Lost in translation

Lost in translation - Not just a Bill Murray movie but also a daily occurrence for travellers, politicians and shop signs alike. It is everywhere, and it seems the more integrated and multicultural the world has become the more examples we see in daily life.

I recently helped write a proposal for a company who wanted to tighten up their business strategy in Latin America. They needed us to think outside of the box in terms of how we were going to really get to the heart of the issue in this relatively new market.

The multitude of cultural differences that exist within Latin America versus the US and Europe mean that we couldn't simply force-fit the type of research, insights and strategies we would use here and in developed countries and expect them to work in the emerging markets – we need to first understand what the landscape looks like before choosing our vehicle with which to explore it.

Apart from logistical considerations for research, such as whether or not there is sufficient internet/ smart phone penetration for online research, factoring in significantly more time for face to face research in cities with high levels of congestion and the notoriously high drop-out rates amongst, for example, Latin American respondents, there is a whole host of other things we need to remember when working in these types of emerging economies.

Take for example the following taboo areas for interviewing:

  • Malaysia and Indonesia: questions to female respondents that seem to tread too close to their private lives

  • Africa: revealing your wealth

  • India: beef and pork are taboo foods so making reference to them may create problems when conducting food research

Another thing we have to be aware of is to be sure that translations actually mean what they’re meant to mean, as these guys below evidently did not:

A well known brewing company had its slogan, "Turn it loose," translated into Spanish, where it became "Suffer from diarrhea."

A new facial cream with the name "Joni" was proposed for marketing in India however they had to change the name since the word translated in Hindi meant "female genitals."

Finally, being conscious of the way in which we communicate with people in new markets could be the difference between gaining the trust of our respondents or even winning or losing a client:

There are so many things we need to keep in mind when working with emerging markets – What hand to shake, when to probe and when to listen, but most of all, understanding the geographic (and cultural) context. Brands everywhere are looking to the 'new world' of emerging markets to ease the slumps in the 'old world' developed markets. They represent an exciting (and sometimes nerve-wracking) avenue for well known brands to explore or re-invent themselves.

This of course require us in the consumer research world to adapt to these new paths and seek to truly understand the geographic (and cultural) context. This is highlighted by the continuing trend of the growing middle class (in emerging markets at least) which has fueled a surge in consumer spending that has outpaced that of developing markets every year since 2000, a trend that isn’t expected to change any time soon... Which begs the question: Are you 'new world' ready?

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