Lost in translation: testing the foreign waters for international branding campaigns

6th February 2017 10:24

This blog was written by Emma Lay, Senior Research Executive

Throughout my career as a market researcher I have done my fair share of creative testing, gauging the reception of campaigns pushing everything from pies to pyjamas and even water – which is a tough gig when it happens to be one of the wettest parts of the country (think ‘snow’ and ‘Eskimo’ and you won’t be far off). However, most of the campaigns I have tested have been solely aimed and targeted at a UK audience and whilst not trying to underplay the importance of identifying the right messaging, in most cases the worst scenario (although pretty serious in itself) is that the creative will fail to resonate with the audience and the campaign will go largely unnoticed – ROI goes out the window.International market research, market research blog

Last year I had the privilege of joining a new team at DJS Research which deals largely with B2B market research and international market research, the aptly named team Cloud (actually named after a hill in the Peak District and not a reflection of the number of air miles we clock-up). One of my first projects for the team involved a brand refresh for an international manufacturer of materials for the construction industry, testing the taglines and creatives amongst consumers and specifiers in the US, Italy, UK, Germany, France and Denmark. In my mind, the real challenge the brand had was to devise an identity that would appeal and engage with both a B2B and consumer audience – once this was achieved surely the different markets follow? It turned out to be a little more complex than that...

As we sit at our desks drinking our Jamaican coconut water and eating our Spanish Chorizo and Manchego cheese Paninis we can often think of the world as being a highly globalised place, whereby both borders and cultures have become a little more enriched and even a little homogenised by each other’s. As a nation we have successfully exported and imported our foods, music and our TV programmes (although after Brexit we may find our diet is restricted to British potatoes and Norfolk bred turkey twizzlers) so it’s not surprising that some organisations believe they can export their branding and advertising in the same way.

International market research, market research blogI was thrilled to have the opportunity to organise and attend the focus groups in the different markets. However, with the glamour and excitement of organising the international market research fieldwork, there was also a lot of forward planning and organisation to be done to ensure that all materials were accurately translated and that all the native speaking moderators were properly briefed. We needed to make sure that each message shown was as consistent and as accurate as it could be – no mean feat when you have 6 markets to test!

When observing the international focus groups (often with the help of a simultaneous translator) I couldn’t help but notice the differences in the way the groups interacted with each other and reacted to the focus group environment. Despite speaking the same language, US focus group attendees appear to behave in a far more formal and structured way than their UK counterparts, with participants raising their hands to speak and with there being a tendency to go round the table to collect every single participants thoughts (rather like the depictions of AA meetings you see on TV). This was quite the departure from the more informal conversations I was used to observing in the UK and even more of a departure from fiery and passionate exchanges I witnessed in Italy.

In addition to these behavioural differences, what was really striking was how each market could take the tagline and interpret it in a completely different way despite the words being as closely translated as possible. Where one nation would perceive a tagline to mean a beautiful open space, another took the same words as meaning a prison or to even sound like a pro-life slogan! Take something as seemingly simple as the word ‘great’ - there’s isn’t a single word in the German language that gets close to what we would interpret this word to mean in English. For every option there seemed to be a completely different reaction, which made me realise the enormity of the task was to not only identify an impactful campaign but to try and not offend or isolate a nation in the process – imagine the PR backlash?

This whole process really made me realise how vital it is for organisations to conduct international market research and to thoroughly test their branding and campaign creatives amongst all of the markets they wish to appeal to through qualitative research methods. As we appear to be entering into a political era of isolationism (particularly with the latest White House incumbent) it would perhaps be misguided for international organisations to follow suit and assume that what works best domestically will work for the brand on an international scale. Let’s identify the differences, understand them, celebrate them and find a solution that helps promote and unlock the true potential of our brands!

Need help with an upcoming international market research project? Give us a call on 01663 767 857 or email us at contact@djsresearch.com and one of our international maket research team will be happy to assist you!

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