe, it is necessary for them to invest in professional translation services. Doing so would greatly benefit the international moviegoer’s experience, and help to protect a film’s influence and reputation across the world.

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multilingual seo and global seo

Global SEO: 5 Top Rules for Better SEO

  |   CultureShocks Blog

An American marketing executive was asked by his CEO to shape up their brand’s struggling European operations.

“Aaron,” said the CEO, on the top floor of the company’s tall glass headquarters in downtown Chicago, “you are a change-maker. I want you to go to London, align EMEA marketing with our best practice, and double our market share.”

“Consider it done,” Aaron answered.

Aaron decided to hire a business coach to help him navigate the new corporate environment. On a morning call with a London colleague, he happened to mention that he wanted to know about the best local coaches. The colleague insisted on helping.

Later that day he received an email:

Dear Aaron,

It’s a bit late here but I did a quick online search for you. You’ll find attached a list of coaches. We look forward to welcoming you on the other side of the pond!

Over dinner, Aaron told his wife about the email.

“I’m sure London will be terrific, but it does seem a little disorganised out there. The head of HR said he’d email me details of local business coaches, but all there was in the attachment was a list of local bus lines.”

His wife, a famous writer who was often invited to speak in Britain, laughed.

“Darling, in England ‘coach’ means ‘bus’. Words matter.”

 

This is one of the biggest complications that brands face when they go international. Understanding these subtleties in language is critical when catering to a foreign audience. And if your business is ready, worldwide branding can be a profound decision, as most of the top-ranked websites in the world don’t cater to a single region of the globe. They transcend borders to spread their offerings to international audiences. While English is the most widely used language on the web, focusing only on these English-speaking individuals and not building cross-marketing systems means that businesses are losing out on literally billions of potential prospects.

The best way to reach the masses worldwide is through substantial global social media and international SEO strategies. Other regions of the globe don’t rely on Facebook or Twitter. Google is not authoritative everywhere; China and Russia support different search engines. China’s preferred engine, Baidu, is the 4th most-visited site in the world and requires different tactics for dominance.

To overcome international search engine and social media challenges, marketers must become familiar with overall best practices and then drill down to become an expert. Here is the foundation you will need to take a brand’s message worldwide:

 

1. Understand Regional Specifics

When going international, there are some fundamental elements that must be considered. First, study the prominence of digital media in your region of choice. Some countries are not as web-friendly yet, so measure your tactics accordingly. You’ll also need to determine which search engine is best suited for each area; in Russia, Yandex is most widely used whereas in Japan, Yahoo is the engine of choice.

Legalities also matter, and every area of the world governs the web differently. The rules for Baidu, China’s search engine, are vastly different than Google’s and by failing to comply, your company could end up in hot water. There are various technical elements to consider too, like domain structure, hreflang tag usage and related details that can make a significant impact on your global SEO campaign.

 

2. Research Local Keywords

Since this is a vital element to any SEO strategy, it is crucial to adjust keyword choices to the culture you are targeting. When researching, be sure to use the correct search engine for that region, and ensure that words are spelled correctly; failing to apply special characters like umlauts or accents can drastically alter the results. Additionally, because various dialects are used throughout places like Europe and the Middle East, identifying the proper words and phrases that people actually use is imperative, as many translation tools are too formal and the same word can often have different meanings. For instance, when Tropicana marketed their “jugo de china” (orange juice) in Puerto Rico all was well, but when presenting the same product to Cubans in Florida, things went awry as it was interpreted as “juice from China”. Despite the translation’s accuracy, the lack of cultural context caused much embarrassment.

The key here is to consult a native expert, or a company that works with native experts; never rely on online tools to finalise your keyword approach. One Chinese university made this exact mistake on one of its bus stops in 2015 when it relied on automatic translation tools. The translation software decided that “The Sichuan Normal University Chenglong Campus Station” sounded better as “The University Jackie Chan Campus Station”.

 

3. Marry Search and Site

If you’re serving an international market, you’ll want to have different versions of your website. The best way to do this is either by identifying a visitor’s location through their IP address and loading the correct language, or by providing users with a prominently placed menu to switch languages. Set up country specific URLs and sub-categories to help search engines easily index your site.

 

4. Translate Intent, not Words

Translating your content and site materials to the proper language is critical for ranking. But if you aren’t applying the right keywords, slang words are used incorrectly, or you in any way butcher the language unknowingly, your efforts are completely in vain. For instance, when JFK gave his famous 1963 speech in Berlin, he told the crowd: “Ich bin ein Berliner”. Unbeknownst to him, “Berliner” is a slang term in Germany which ultimately caused him to say: “I am a jelly doughnut”.

Taco Bell also had a ‘major fail’ in the Japanese market in 2015 when the brand used tools like Google Translate to build their overseas website. The page was riddled with translation blunders like “Beef Crunchwrap Supreme” turning into “Supreme Court Beef”, “Cheesy Chips” becoming “Low-quality Chips”, and in its company history when it states that “A legacy is born”, the translation actually meant something closer to “an obsolete programme is born”.

Intimately understanding the keyword translation goes for social media localisation as well, since it is a massive force for driving website visits. Failing to truly understand the translation could land you in a bit of a pickle, like when Lindsay Lohan unknowingly told her Arabic Instagram followers “You’re a donkey”, instead of the intended “You’re beautiful”.

You should translate everything ­– from navigational elements to blogs and user reviews. Then, generate new content for the market you are targeting. Other parts of the world will not receive the same value from English posts that have been translated so it is vital to focus on providing value to areas according to their own needs.

 

5. Speak in One Voice

In order for your company to deliver the full experience and impact, brand consistency is key. This means that translations alone are not enough to optimise a site; marketers must manage SEO efforts to encompass the words most commonly searched for in each region. The tone of your brand will be lost in translation (no pun intended) if some amount of rewriting doesn’t take place. To get this right, it’s wise to employ professional services to ensure your copy is spot on. Remember, UX is a critical component to site optimisation. Lexus failed to take the necessary steps last year when it marketed its NX model car in Lithuania. Due to not conducting the proper market research and implementing rewrites, the company failed to recognize that “NX” is a common abbreviation for “naxui”. In Russian, this is a swear word meaning “f–k”. Needless to say, sales of the car did not go so well.

Multilingual SEO is a challenging endeavor that requires due diligence on research and resources, and it requires patience.

 

In the end, Aaron didn’t double his firm’s market share. He tripled it. But he never aligned marketing with the US.

 

“So darling,” said his wife as they sipped champagne to celebrate his promotion to Global CMO and her new bestseller, “did you ever find that business coach you were looking for?”

 

“I didn’t have time, honey. All I did was make sure the team understood their job was to know our audience better than the competition, and stick to one big brand story. What they did online and with SEO in all those weird languages and cultures was awesome.

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cultural mistakes to avoid on social media by global brands

Cultural Marketing Mishaps by Brands With Massive Backlash From Social Media Followers

  |   CultureShocks Blog

Social media is one of the single most powerful marketing tools in today’s digital age. These readily available tools have the potential to spread brand messaging to millions of individuals in minutes. Sometimes, however, that is not a good thing.

While social media has the ability to elevate brands to new heights, it can also provide the exact antithesis if executed improperly.

From time to time, companies try to cash in on trending hashtags in the most inappropriate of ways, and in turn, severely damage their brand reputation. Some of the most ill-conceived corporate tweets have come from sheer ignorance or blatant disrespect for another culture. These are not moments any brand wants etched in internet infamy.

In an effort to help your company side step some easily avoidable social media marketing mistakes, check out these five misguided moves made by popular businesses.

 

1. Understand Political Tensions

 

obama and putting as an example to avoid political tensions to avoid cultural mistakes

When posting tweets or Facebook updates involving other countries, it is important to understand the current political climate to avoid stirring any controversy.

Soda conglomerate Coca-Cola failed to do just that at the end of 2015 when the company posted a seemingly innocuous image of a snow-covered Russia. The well-manner image sparked a slew of angry responses from Russian users claiming that the depiction was outdated, leaving out several regions, including Kaliningrad and Crimea.

Coca-Cola apologised several days later through its official VKontakte page, and included an updated image that reflected several of the missing territories, Russia’s western Kaliningrad exclave and the Kurile Islands, as well as Crimea. The update in itself sparked further outrage as the Kremlin had seized and annexed the Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula back in 2014, which led to western sanctions against Moscow. The update led to a flood of upset Ukrainian social media users expressing their disdain for the corporation with the hashtag #BanCocaCola.

Soon after, the soft drink giant deleted the post altogether and figured that it wasn’t worth the trouble.

 

2. Be Aware of Foreign Laws

 

be aware of foreign laws social media to avoid cultural mistakes

In the world of social media, hiring celebrities to promote products is the norm. That’s the entire point of influencer marketing campaigns. But cultural marketing can go horribly awry if you aren’t aware of promotional laws in different parts of the world.

In an effort to leverage the widespread soccer culture prevalent in the United Kingdom, Snickers decided to pay Manchester United player Rio Ferdinand, along with four other social figures, to tweet out images of themselves eating a Snickers bar with the phrase, “You’re not you when you’re hungry”.

The problem, however, is that in the United Kingdom, if a celebrity is paid to endorse a product, that information must be disclosed. The social posts caught the eye of the UK’s Office of Fair Trading, who ultimately investigated the matter. One OFT official commented by stating, “Online advertising and marketing practices that do not disclose they include paid-for promotions are deceptive under fair trading laws”.

Snickers did come clean, confirming that all celebrities were paid for the promotional tweets, and the Office of Fair Trading later cleared the candy company of any wrongdoing. Despite getting let off, companies should take this as an example of what could happen when you are not crystal clear on the laws of the area where you are marketing your product.

 

3. Familiarise Yourself Before Posting

 

cultural mistakes when searching in internet

Misinformation is posted in mass all across the web. There are no internet police – you have to monitor your own messages diligently. When it comes to cultural marketing, however, brands should know better than to post without researching an area.

Delta Airlines made one such haphazard post when attempting to congratulate the United States on its win over Ghana in the World Cup. The airline tweeted two separate images side-by-side in an attempt to recognise each of the countries; the Statue of Liberty for the United States, and a giraffe for Ghana. This was a massive oversight by the company as giraffe’s are not native to Ghana.

It was later discovered by Twitter user @dcGisenyi that the image Delta posted was actually a stock image from the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya; which is over 3,000 miles away from Ghana.

Many poked fun at the company for their ignorance; and rightly so.

 

4. Be Respectful

 

being respectful is a tip to avoid social media mistakes.-min

MTV may not be known for its intelligent programming or cultural sensitivity, but earlier this year the company had to issue not one, but two, apologies after the MTV Australia Twitter channel posted a culturally insensitive, and what some even considered racist, tweet to the social network.

While Golden Globe presenters Eva Longoria and America Ferrera were shedding light on Hollywood racism, MTV Australia tweeted, “Where are the English subtitles?”

This spawned a hailstorm of disgruntled tweets. The original message was removed and an MTV Australia spokeswoman later told the Huffington Post that it was a “poor joke”.

 

5. Keep Your Opinion Private

 

keep your mouth private to avoid cultural mistakes

Over the past several years, many have been very vocally supportive about equal rights for homosexual individuals and “gay culture” overall. And then there are those that haven’t been.

Chik-fil-A faced a major backlash over its public stance in opposition of same-sex marriages. After the company’s CEO expressed his disappointment over the Supreme Court’s ruling via Twitter, the company faced an avalanche of offended followers. The reaction was so adverse that the story spread to national news outlets, was tweeted by celebrities, and many even called for a boycott of the chicken chain.

Sometimes, for the sake of brand reputation, it’s best just to keep your thoughts off social media.

 

These are only a few of the cultural mistakes brands have made on social media in recent memory; the official list is far more extensive. Take note of these blunders, and let them inspire you to be sensitive, thoughtful, and respectful to all when posting cultural materials to your social channels.

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image with different hands simulating global marketing strategies

Global Marketing Strategies in the Sharing Economy. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

  |   CultureShocks Blog

In 2011, TIME Magazine claimed that sharing economies were one of 10 ideas that would change the world, and surely, they were correct. Also known as the collaborative economy or collaborative consumption, the sharing economy refers to ‘the coordination of peer-to-peer sharing of goods and services, usually made possible through digital platforms’. According to Eric Newcomer at Bloomberg, the concept of collaborative consumption was coined back in 1978. It was only in 2008 (the same year Apple launched its App Store) that the sharing economy of today truly came into being. Suddenly, things like finding a place to live while on holiday, or finding someone to mow your lawn, became tasks that could be performed in minutes through digital connections. The global nature of the sharing economy has allowed sharing economy companies such as Airbnb, Uber, Couchsurfing and others to establish a marked presence in international markets. The success of these companies can be largely attributed to the global marketing strategies they implement, appealing to local people and cultures.

 

Airbnb: A global takeover

global marketing strategy from Airbnb

The global success and recognition of the Airbnb name is something that not too many other companies have. With a market in 190 countries, Airbnb has truly taken over the globe. How did Airbnb dominate the international playing field so quickly? Beyond the great product that the company offers, Airbnb’s success is based on an extremely localised and well-researched marketing strategy.

 

For the love of language

For starters, the company made it a priority to expand into many languages. One of their many steps towards localisation is creative translation. Airbnb is today available in 26 different languages, all running in real-time with constantly updated content. Furthermore, Airbnb has gone the extra mile by paying attention to the variants in languages, with websites that cater to specific forms of the same language. Depending on your language of preference, Airbnb translates spellings (for example, American English versus British English) and colloquial terms and usages (changing, for example, ‘vacation’ to ‘holiday’) depending on the country specific version of the site. This results in a truly customised, locally appealing experience for the customer.

 

It’s all in the detail

The translation strategy that Airbnb has followed thus far has also yielded fantastic results. Considering the diversity of people and cultures around the globe, it makes sense that a marketing campaign that works in one country might be completely unsuitable for another audience. Simply put by Dennis Goedegebuure, former head of Global SEO at Airbnb, “The real challenge of global strategy isn’t how big you can get, but how small you can get.” Airbnb got really ‘small’ in many ways including using local social media stars to promote their website which brought in thousands of signups. They also used localized voiceovers for people on country-specific Airbnb sites, so that cultural nuances were retained in creative translation. To cater specifically to East Asian audiences, Airbnb made sure that their referral programme was available for mobile users, since people in East Asia tend to browse more through their mobile devices. Rather than implementing a centralised marketing strategy, Airbnb, in lieu of the nature of its service, is truly a successful global player.

 

Uber: It’s going to be a bumpy ride

global marketing strategy from Uber

Uber’s expansion, although massive, has come with, and continues to  have, its fair share of hiccups. Unlike an Uber ride, their dip into international markets has been far from smooth. In 2014, Uber was launching at a rate of almost a city aday. Austin Geidt, Uber’s head of global expansion told Businessweek, “If we’re not there now, we’ll be there in a week”. But is this really the way to go?

 

One size doesn’t fit all

In terms of cross-cultural marketing, the answer is a resounding NO. The figures speak for themselves. Very recently, Uber revealed that they are losing more than $1 billion per year in China. How? Well, very aptly put by Robert Salomon of Entrepreneur, “The young tech company has committed a classic globalisation mistake: it naively assumed that its business model and market approach, which ultimately solidified its market-leading position in the US, could translate just as seamlessly to other countries. It severely underestimated the challenges of operating in countries that embody totally different economic, political, and cultural environments”. For example, Uber failed to recognise that the common culture within the US is markedly different from that in other foreign countries. The US, has a strong penchant for individualism. This cultural nuance differs from the behavioural norm in Asia, where often social community and harmony are emphasised over individual interests. In China for instance, there is a great emphasis on personal relationships, an everlasting sense of family and community and all round kinship. These values permeate into the country’s very being, thus shaping the opinions of the people. With this in mind, Uber’s very aggressive entry tactics into the Chinese market (based on their US approach of ‘enter first, legalities later’), and its difficulty in forming trusting local relationships, would obviously not be appreciated by Chinese consumers who would much rather choose a local and trusted competitor service. This is why, ‘In large foreign markets like China and India, locally grown competitors say they hold a much bigger market share than Uber because they have a deeper understanding of the culture’.

 

A brighter future?

Apart from its problems garnering appeal in Asia, Uber has faced a backlash in European countries too due to its disregard for the civil law system (as opposed to US common law) that is followed in most of continental Europe. In France, Uber is regarded as an ‘American invader’ and has not been assimilated locally. Due to this, future marketing plans involve a major advertorial campaign in France, starting with a massive takeover of billboards around French transit hubs, showing local French people riding in Ubers, with taglines that play on Uber’s name. Hopefully this time around, their message won’t get lost in creative translation.

 

As part of their new campaign, Uber has decided to broaden its target audience, showing the app as one that safely allows women to travel home late at night, or one that enables older couple to attend weddings. It will also highlight the economic benefits of Uber, showing that Uber is helping increase employment, especially in rural areas. Thibaud Simphal, general manager of Uber France, who admitted that it was foolish to think that the same strategies used in the US would translate seamlessly into France also stated that, “It has been a mistake not to talk about the benefits of the product”.  In a country where people are concerned with unemployment rates, including positive data about the same to promote a brand is a good marketing strategy – one that is more likely to appeal to locals. Uber seems to have considered local social issues, using these as leverage to promote positive brand image.

 

On a more visual level, Uber is set to launch 65 new color palettes and patterns for its app, creatively translated and based on a country’s local colour preference. These new colour schemes take into consideration the various meanings of colours in different countries and are meant to represent ‘authentic expressions of  real world diversity’.

 

Small is the new big

Considering both Airbnb and Uber, it’s easy to see who takes the cake in terms of global marketing strategy. Increased digital connectivity and high demand for cheaper peer-to-peer services such as housing, taxi rides, chore completion and more has contributed to, and will continue to contribute to, the immediate acceptance of companies such as  Airbnb, Uber, TaskRabbit, DogVacay, etc. However, for these companies to expand internationally in an effective manner, their global marketing strategies must be carefully formulated. Due to the nature of sharing economies, it’s very easy for these companies to get ahead of themselves. The key here is to not direct efforts solely on rapid and general expansion, but rather, in Goedegebuure’s words, focus on “getting small”.

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leftover women china, textappeal, cross cultural translation

SK-II: Successful Marketing Through Social Adversity in China

  |   CultureShocks Blog

 

Skincare brand SK-II entered the Chinese market nearly 20 years ago. Targeting this colossal growing market, the Japanese company has invested lots of creative translation in advertisements and marketing campaigns so as to spread awareness and gain loyal customers. SK-II has leveraged the popularity of actors like Jianhua Huo (who has over 20 million followers on social media), not only to promote its products, but also to spread awareness of relevant social and economic issues.

In its latest campaign, SK- II decided to tackle the prominent and controversial issue of China’s “leftover women” or “sheng nu” by showcasing normal women in their advertisements.

 

In China, traditions dictate that women should be married by the age of 25. China’s one child policy has created an extreme gender imbalance in China with around 20 million more men under 30 than women under 30. Due to sons being preferred, many “would-be” daughters would be aborted. All this makes finding a match even more difficult despite the implementation of the two-child policy in January, 2016. Also, due to the increasing urbanisation of the country, combined with a highly competitive job market, many women are now choosing careers first, and marriage second. This shift in women’s priorities has given the Chinese government cause for concern, due to an increasingly aging population, and has resulted in them deeming these career driven women, as “leftover” and undesirable to potential husbands. The social repercussions of this are numerous, and include the pressure of parental and familial disappointment, social stigma and fear of being alone.

 

The SK-II campaign brings to light the injustices that affect these women by portraying females who choose to be independent. This issue resonates strongly with SK-II’s young female target audience who, in the prime of their lives, will greatly benefit from positive and encouraging advertising that opposes the governmental messages that ridicule them.

 

This campaign departs from SK-II’s previous strategies, which involved heavy celebrity endorsement, and portrays a clear and important message. The new brand ambassadors are easy to relate to, and face the same issues as many young women in China. This emotive use of advertising ensures that SK- II’s target consumers feel that the brand understands them. The raw emotion and honesty shown, as opposed to a pre-written script, support China’s “leftover” women in their independence, and demonstrate a positive step towards mobilising them to embrace single life at 25 and beyond.

 

On the other side of the spectrum, there are critics that remain opposed to aspects of the campaign, namely the very quick change of attitude on the parents’ behalf as seen in the video. They claim that a more logical result would be the overall dismissal of the age-old customs that surround marriage, showing truly independent women in both mind and actions.  Nonetheless, SK-II has successfully engaged in a marketing campaign that addresses more than simply an advertorial purpose. As put by Patrick Kulp (a journalist from Mashable), the campaign is “a heart-wrenching commercial that empowers the single ‘leftover women’ of China” and indeed, it does exactly that.

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