Talking to multicultural audiences is about more than just translation

While many brands are starting to put more effort into marketing to culturally and linguistically diverse audiences, communicating with these audiences is about far more than ticking the ‘translation’ box, writes Mark Saba.

Back in May, SBS launched a new FTA multilingual news channel, SBS WorldWatch. The launch was spurred on by the fact that five million Australians speak a language other than English. For brands looking to improve their communication with culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) audiences, the appeal of buying against these programs, and media like it, is clear.

Along with multilingual TV stations like SBS WorldWatch, Australia also has around 200 print publications covering 47 communities, multicultural radio programs broadcast on over 100 stations, and 17 paid and streaming television stations in seven languages (for Chinese, Vietnamese, Filipino, Indian, Arabic, Italian and Greek communities).

While many brands are starting to put more effort into marketing to CALD audiences, communicating with these audiences is about far more than ticking the ‘translation’ box. Tackling audiences beyond the English language requires just as much, if not more, effort than your communication written in English.

We’ve all heard horror stories about bad brand translations. In 2009, HSBC had to launch a $10 million rebranding campaign to repair the damage done when its catchphrase ‘Assume Nothing’ was mistranslated as ‘Do Nothing’ in various countries. Then there was Coors, which translated its slogan, “Turn It Loose,” into Spanish, where the phrase is a colloquial term for having diarrhoea.

But getting multicultural marketing right is about far more than avoiding embarrassing translation errors. It’s not just the literal translations that brands must get right when advertising in a different language, but the entire context of the language and its surrounding culture.

Consider transcreation, which goes a step further and reflects more than meaning alone, with intent, style, tone and context all carefully considered.

Speaking the right language

Even if you’ve already been working on your multicultural marketing in earnest, it can be helpful to take a step back and analyse the specific languages your chosen audience speaks.

Understanding where they live can be the key to understanding their language. The Australian Bureau of Statistics website has a goldmine of information from the national census, which has been analysed by geographic areas.

Visit the ABS website and enter the name of the state, capital city, suburb or even electorate. The data by region page is useful, as well as the QuickStats search function. Brands can also contact the ABS directly for help or to request customised data.

Other government agencies, such as the Department of Home Affairs, collect and analyse data about peoples’ language preferences. Many local councils have done a detailed analysis of the languages spoken in their community, which can be easily found by searching online.

Placing your campaign on channels used by your chosen CALD target audience will increase your reach and ROI. Many migrants from around the world use WhatsApp to communicate with loved ones overseas, for example. If you’re targeting audiences from mainland China, consider Chinese social media channels.

Ecommerce translation

Ecommerce translation and localisation are important factors to consider, especially if you’re looking to target overseas audiences. Representation matters a great deal here – any models used should be authentic to the audiences you’re targeting.

Think about how to frame your seasonal events and product description copy too. You may need to use inclusive language when talking about Christmas deals in largely multicultural societies, for example. Moving into countries where a large portion of the population celebrates Diwali without including that thinking in your marketing strategy will mark your brand as a stranger. By catering to cultural needs such as translated content and multilingual staff, brands can gain the loyalty of multicultural consumers fast.

While it might seem like a lot to consider, if you can get it right, the benefits will far outweigh the effort spent. Inclusion is a superpower that improves society as a whole through common understanding, compassion and connection. So whether you’re building a global business or tapping into a larger range of local customers, multicultural marketing is a must.

Mark Saba is the founder and CEO of LEXIGO


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