Checking for dirty words. That’s what brand translation used to mean, back in the day. Mad Men ad-men nursing martinis, brainstorming on cocktail napkins to come up with catchy names for the latest gizmo.
It fell to us language service providers to send the list around to in-market respondents and ask focus groups to make sure the words on that list didn’t sound like something nasty in one language or another. Not that we don’t still do it, or that it doesn’t still need to be done. (Just ask Apple about Siri in Japanese.)
But it’s a deeper game now. Because successful brands are about a lot more than just not being dirty words. A brand is an identity badge in our security-ridden age, shorthand for a particular kind of experience, a promise to customers jaded by marketing lies and poor service.
And while things were never quite so casual back in the bad old days as I imply above, the Internet has made it possible to create a shared experience for all customers, regardless of language or culture, in a way never before possible. And since it is possible, it is now required. Success is a harsh mistress.
So the process has gone deep. I got thinking about this thanks to a great post on brand-focused hiring by Bobby Baker of Corvirtus, one of our clients.
“It is up to the leaders in the business to establish a brand-focused culture and to create overt processes and procedures supportive of the brand… A business actually hires its customer’s experience when it hires the people who deliver it. Employee attributes and behaviors should always be considered within the context of the business’s intended brand.”
Recently we’ve been working on some very interesting projects to help our clients assess and shape brand perceptions among their own employees, regardless of where those employees may come from.
Since where employees come from matters very much, this makes the task of brand-related translation for assessment and training far more complex.
Working on this in multiple languages requires some serious cognitive translation, which goes far beyond the line-by-line services normally provided by translators. We have to use our language teams to go deep, to understand the brand as a dialog between many different people all over the world. This so that the message, regardless of language, represents a global set of shared values and behaviors.
Sounds like an art, doesn’t it? But it is anything but. This is science, since numbers don’t lie. Skewed test results quickly reveal translation shortcomings, and are an important step in the iterative process often required for this kind of translation.
Bobby says, “Business’s hiring processes should include assessing job candidates for their brand delivery potential on top of functional competence…. Creating a remarkable customer experience is how today’s best-in-class companies differentiate themselves from their competition.”
Thanks to some of those best-in-class clients, we’ve learned to successfully manage the translation of brand as dialog and we’ve seen the organizational strength that results when corporate culture is truly globalized. I sign too many NDAs to share our best war stories with readers, but I will return to the theme of conceptual translation and organizational dialog in upcoming posts.