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Why language is crucial to your reputation

At SwissGlobal Language Services AG, we want to remain a leading language service provider in the future and therefore make sure that we always have our finger on the pulse of the market.

Generally speaking, reputation management concentrates on a company’s primary activities. Language only comes into focus when actions need to be explained or apologised for. However, the internet and social media have radically transformed the way in which companies communicate – making language a decisive influencing factor for a company’s reputation. As a result, something known as linguistic reputation management is required.

A veritable flood of information

In today’s current internet age, products around the world can be searched for, compared, purchased and reviewed. The amount of information available has never been seen on this scale before. Among other things, this comparability of products also means that you can only make your product stand out from the rest through pricing or the creation of an authentic brand. Creating authenticity is a challenge, however. A brand must develop its own language – a language that not only fits its profile but is also appropriate for its customers, environment and the channels it uses.

From monologue to dialogue…

The rise of the internet and social media has inundated us with an unprecedented flood of information, as well as fundamentally changed the manner in which we communicate. Different ground rules now apply. The influence of social media has transformed what was formerly a monologue into today’s dialogue. Consumers ask questions and expect answers. They want to be taken seriously and communicate with brands and companies on an equal footing. A company’s reputation depends on how its customers experience these exchanges.

…to shitstorm

These days, social media is not just used to discuss products; it also provides a platform for addressing social and political issues. In contrast to classic media formats, however, no differentiation is made between objective reports and personal opinions. The tone can also be abrasive at times. Social media is an inescapable element for companies, and what’s more, their communication will always be judged in the light of the topics currently being discussed.

In addition, users talk to each other – including about companies – via review websites, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Such user-generated content is usually public and lies beyond the control of the companies in question. In a best-case scenario, users publish positive reviews, praise a brand, and let it go viral. In a worst-case scenario, criticism hails down and a company can get trapped in a virtual shitstorm

This development is actually not new, and we are all part of this modern media landscape. Which makes it all the more astonishing that companies so often put their foot in their mouth when communicating in public and end up being accused of racism or sexism.

Protecting your reputation with authentic language

While navigating this jungle of media, cultures and communities, companies are forced to develop their own authentic and honest corporate language. Their reputation – along with the success of their brand – depends on it. Modern corporate language can no longer be a static element; instead, it must be understood as a dynamic process. A company needs to be in control of its language at all times and continue to develop it on an ongoing basis. It must be capable of responding to current debates and communicating with its target groups on their level.

Foreign languages – taking it to the next level

It’s difficult enough to create an authentic corporate language in your own home market. Constructing the same transparent communication in a foreign-language market is another challenge in and of itself. Errors are often made when translating names and slogans, all of which can seriously damage a brand’s reputation. You can read more about this topic in our blog post entitled “From brands and moon landings to motorbikes and onions”.

The brand launch of Mercedes-Benz in China was a classic example of this. The automobile manufacturer chose “Bensi” as its Chinese brand name. The pronunciation of the name was close to the original brand and sounded rather cute. Unfortunately, “bensi” means “to rush towards death” in Chinese. That was most certainly not the intended message.

The internet is full of further examples of how failed translations and localisations have damaged companies’ reputations. The example cited above illustrates the challenges faced by companies that operate internationally.

How can you avoid harming your reputation?

Mercedes-Benz is a large firm that can easily absorb the fallout from such a slip-up. However, small and medium-sized enterprises cannot afford such missteps without also experiencing permanent damage to their reputation. What can be done to prevent this?

The approach is very similar to creating an authentic language for your home market. Your brand must come across as credible and honest. It needs to be synchronised with the requirements and cultural characteristics of your target group and speak its language.

Interaction between language, technology and processes

It’s not just about correctly translating words and images or copywriting creative slogans. It’s also about having technologies which ensure that the right content in the right language reaches the right channels. Other priorities include systems and processes that guarantee a consistently high level of quality, yet can be flexibly adapted to match developments in the individual target markets and linguistic regions.

This degree of linguistic, cultural and technological expertise is often not available in companies looking to break into a new market, which means collaborating with partners who recognise and understand the challenges and can offer appropriate language services is indispensable. You can read more about the topic of outsourcing in our blog post entitled “9 essential tips for procuring language services”.

English only is not the answer

Multilingual solutions are expensive. This is especially true if you are fully committed to not compromising on quality. And it raises the question of whether it wouldn’t be simpler to focus on a single corporate language and forget about costly or complicated translations.

After all, English has established itself as the “lingua franca” of the internet age. Everyone knows English – especially young urbane consumers. American brands are an example of this approach with their catchy advertising slogans in English. Nevertheless, a foreign language always creates a certain distance – no matter how well it is understood by the target group. In today’s brand environment, distance is deadly when it comes to effective communication.

If we look at the expectations for how a brand has to communicate in the current market, it becomes clear that communication should be authentic and always adapted to the target group and the context. Using English as a universal language is therefore a less-than-ideal solution.

American cultural dominance is crumbling

It’s obvious that the most diverse areas of culture – fashion, music, art – influence and shape consumer tastes. The USA (and English, of course) have reigned supreme in popular culture for decades, yet their dominance is beginning to shrink. Nowadays, trends are increasingly emerging from up-and-coming countries in Asia and Latin America, for example, accompanied by a new sense of self-confidence in these regions.

People in China and Brazil certainly understand English and may also understand the related cultural codes, but they still expect communication that is conducted with respect and on an equal footing. They want to be spoken to in their own language and are not as willing to overlook cultural or linguistic gaffes as they once were.

Language as a key factor in reputation management

A company’s reputation no longer depends solely on its activities and statements, but also on how it masters its own corporate language. Brands need authentic corporate language with which they can address their target group at eye level and avoid being lost in the shuffle among the enormous range of products and services on offer today. Your corporate language must be capable of evolving in the dynamic environment of social media.

This challenge grows exponentially as soon as a company strikes out beyond its home market. Counting on English as your sole corporate language is a mistake. If a company wants to dialogue with its customers, there is no way to get around it – you have to speak their language!

Finding the right partner

Quality is the top priority here. It not only demonstrates a precise knowledge of the language and culture, but also includes systems and processes that can be flexibly adapted to meet developments in the target markets and linguistic regions.

Top-quality service has its price, but it can save your company from blunders that could damage your reputation. So, if language can make the difference between success and failure, it is definitely worth hiring a language services provider who knows how important reputation is in linguistic terms as well and can offer precisely the service you need, including linguistic reputation management.

Read more about this topic in our blog post “How much is your reputation worth? 5 reasons to invest in Linguistic Reputation Management”.