Not Connecting with Consumers? Maybe You’re Not Speaking Their Language


August 1, 2017 by atacompass

You may think your company’s products and services speak for themselves, but building a brand beyond borders takes more. If you don’t speak your customer’s language and understand their culture, you won’t reach them emotionally and your reputation will suffer.

What drives consumer behavior?

Sam founded and operates a food service company in a local market. Finding that his business is increasingly multicultural, he consults his friend and colleague, Karen, for pointers, knowing that Karen’s food service company operates on an international scale.

She gives him some surprising advice on what drives consumer behavior—four emotional indicators: trust, esteem, admiration, and good feelings. As she explains:

“Consumer behavior is driven by how people perceive a business—its workplace, governance, citizenship, financial performance, and leadership. These factors compel consumers to act more than perceptions of products and services or innovation.”

Karen gleaned this insight from a poll of 250,000 consumers across 15 markets that sifts companies to find which are most reputable.

“If you can start to create an argument across rational drivers, that starts to build that emotional connection,” she notes. But it’s the emotional side of the equation that actually moves people to act.

Staying local? Don’t ignore your customers’ preferred language

Of course, your market may be exclusively local, like Sam’s, and you may like it that way. That’s fine, though you should still consider your customers’ preferred language of interaction with you. You may do well at selling into foreign markets as an obvious outsider to the culture. But if you want to make that coveted emotional connection, you need to master the reputation challenge. To build trust, you must be perceived as native in the countries where you do business. To achieve this, you need the skills of a top-notch translation team.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when gearing up to speak your customer’s language:

  • Don’t be fooled by money-saving machine translation and low-budget providers. Your image is too important. An online translation button on your website sends precisely the wrong message, since a computer program has no inkling of the nuance or emotion you want to communicate. You’re trying to evoke an emotional response in a human being. That’s something only a highly skilled human translator can do. With machine translation, you run the risk of severing that emotional connection. Any perceived insult or sloppiness will be an immediate deal-breaker.


  • Find a translation team that knows your industry, understands your target audience, and can convey technical points with precision. Industry lingo can vary from market to market and you need to be saying what your target audience is used to hearing. What’s more, proper grammatical writing is indispensable in transmitting a sense of your professionalism and your respect for customers and prospects.


  • Crucially, make sure your team is also expert at grasping and conveying the emotions you want to express. Look for translators who specialize in marketing and communications. This step is perhaps the most often overlooked, even by conscientious and knowledgeable actors.


  • Once you’ve gathered your team, take the time to brief them fully and be open to their creative solutions. Different countries and cultures have their own vibrant emotional “palettes.” You will often need to strike a different note with a foreign culture than with your own. For instance, a series of ideas that leads to a sense of adventure in your own culture may play better in someone else’s world if you use it to create feelings of curiosity, satisfaction, or even safety. You want to be sure you’re playing the right “strings” in this panoply of feelings. Translators, with their finely honed knowledge of other people’s ways of seeing, thinking, and feeling, can help you arrive at the right mix of emotional messaging.


  • Don’t limit your communications to your website or brochure. Think about developing language-specific newsletters or other content marketing tools to help you build trust with your target markets, just as you do at home. Regular, high-quality communications, rendered in your customers’ languages, can go a long way toward promoting buy-in.


Be bold in your approach to communicating across cultural frontiers. With a careful plan making use of the points above, you’ll make an emotional connection with new customers in new markets. By speaking their language and tapping into their culture’s emotional palette, your brand will not only receive more attention, it will also be perceived as local and desirable. You might just find your horizons expanding in directions and dimensions you may not have dreamt of previously. And you’ll never look back at your company’s old, English-only approach to the world.

Note: Research findings are from the Reputation Institute, New York. Used with permission.

About the Author

Stephanie Tramdack Cash, CFA, translates French investment management and strategy documents. She is an active member of the American Translators Association. The ATA represents over 10,000 translators and interpreters in more than 100 countries. Along with advancing the translation and interpreting professions, ATA promotes the education and development of language services providers and consumers alike. For more information on ATA or translation and interpreting professionals, please visit

For a list of other articles by ATA members, please see:

For more information on ATA or translation and interpreting professionals, please visit

3 thoughts on “Not Connecting with Consumers? Maybe You’re Not Speaking Their Language

  1. meurville says:

    Reblogged this on Titre du site and commented:
    Lost in translation?

  2. Max Neilson says:

    To create the perfect brand image and to boost your leads or sales you must know the target audience or the right customers of the product or service you provide. If you are not speaking the language which your clients can understand, then this communication gap can create a great in business.

  3. Alex Marsh says:

    Customer’s language plays a crucial role in increasing the growth of the business and getting your message conveyed properly to the correct audience. Thanks for the blog.

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