Brand storytelling is a powerful tool that connects consumers with a company’s core brand messaging, values and mission in a way that builds trust and loyalty. Usually, storytelling requires creativity and is the responsibility of the marketing department, who crafts the original story on home turf for the native audience.
But what happens when a brand is ready to go global and move into new markets? Will the brand story resonate with local audiences in Italy in the same way in the U.K.? Might the very story that captured the hearts and minds of North American consumers turn people off in Southeast Asia?
Primary Considerations for Marketers When Adapting Brand Story to Another Culture
One of the primary challenges in global brand expansion is the need to respect and adapt to different cultural norms and values. What works in one market may not be appropriate or effective in another. Many cultural factors come into play when translating a concept or story from one culture to another: idiomatic expressions, symbolism, the connotations of certain words, the historical context and perhaps also the hyperlocal dialect of the target market.
The connotation of one word was problematic for a tagline written by Electrolux to market its vacuum cleaners in the U.S. in the 1970s. Consumers were bemused to be told “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux.” While this was fine for the U.K. market where the tagline first made its appearance, Electrolux had not realized the negative connotation of “suck” for U.S. English speakers.
A brand's story isn't just about conveying information; it's about eliciting emotions and building a connection with the audience. The job of a translator is to render the meaning of a text written in one language accurately into a target language. But will the reader of the translated version truly have the same experience as the reader of the original? If the translator has faithfully kept the original meaning of the words, then probably not.
Getting the Message Across — Introducing Transcreation
In comes transcreation — the combination of translation and creation — which goes beyond swapping the original words for the equivalent in the target language. Transcreators take the purpose and intended emotional impact of the original content and recreate that purpose and impact. Even if that means moving away from the original and utilizing a different concept, one that resonates with the target audience.
How will a transcreator recognize when a complete departure from the original content is required? This requires complete familiarity with the target culture, language and historical context of the region. Really being able to answer the question: “If I grew up here, what would this make me feel?”
Transcreation involves adapting and recreating content in a way that not only conveys the message accurately but also resonates with the target audience's culture, values and emotions. Transcreation recognizes that linguistic nuances, cultural references and emotional triggers are all essential elements of effective communication, particularly when dealing with branding and marketing.
Industry Storytelling — An Additional Layer of Complexity
Anyone communicating within heavily regulated industries knows that getting the message across doesn’t stop at cultural and emotional considerations. There’s a slew of boxes to check on the path to appropriate messaging in each target market domain, such as financial services, legal services, pharmaceuticals and healthcare.
Here the challenges of adapting corporate communications for global markets have an additional layer of complexity: compliance with the appropriate regulatory frameworks.
A common issue across multiple industries is data security, which is a critical compliance issue that requires secure data handling practices to protect confidential content during the translation process. This process ensures that regulatory and legal requirements are met.
Documents that the investment banking and asset management sectors must produce, such as pitch decks, prospectuses, key investor information documents (KIIDS) and regulatory filings are all subject to stringent rules with regards to format and data security.
In cross-border negotiations and merger and acquisition deals, the accuracy of the terminology is highly nuanced in each jurisdiction. Using a translator or interpreter with the appropriate subject matter expertise is critical. Legal terms need to be translated accurately and consistently across all documents. In most scenarios, a secure technology solution is needed to achieve this.
In the pharma sector, a U.S. marketer could face severe penalties trying to replicate a product promotion in the U.K. market. Stringent European laws prohibit the advertising of prescription-only medicines (POMs) to the public. You can, however, promote them to health care professionals and others who can prescribe or supply the product.
Digital storytelling of patients’ experiences has gathered momentum over recent years as a highly effective method of sharing information among patients, health care providers and other key stakeholders, often using multimedia formats such as video. However, any information for release must comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), a federal law that regulates how people’s protected health information can be used and stored.
Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG)
Sustainability is a rich source of stories that corporations draw from to highlight their commitment to the environment, producing full ESG reports in parallel with their annual reports. However, the regulatory landscape is about to change for corporations operating in Europe with the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive coming into force on 1 January 2024; this will set strict guidelines for ESG reporting.
Combining Creativity With Compliance
It’s not only high profile consumer brands lending themselves to storytelling, but highly regulated industries in their global markets — contingent on critical legal and compliance in each market.
In fact, storytelling is not only a means to convey key messages, but also a key tool in building trust with audiences, by connecting with them in their native language and respecting their cultural preferences.
The ability to tell a compelling, culturally relevant story, while adhering to strict regulations is achievable if international business communicators embrace both creativity and compliance in their multilingual communications processes and partnerships.
Suzie Towne, SCMP
Suzie Towne, SCMP®, is a strategic communications specialist for RWS’s Regulated Industries division and has 15 years of international business communications experience spanning global internal and change communications, crisis and issues management, marketing and content management, and executive communications in the language services and localization industry. She is currently the divisional sustainability and ESG subject matter expert. Suzie started her career in the newspaper industry as a journalist in the UK then spent time teaching English in Vietnam prior to settling in France. A native English speaker, Suzie also speaks French, Spanish and some German and is a member of the IABC Foundation Grant Selection Task Force for 2023/24.