28/05/2019 - Marketing
Why reputation, brand management and comprehensible texts go hand in hand
When you think of branding [ˈbrændɪŋ], brand maintenance, brand building, brand image, but also brand mark (a burnt-in mark of identification) and branding livestock spring to mind. So what’s all this got to do with companies, their reputation, language, moon landings and motorbikes? And since when can onions actually make phone calls?
Holiday, brand image and menus
Seeing mistranslations on menus when you are on holiday is always good for a chuckle. Often expected, their existence is considered a sign of authenticity. If the words "onion calls" appear (meaning onion rings), the reputation of the establishment in question is usually not affected.
They would be less graciously understood if the same mistake surfaced on the menu of a Michelin-starred restaurant. Will they be just as careless with the cooking as they apparently were with the translation of the menu? Likewise, if a car manufacturer called its car "Mitsubishi Wa**er" (Mitsubishi Pajero in Spanish), there would be a knock-on effect on the company's reputation. Sloppiness is not generally considered a desirable trait in a car manufacturer. This particular faux pas was not the result of a mistranslation, but rather a failure to check whether the words used would be suitable for the target audience. Yes, some thought had gone into it: the Leopardus pajerus is a wildcat species native to South America and therefore well suited to the image of the new off-road vehicle. But unfortunately there were no language experts on the team who could have picked up on the crude connotation. The name was hurriedly changed for the Spanish-speaking countries and then in the USA to Mitsubishi Montero, which means a beater in a hunt. But the fact that the story is still doing the rounds today, more than thirty years after the renaming, shows how difficult it is to reverse such fails.
Clearly, the use of language in relation to brands can be perceived in very different ways. However, people do not take very kindly at all to any perceived inconsistency between the brand message (conveyed essentially via language) and the corporate image (strongly influenced by product communication).
Motorbikes, rompers and social changes
Inconsistencies can have many different sources and mistranslations are only one potential cause. Whether a Harley-Davidson, for example, is associated with cute babies and delicate fragrances is less a question of language than of corporate image, which, in turn, is influenced by consumer attitudes. The company's narrative tends to contain images about freedom, independence and strength – images not directly associated with babies and fragrances (brand extension). When, in the nineties of the last century, the company launched baby clothing and perfume bearing its logo on to the market, its customers, mostly male, responded with confusion and annoyance. In the end, the company pulled the relevant licences to save its image. So it is not a good thing, then, for a company's products to contradict its brand image? Apparently so. But Harley-Davidson rompers and perfumes are now back on sale. The message seems to be now: be a biker, but one who also loves his kids. This is still not the company's primary narrative, but it is no longer seen as a contradiction.
So it is not only important to ensure brand and company are consistently presented, but also to check again and again whether the perspective on the brand and the company are still the same. What has changed since the 90s is not Harley-Davidson primarily, but society.
First moon landing: branding by doing
How brands and companies are perceived therefore depends not only on the narrative offered, but also on how this narrative is received – and staged.
When the USA planted its flag on the moon in 1969, it was not just of interest to a few technology and space nerds; it was a media event that was perceived worldwide. The event was reinforced in the Western world by a soundboard created by the fear that communism might gain technological dominance. It was not the event that made the story, but the context.
The narrative was not only "if we make an effort, we can achieve anything" but "the Soviets might have put dogs and humans into orbit, but we’re the first to leave the planet". By doing so it tapped into the old stories of explorers who left their homeland to set off into the unknown. The impact of this story of space flight did not come from the story itself, but from how it reverberated with the public. But this was strongly tied to the fact that the USA was a protagonist where pushing out "to new frontiers" was already very much part of its historical DNA. So the story got the necessary lift. Companies and entrepreneurs were seen as a unit, as consistent.
So a powerful narrative not only requires a good story. It is also necessary to know the type of environment in which it can develop the necessary momentum to take off.
"What does my brand actually do if I don't look?"
It is not always possible to control the impact brands have. You can brand products and services however you like, but whether this works will depend on many factors. Not all these factors will fall within the respective companies’ sphere of influence. Just think of the soundboard mentioned above. Even factors such as irony or cultural appropriation can only be controlled up to a point. But where complete control is not possible, it is all the more important to know the terrain through which you are moving. If the GPS fails, you need to know the your way around the area. In the tussle between brand, reputation and marketing, the terrain is multi-layered. It includes the nature of the target culture, the characteristics of the language and the realities of the market environment. Only with the necessary local knowledge can target-oriented brand communication succeed, preventing the brand from doing what it wants.
And what has all this got to do with language service providers?
Why bring an experienced language services provider on board for your own (mono and multilingual) branding activities?
Brands, their own lives and their effect on customers have an impact on a company’s reputation, image and standing. Communication errors that occur here are difficult to undo (and often only at considerable cost). Creating texts professionally undoubtedly costs money. But it is usually more expensive to remove deficient marketing material from the market – or even to have to launch campaigns to restore one's reputation. It is just as absurd if the desired communication is simply not perceived in the first place. Texts that no one understands will at best vanish into thin air. In the worst case, they will make the company appear aloof and alienated from its customers. At any rate, there would be a waste of resources.
With a language services provider such as SwissGlobal Language Services AG, this risk can be minimised. SwissGlobal will ensure that the relevant texts can be understood by the respective target group, strike the right note and be perceived as consistent with the company’s overall image. Since SwissGlobal knows the probable situation it will be used in and the terrain of the brand presence exactly, it can minimise the risk of misinterpretations. Thanks to its expertise in ensuring clear, comprehensible and consistent communication, it can ensure that linguistic and non-linguistic branding communication is perceived as a unit. Besides translating specialised texts, the resources used here also include linguistic modifications, consistent terminology updating and the creation of style guides. But when it comes to communicating consistently, it is important for all measures to be interlinked and coordinated. This is more likely with a one-stop solution than if individual providers were used for the individual services. It will also be easier to protect your data.
SwissGlobal Language Services AG is certified according to ISO 17100 and therefore offers a guarantee of professional working methods in line with the highest quality standards. Sensitive data is only exchanged via secure channels and in cooperation with an ISO 27001-certified IT partner.