Speak to Global Customers In Their Own Language

Speak to Global Customers In Their Own Language

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Do you struggle to reach customers beyond your own country’s borders? If targeting clients in other countries seems daunting, there is one simple step you can start with: Translate something.

You have to speak the language of your customers. And that isn’t just an overused metaphor. It refers to actual languages — like Spanish, French, or Chinese.

If you assume your customers speak your language well enough to skip the translation step, you’re wrong. In fact, there is an undeniably strong link between in-language content and a consumer’s likelihood of making a purchase.

Common Sense Advisory surveyed 2,430 web consumers in eight countries to learn about how language affected their purchasing behaviors. We found that:

  • 72.1% of consumers spend most or all of their time on websites in their own language.
  • 72.4% of consumers said they would be more likely to buy a product with information in their own language.
  • 56.2% of consumers said that the ability to obtain information in their own language is more important than price.

That’s right. More than half of consumers are willing to pay more if you are willing to give them information in their own languages. Did you just open up a new browser to check out your favorite competitor website and see how many languages they offer? If not, you should.

Can you get by with English in Europe? You can if you’re carrying a camera, but not if you’re carrying a briefcase. A 2011 study from the European Commission corroborated Common Sense Advisory’s findings. The study was based on a Gallup survey of language preferences [PDF] among internet users in 23 E.U. countries and revealed some remarkably similar findings:

  • Nine out of 10 Internet users said that, when given a choice of languages, they always visited a website in their own language.
  • Nearly one in five Europeans (19%) said they never browse in a language other than their own.
  • 42% said they never purchase products and services in other languages.

Keep in mind that while many Europeans are multilingual, according to this study they still strongly preferred to buy in their native languages.

Obviously, translation isn’t the only thing that companies must do to reach a global customer base, but it’s certainly one of the fastest, easiest, and most frequently overlooked. People tend to assume that it will be much more complicated to buy translation than it really is. You can outsource a project in a matter of minutes to more than 26,000 translation companies or thousands of freelancers that make up this US$33 billion industry.

Still not convinced? Consider the fact that the translation market grew throughout the recession. That’s hardly a coincidence. Smart companies know that putting all your eggs in one basket is bad for business. So is putting all of your marketing content in just one language.


*As seen on Harvard Business Review

About Nataly Kelly

Nataly brings nearly two decades of translation industry experience to Smartling, most recently as Chief Research Officer at industry research firm Common Sense Advisory. Previously, she held positions at AT&T Language Line and NetworkOmni (acquired by Language Line), where she oversaw product development. A veteran translator and certified court interpreter for Spanish, she has formally studied seven languages, and is currently learning Irish. A former Fulbright scholar in sociolinguistics, Nataly lives in the Boston area with her husband and daughter. When she isn’t working, you’ll usually find her translating Ecuadorian poetry, writing books, and exploring the world (36 countries and counting!).


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