Modern Retail

Meet the Intelligent Translation Era


Only 11% of Fortune 500 companies in 1955 remain on this year’s list, showing that surviving as a loved company in consumers’ minds is not an easy feat to manage. Today’s retailers are all bidding for consumer favour, and with more and more options available, winning customers and business over a competitor is harder than ever. This is especially true when businesses are expanding globally, to markets with different cultural nuances and preferences. Growing internationally can prove challenging to many retailers, and underestimating the importance of speaking to consumers ‘in their own language’ can be hugely damaging and costly.

HSBC learnt this the hard way when they decided to make their slogan ‘Assume Nothing’. Unfortunately, this call-to-action did not translate well in a number of countries, being read as ‘Do Nothing’, not exactly the phrase you want to hear from those who may be looking after your finances. Following the mistranslation, HSBC was forced to spend $10 million on global re-branding, finally landing on their newer, and less risky slogan ‘The World’s Local Bank’.

So what’s the lesson here? Whilst HSBC were able to repair the damage from their lost in translation slogan, the mishap shows the need for accurate translation as a high priority for businesses looking to expand out of their local market, as it may cost them more money and more customers if they do not.

Content Is King

Consumers appear to want more of it than ever before, but they also want it to be instant, digestible and personalised. Sharing content that drives the customer journey forward and brings consumers closer to the point of purchase in the retail journey is hugely important and failing to connect with potential customers in this way could be a missed opportunity for many brands.

Speaking to a consumer in their first language is a clear way to increase the likelihood of a connection or interest. However, if we know consumers want more content than ever, how can retailers keep up with the pace of translation, especially as they expand overseas? Merging both machine learning and human optimisation can help retailers meet expectations here and streamline what has traditionally been a clunky process that can allow for messages to be ‘lost in translation’

Whilst many worry that machines may remove the human touch that consumers crave in their retail interactions, machine learning is not set to replace human translation anytime soon. Rather than taking its place, using a humanised model that is amplified onto a machine allows intelligent translation to be carried out at scale. Constantly learning, machine translation will constantly better itself and will take care of the customer as businesses look to grow.

From a ‘Nice-To-Have’ to a ‘Must-Have’

Translating content has traditionally not been a huge priority for retailers, one of the reasons for which being that it is expensive. Therefore, only the content that can be tied to driving revenue is translated. This means that the remaining content is left to the consumer to decipher, whether that be using public translation tools (which as well as not being 100% accurate can also pose a security risk) or not translated at all. Customers will not buy what they cannot read – and businesses are missing a trick here.

Rather than waiting for business to take off in a market before investing in translation, businesses should be building demand for sales by investing to translate from the off-set. ‘Going global’ means more than selling a product in another market. When companies can translate every asset, every video, every website into as many languages as technology will allow, only then will companies be present in every market – this should be the benchmark for ‘going global’.

Whilst in the past, translation may have been difficult and costly and far from time-effective, times have changed and technological advances have been made. Translation management systems have automated much of the task, and simplified the process of going global dramatically. Humans cannot scale to the same level as machines, but neither are perfect. Shifting to a human optimised machine-first model is the happy medium that can produce better and better results.

A New Outlook

Businesses should no longer be faced with the dilemma of whether they should translate their content before they expand into another region. Machine-first, data-driven and human optimised translations make content available in every language, so arguing about whether it’s worth the investment is no longer relevant.

We’re in an age of constant shift and disruption in a number of industries worldwide, translation is no exception. What makes the intelligent translation era so impactful is the power it will exert upon global businesses as they grow, and therefore consumers. Translation of this kind, can literally remove the language barrier and allow brands from all markets and of all sizes to reach every single possible consumer in the world.

By Peggy Chen, CMO at SDL.