Elayne O’Dowd is unique among The Pace Group’s account team in that English is not her first language. Born and raised in Hong Kong and educated in Canada, Elayne is now distinctly positioned to combine her experience as a marketer with her linguistic skills to offer an uncommon perspective on how American companies can better reach a multicultural audience.
It is important to understand the cultural norms of a foreign market, and simply having your marketing materials translated, while important, is not enough. For example, the very first thing you should do is create a Chinese name for your company. It makes us feel more respected, as would participating in our unique cultural events, e.g. Lunar New Year. Otherwise, you may be seen as just another company trying to get money from us.
Don’t skimp on having your translations done by a professional; potential customers who can’t understand your product or services simply won’t buy it.
Don’t assume your existing programs are perfect for a foreign audience. Always do your due diligence and engage with someone who understands how your campaign may be perceived and adapted according to local or cultural norms.
From the embarrassing to the deadly, translation mistakes come at a high cost. Only a professional translator can avoid the cultural clichés, literary references and sports metaphors that do not make sense in other countries. Taking it a step further, think of the number of metaphors that are commonly used in English. For instance, the metaphor “a piece of cake.” It might refer to an actual cake, or it might mean that the action or task at hand is something very simple to complete.
Just like any marketing program, identify the target market or the audience first. With the Chinese-American market, however, that can be tricky. You might assume that your target audience would simply be Chinese from all of the various Asian countries that immigrated here. However, written Chinese actually has two standards; Simplified and Traditional. Due to politics, Chinese from different origin countries use different types of writing. Without going into too much of the history of China, the resulting simplification sometimes makes it difficult for Chinese from mainland China to read the Traditional Chinese, while Chinese from Taiwan reject simplified Chinese because it was created by the communist Chinese government after its victory in 1949.
Further, when trying to reach Asian-Americans, it is important to remember the audience is fundamentally different from other ethnic groups. Each Asian-American group is a separate society with their own language, culture and media. And they are often socially conservative, traditional and family-oriented. Therefore, recognizing and catering to these very disparate groups is vital to your marketing success.
Elayne O’Dowd is Senior Executive, Client Solutions at The Pace Group.
This interview was originally published in the Spring, 2016 issue of Engage Magazine. Subscribe here.