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Four translation tips for marketing in Asia

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If you’re not familiar with Asian marketing demographics, it can be easy to assume that what works in one country will work everywhere else. Not only is Asia different in many respects to Europe, but the differences between each country are also huge. Here are the things you need to get right:

Test your cultural references

Even multinational brands get this wrong. When marketing in any Asian country, it is a huge mistake to assume that you can pay lip-service to their culture. Dressing up an old campaign to fit with what you think works for your new demographic could be a recipe for disaster. For example, Prada launched a Chinese marketing campaign using the kind of images that Western consumers would instantly recognise from classic Chinese films. But this fell flat in the country itself, because it had no relevance to the young Chinese people they were attempting to attract.

Test your marketing with the people you’re hoping will buy from you. Use their feedback wisely and steer away from the stereotypical references related to the country (e.g. dragons in China, sun motifs in Japan). The messages don’t need to resonate with you – they need to work for your customers.

Localise your marketing translations

Don’t assume that countries that share a language can be targeted in the same way. The Indonesian and Malaysian languages appear fairly similar superficially but vary greatly in terms of both the vocabulary and how words are pronounced. Even within a single country, the number of languages spoken by individual regions can further split your marketing impact. China, Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore all have Mandarin as their official Chinese language, while the Chinese provinces of Guangdong and Guangzhou both officially speak Cantonese, as do Hong Kong and Macau.

In addition, the Chinese language can be expressed in two different sets of characters: simplified Chinese (preferred by China and Singapore) and traditional Chinese (used in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan). This is just one of the reasons why you need to make sure your marketing copy is written or translated by local experts.

Beyond the language, it can also be tempting to think that the same cultural references will work for similar demographics in different countries – or even different parts of the same country. But unless you have confirmed this with an in-country expert – or better yet a sample of your intended audience – then you’re wasting your marketing budget.

Don’t ignore the communal mind-set

While it’s still dangerous to make generalisations, it is fair to say that in many Asian countries consumers are more influenced by a sense of community. In South Korea, for example, its dominant native search engine Naver offers a far more communal experience to Google. Its Café feature offers mini-communities around individual interests, while Knowledge iN is a hugely popular question and answer platform that allows volunteers to address queries from other users in real-time. In China, users prefer WeChat. In Japan it’s LINE. All of these represent an opportunity to engage with your consumers on a more personal level, research their needs more closely and create the kind of translated content that speaks to them specifically.

Plan your Asian SEO carefully

If you’re marketing in Asia, your online presence cannot be an afterthought. Not only do you need to make sure your website is optimised for mobile, but you also have to be aware of how to make it visible in the new market.  Google may be king in the West, but in many Asian countries it is the local search engines that rule. This includes Naver in Korea, Baidu and Shenma in China and Yahoo and Bing in both Japan and Hong Kong. For that reason, SEO is very much a multilingual affair. If you want to establish a website focusing on the Hong Kong market, you must feature three languages: English, traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese. On the other hand, the Chinese Baidu search engine uses simplified Chinese alone, and you are required to translate your entire website if you want to appear in search results.

On the more technical side, some Asian search engines value detailed web content, while Google estimates whether or not keywords and related words will work together to build the right answer to a search query. This means that simply translating your English content word-for-word is unlikely to get you ranked very highly in Asian search engines – it needs to be done by an expert.

The Asian market is unlike any other and the biggest mistake most companies make is assuming they can apply the same marketing tactics used in Western countries and achieve similar results. Instead, build your campaign from the ground-up. Approach each country as though it was your first and you will be far more likely to be able to navigate the pitfalls.

If you want to build a strong presence in Asia, get in touch with our project management team to learn more about the translation services available.