Friday, 2 August 2013

Are British Companies Easy Prey?

They certainly seem to be when it comes to transitioning overseas. As more and more UK companies want to escape from a fairly flat home market into more attractive opportunities in the EU (notably Germany), they are in danger of becomíng victims of ruthless and low-quality service providers intent on making money.

Take translations: Very few British people outside the academic world can speak any other European languages. A British marketing manager intent on entering an EU market will be faced with the daunting task of having all the promotional literature - brochures, information material, newsletters, tags but most prominently websites - translated into a foreign language which he or she will have no clue about. It’s all gobbledygook.

And unfortunately, this is often what the translation reads like, too. If you are a German or French speaker, you can easily check yourself. Bring up any UK website and click the foreign language (flag) button. I was so shocked by one of them - Next Fashion - I actually wrote to the Marketing Manager and told them that their German website was so badly translated, it was almost incomprehensible. Fortunately, they reacted quickly and have now got a much better German website and newsletter.

A badly translated website isn't just an embarrassment. It can do serious damage to a company’s reputation - bearing in mind that it won't be as well-known as in the UK - so will be judged largely by its promotion and presentation.

Of course, the transition into another country is not just about translation. It's a step into a fairly different culture where other priorities, cultural signifiers and different tastes have to be carefully considered. Whilst not as intricate to handle as say, Japanese culture, European countries have their own sensibilities and ideas. For example, over-empasizing the money saving aspect - which is undoubtedly an important promotional tool in Britain - may come across as odd on a website designed for the continental consumer.

It's not uncommon for companies who did inadequate market observation, intelligence and research to fail. Domino's, the pizza company, just had to issue a profit warning because their German operation underperformed. A clear case of the company not having done its homework - and a costly reminder what can happen if you don't.

Here are 5 tips that companies looking to expand abroad should follow to avoid the most common pitfalls:

1. Spend time researching the market you’re looking to enter. Does it really make sense to come in as a new player who is largely unknown, when the market is already saturated?  (pizza delivery is a good case in point).

2. Talk to locals about your offering - website, products, communication collateral, before you actually do anything. Engage a transition specialist to help you negotiate this, they will be happy to improve even small details which count for a lot: Native-speaker consumers will notice anything odd

3. Invest in the highest-quality translations you can manage. This means not chosing any available translation agency but spending time finding a truly bi-lingual person - they're rare, but worth the effort.They will get the tonality, not just the wording right - so your positioning is attuned to local needs, and locals "get it" immediately. Great for business, especially when you're just starting out.

4. Start with small test markets before you go national, use them as learning grounds. Always listen and learn - engage in ongoing market research, qualitative and quantitative.

5. "Continually adjusting" is the recipe for overseas success. No one gets it right first time in foreign markets - there are too many things you might be unaware of. The trick for success is to keep listening, monitoring customer feed-back continually - and then to adjust as quickly as possible. Marks & Spencer got it horribly wrong first time in the 1990s - now they're back with better translated websites, and locally relevant ranges -all of which will translate into healthy topline growth.

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