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From brands and moon landings to motorbikes and onions

Why reputation, brand management and comprehensible texts go hand in hand

When you think of branding [ˈbrændɪŋ], brand maintenance, brand building, brand image, but also brand mark (a burnt-in mark of identification) and branding livestock spring to mind. So what’s all this got to do with companies, their reputation, language, moon landings and motorbikes? And since when can onions actually make phone calls?

Holiday, brand image and menus

Seeing mistranslations on menus when you are on holiday is always good for a chuckle. Often expected, their existence is considered a sign of authenticity. If the words “onion calls” appear (meaning onion rings), the reputation of the establishment in question is usually not affected.

They would be less graciously understood if the same mistake surfaced on the menu of a Michelin-starred restaurant. Will they be just as careless with the cooking as they apparently were with the translation of the menu? Likewise, if a car manufacturer called its car “Mitsubishi Wa**er” (Mitsubishi Pajero in Spanish), there would be a knock-on effect on the company’s reputation. Sloppiness is not generally considered a desirable trait in a car manufacturer. This particular faux pas was not the result of a mistranslation, but rather a failure to check whether the words used would be suitable for the target audience. Yes, some thought had gone into it: the Leopardus pajerus is a wildcat species native to South America and therefore well suited to the image of the new off-road vehicle. But unfortunately there were no language experts on the team who could have picked up on the crude connotation. The name was hurriedly changed for the Spanish-speaking countries and then in the USA to Mitsubishi Montero, which means a beater in a hunt. But the fact that the story is still doing the rounds today, more than thirty years after the renaming, shows how difficult it is to reverse such fails.

Clearly, the use of language in relation to brands can be perceived in very different ways. However, people do not take very kindly at all to any perceived inconsistency between the brand message (conveyed essentially via language) and the corporate image (strongly influenced by product communication).

Motorbikes, rompers and social changes

Inconsistencies can have many different sources and mistranslations are only one potential cause. Whether a Harley-Davidson, for example, is associated with cute babies and delicate fragrances is less a question of language than of corporate image, which, in turn, is influenced by consumer attitudes. The company’s narrative tends to contain images about freedom, independence and strength – images not directly associated with babies and fragrances (brand extension). When, in the nineties of the last century, the company launched baby clothing and perfume bearing its logo on to the market, its customers, mostly male, responded with confusion and annoyance. In the end, the company pulled the relevant licences to save its image. So it is not a good thing, then, for a company’s products to contradict its brand image? Apparently so. But Harley-Davidson rompers and perfumes are now back on sale. The message seems to be now: be a biker, but one who also loves his kids. This is still not the company’s primary narrative, but it is no longer seen as a contradiction.

So it is not only important to ensure brand and company are consistently presented, but also to check again and again whether the perspective on the brand and the company are still the same. What has changed since the 90s is not Harley-Davidson primarily, but society.

First moon landing: branding by doing

How brands and companies are perceived therefore depends not only on the narrative offered, but also on how this narrative is received – and staged.

Als die USA 1969 ihre Flagge auf dem Mond platzierten, war dies nicht nur ein Ereignis für ein paar Technik- und Weltraumnerds, sondern ein weltweit wahrgenommenes Medienevent. Das Ereignis wurde in der westlichen Welt durch einen Resonanzboden verstärkt, der aus der Furcht vor einer möglichen technologischen Überlegenheit des Kommunismus bestand. Nicht das Ereignis machte die Geschichte, sondern der Kontext.

The narrative was not only “if we make an effort, we can achieve anything” but “the Soviets might have put dogs and humans into orbit, but we’re the first to leave the planet”. By doing so it tapped into the old stories of explorers who left their homeland to set off into the unknown. The impact of this story of space flight did not come from the story itself, but from how it reverberated with the public. But this was strongly tied to the fact that the USA was a protagonist where pushing out “to new frontiers” was already very much part of its historical DNA. So the story got the necessary lift. Companies and entrepreneurs were seen as a unit, as consistent.

So a powerful narrative not only requires a good story. It is also necessary to know the type of environment in which it can develop the necessary momentum to take off.

“What does my brand actually do if I don’t look?”

Marken sind in ihrer Wirkung nicht immer kontrollierbar. Zwar kann man Produkte und Dienstleistungen beliebig markieren, ob dies aber funktioniert, hängt von vielen Faktoren ab. Nicht alle diese Faktoren liegen im Einflussbereich der jeweiligen Unternehmen. Man denke nur an den oben erwähnten Resonanzboden. Auch Faktoren wie Ironie oder kulturelle Aneignung sind nur in Massen kontrollierbar. Wo eine völlige Kontrolle nicht möglich ist, ist es jedoch umso wichtiger, das Terrain zu kennen, auf dem man sich bewegt. Wo das Navi versagt, braucht man Ortskenntnis. Im Spannungsfeld zwischen Marke, Reputation und Marketing ist das Terrain vielschichtig. Es schliesst die Beschaffenheit der Zielkultur, die Eigenheiten der Sprache und die Gegebenheiten des Marktumfelds mit ein. Nur mit der nötigen Ortskenntnis kann hier eine zielführende Markenkommunikation gelingen, die verhindert, dass die Marke macht, was sie will.

And what has all this got to do with language service providers?

Why bring an experienced language services provider on board for your own (mono and multilingual) branding activities?

Brands, their own lives and their effect on customers have an impact on a company’s reputation, image and standing. Communication errors that occur here are difficult to undo (and often only at considerable cost). Creating texts professionally undoubtedly costs money. But it is usually more expensive to remove deficient marketing material from the market – or even to have to launch campaigns to restore one’s reputation. It is just as absurd if the desired communication is simply not perceived in the first place. Texts that no one understands will at best vanish into thin air. In the worst case, they will make the company appear aloof and alienated from its customers. At any rate, there would be a waste of resources.

Mit einem Sprachendienstleister wie SwissGlobal kann dieses Risiko minimiert werden. Er stellt sicher, dass die entsprechenden Texte für die jeweilige Zielgruppe verständlich sind, den richtigen Ton treffen und als konsistent mit dem Gesamtauftritt des Unternehmens wahrgenommen werden. Da er die voraussichtliche Verwendungssituation und das Terrain des Markenauftritts genau kennt, kann er das Risiko von Fehlinterpretationen minimieren. Durch seine Expertise bei der Sicherstellung klarer, verständlicher und konsistenter Kommunikation kann er dafür sorgen, dass die sprachliche und die nichtsprachliche Brandingkommunikation als Einheit wahrgenommen werden. Die hierbei eingesetzten Mittel umfassen neben dem Übersetzen von Fachtexten auch deren sprachliche Anpassung, die konsequente Terminologiepflege und die Erstellung von Stilrichtlinien. Gerade wenn es um konsistente Kommunikation geht, ist es jedoch wichtig, dass alle Massnahmen ineinandergreifen und aufeinander abgestimmt sind. Dies ist bei einer Lösung aus einer Hand eher gegeben, als wenn man für die einzelnen Leistungen jeweils verschiedene Anbieter in Anspruch nehmen würde. Auch der Schutz Ihrer Daten ist so einfacher zu gewährleisten.

SwissGlobal ist nach ISO 17100 zertifiziert und bietet damit Gewähr für eine professionelle Arbeitsweise nach höchsten Qualitätsstandards. Der Austausch sensibler Daten erfolgt nur über gesicherte Kanäle und in Zusammenarbeit mit einem nach ISO 27001 zertifizierten IT-Partner.

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