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Lost in translation, Part 1

Europe and China are home to some of the world’s oldest traditions. Each continent has a vibrant and expansive history and a myriad of different cultures, beliefs and demographics. The two continents have been trading for centuries, but as the way we communicate rapidly changes, how do companies and investors ensure their messages are not lost in translation?

This issue is of increasing relevancy when you consider that only last Thursday, Chinese Commerce Minister Chen Deming stressed the importance of outbound investment for China, adding that in five to ten years, China’s outbound investment should match the foreign direct investment that China receives.

It is a topic that our client ChinaGoAbroad is aiming to address and an issue that we highlighted in the GoGlobal section of our LIFESTYLE Clean Energy Magazine.

Market success can often depend on a sound communications strategy adapted to the local culture, and bridging the gap between the very unique and distinct cultures in Europe and China requires some keen knowledge of the key markets.

We asked PR and Communications expert Wibke Sonderkamp for her top ten “Dos and Don’ts” for Chinese companies and investors looking to expand their business to the European market.

Marketing and Communications in Europe: 10 Dos and Don’ts

1.  In terms of culture and communication, there is no such thing as “The European Market” that so many companies are looking to cover today. You’re looking at 27 member states with 23 official languages and centuries-old cultural differences. It’s helpful to define a number of focus countries and expand the outreach step by step.

2. Local expertise is key. It is advisable to define an umbrella strategy which is then locally adapted and executed in the European key markets. This would include preferences of customers, partners or investors in each market.

3. Localization vs. translation: An ever-present challenge is the many languages in Europe. A professional local “translation” is therefore a critical success factor.  Translators should understand the topic so they are able to grasp the meaning and message of the content. They should then transfer this into a local version which should be more than a pure translation and should take local aspects into account. This includes simple things such as text structure or popular buzzwords, as well as small content changes e.g. by including local angles or references.

4. Communication channels and preferences differ from market to market. Ask your local partners to recommend channels; or whether you should choose between a print, online and social media focus, phone or e-mail contact or personal meetings vs. conference calls.

5. Backing up brand value: editors in many European countries expect a lot more proof of marketing messages than, for example, in the USA. Make sure to include proven facts and figures, certifications or test results into the communication.

6. Be prepared to be questioned about the proprietary claims and quality of your offerings. Although Chinese products have gained a lot of respect in certain industries, many consumers are still biased by years of reports of Chinese copies.

7. Be aware that there is a growing consciousness regarding the sustainability of products among European consumers, who look into production conditions, materials, energy demand etc.

8. Don’t expect advertisement or brand campaigns to work 1:1 across continents. The audience’s taste as well as the signals and meanings of images, colors and messaging can be totally different in China than they are in Europe.

9. Define clear goals and expectations with your clients or communications consultants in order to avoid unrealistic expectations and to focus on key targets.

10. Work out a clear and transparent cost structure showing exactly what the budget includes and what it doesn’t. Unexpected extras are very problematic and can endanger the relationship.

Next week, we will feature the top ten “Dos and Don’ts” for European companies looking to expand their PR and communications activities to the Chinese market.

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