Translation and Global Marketing Lessons from Burma

Gmail recently began speaking Burmese as its 74th language, a few months after sister product Google Translate had gone down the same path. Other leading lights of the Internet to embrace Burmese are Facebook and Mozilla Firefox, to name a few. You can be sure there’ll be many more.

After trade sanctions were lifted a couple of years ago, Myanmar has slowly begun to integrate with the global economy. Unsurprisingly, language is one of the key indicators and enablers of such a phenomenon. Businesses with global ambitions have a couple of translation and international marketing lessons to learn from this:

  1. Translation first. Truly global companies know how to use language as the first step to not only enter a new market, but also to substantially increase their influence. Examples abound of companies tapping into new business by simply offering product information in the languages of their target audiences. Companies that understand the importance of website translation will set the trend, rather than be late adopters. In doing so, they set the standards high for their competitors.
  2. Translation is a business requirement. It’s not just online businesses that need to think about translation for the markets they’re entering. Look at how Coca Cola swooped in to Burma and did everything possible to localize its offering. And, yes, it’s all in Burmese. In the age of omni-channel commerce, it doesn’t really matter whether your company is an online business or not. In fact, such differences are fast disappearing. Consumers will approach you in many different ways, and they expect you to be language-ready, regardless.
  3. The enabling powers of language. Think about how much easier it is today for an economy to open up, provided it has the political will. The technology for global communication is there and translation can help you leverage it. Your ability to compete no longer depends on whether you can communicate in the lingua francas of the world. On the flip side, think about all the markets you’re missing out on simply because the people from those countries or regions cannot read about your product, understand your company, or share any of it on social media.

It will be interesting to observe how translation continues to shape and guide Myanmar’s economy. True, there are miles to go, even if you only consider the country’s online existence. For instance, enough in-language content needs to be produced to substantiate a search query in Burmese that will produce only in-language results. A full Burmese language experience is yet to develop on the Internet, but that really should be a question of “when” rather than “if.”

But consider this: if an economy is making a fresh start today, “going global” will not be a strategic decision to make 5-10 years down the line, but something assumed for success from the get-go. Also, its online trajectory will be vastly different from that of other economies, in the sense that it may just skip the desktop era and head straight into mobile. Yet, many requirements for success will remain the same and one among them is translation.