Six Ways Bad Translations Can Hurt Your Brand
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Six Ways Bad Translations Can Hurt Your Brand

We know anecdotally that getting translation right is important, but it can be difficult to measure the direct effects of precision and accuracy.

For example, it’s tough to tie profitability and growth directly to translation quality. After all, downturns or lack of growth could be due to a weaker economy, lower brand recognition or any of the other variables that come with entering a new market.

But here are six reminders that bad localization can have a big impact on your profitability.

1. Brand damage

There are lots of examples of businesses getting translations dead wrong.

Sometimes the translation is simply incorrect. When KFC entered China, they inadvertently changed their slogan “It’s finger lickin’ good” to “Eat your fingers off.”

Sometimes the words of the translation are fine, but there’s a colloquial twist that changes the connotation. Like when Coors launched their “Turn It Loose” slogan only to find out that in Spanish it became slang for having diarrhea.

And sometimes it’s linguistically fine, but cultural nuances on the ground change the meaning. Take Colgate: they launched a toothpaste in France without realizing they gave it the same name as a local adult magazine.

(It happens in English, too—it’s hardly appealing to a US audience when they hear “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux.”)

All these instances make brands look silly and clueless. And giving people that kind of impression right out of the gate can be a big problem.

That’s what makes the difference between translation and transcreation so important.

(If you’re not sure what that difference is, this post will give you an explanation and some advice on how to pick the right translation approach for you. And you can see the 20 worst translations of all time here.)

2. Potential fines

Getting translation wrong can be costly, too.

It’s tough enough to get everything right even in your own language. For example, a shipping company was forced to pay $5 million of overtime to workers because of the lack of an Oxford comma in a state law, meaning the law had to be updated.

Adding language barriers only makes these issues worse. And it can have dramatic effects.

For instance, a hospital in Florida mistranslated “intoxicado” as “intoxicated” rather than the more accurate “poisoned.” This caused a delay in a patient receiving the correct treatment, resulting in brain damage that made him quadriplegic.

The eventual settlement for the error was $71 million.

3. Costly accounting errors

It’s not just words that can cause issues. As much as we think that math is universal, even regional differences in numerical formats can have real-world ramifications.

In English-speaking countries, a comma in numbers usually represents a thousands’ separation to make it easier to read, like in 100,500.

But in many countries, a comma represents a decimal point.

That’s pretty serious if you’re invoicing for 1/1,000th of the amount you meant to.

You can also get dates wrong. For example, 4/11/19 means November 4, 2019, in the UK, but in the date/time format that Brazil uses, that means April 11th.

4. Increased cost from rework

Poor language quality can cost you a whole lot more than just sales. There can also be production and marketing costs—including reprints, rebrands and missed deadlines.

HSBC launched their ‘Assume Nothing’ branding internationally. Only they translated it as ‘Do Nothing.’

The final cost? A $10 million rebranding effort.

5. Poor user experience means lost customers

When people land on a webpage, they start to judge it immediately—the look, the feel and of course, the words.

Research has shown that users often leave a website after 10–20 seconds. That means you have very little time to show them that you’re worth sticking around for.

Spelling mistakes, poor-quality translation and clumsy or difficult wording all add up to a less-than-appealing experience for the user. And that means lower conversions.

It’s estimated that 59% of visitors would not do business with a company that has poor grammar on its website.

Can you afford to lose nearly two-thirds of your market?

Even a single spelling mistake can cut sales in half.

6. Search engines punish you

Not only are potential customers less likely to buy from your site, they are actually less likely to find it in the first place.

Search engines will punish poorly translated sites by pushing them down the rankings.

This is bad in all sectors, but if you happen to be in a particularly competitive market, this becomes a huge problem as more people are fighting for those top spots.

One of the worst offenders is linguistic errors from automatic Machine Translation (MT).

In the words of SEO company Moz: “Automatic translations can be inaccurate and off-putting. They can hurt a website trying to rank in a competitive landscape. A great way to get an edge on your competitors is to use professional, high-quality native translators to localize your content into your target languages. High-quality localization is one of the key factors in improving your rankings when it comes to international SEO.”

On the flip side, if you can get it right when your competitors are struggling, that’s a great way to get ahead in the rankings.

High-quality translations help your bottom line

Good translation is not a ‘nice to have’; it’s a fundamental part of any international marketing journey. Getting it wrong can hurt your brand, your customers and your bottom line.

It might be tempting to cut corners by using non-professional translators, translating creative content automatically or skipping quality assurance steps. But the examples above prove that getting things right the first time is worth the investment.


For more on how you can improve your linguistic quality and avoid translation fails, get in touch!