International Marketing Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

Naming a new product is not easy at the best of times. Even within your home market, you need to consider whether the proposed product name has any other meanings or particular associations that you may not have initially thought of. This becomes an even greater challenge when it comes to marketing products internationally as you need to consider the impact of the name in other places around the world. Questions to consider are: What does your brand name mean in other languages and countries? Is it easy to pronounce? Does it have any positive or negative cultural implications? Failure to take these questions into consideration could result in embarrassing blunders, costly corrective measures and even irreparable damage to your brand.

What are the pitfalls?

There have been numerous examples of embarrassing blunders such cases over the years, some of which have since gone down into translation and marketing lore. One of these involved the Rolls Royce company which planned on naming a new model ‘Silver Mist’ until they realized that ‘mist’ meant ‘dung’ or ‘manure’ in German. ‘Silver Dung’ was not quite the impact they were looking for and so happily for Rolls Royce the car was renamed ‘Silver Shadow’. A liquor producer was not quite so careful and ended up marketing their product in Germany as ‘Irischer Mist’ or ‘Irish Dung’ as it translated locally. Perhaps not quite the image they were looking for…

Why carry out a linguistic and cultural assessment?

So, how can you avoid such pitfalls and ensure a successful international product name that will be accepted around the world? While it is probably not possible to completely eliminate the risk, it can be drastically reduced by carrying out an impact assessment to analyze the linguistic and cultural connotations of the brand name in the target countries and regions where the product will be marketed. The aim of the assessment is to determine whether the brand name has any meaning in the main local languages, whether it is easy for people to pronounce and whether it has any positive, negative or other associations through its meaning or its sound.

But which language for which country?

This can sometimes be more complex than you might think as more than one language is spoken in some countries. Take India for example. India has two national official languages, Hindi and English. You might then think that an assessment of your product name in these two languages will be sufficient for the Indian market. However, this only scratches the surface of the complexity of language in India. While the central government uses Hindi and English for official purposes, there are actually an additional 22 languages which are official languages at the state level and about 30 languages all together spoken by over a million people each - in fact less than half of all Indians speak Hindi. The official language of the state of Maharashtra, for instance, is not Hindi but Marathi. Any company looking at India as a potential market could not afford to neglect assessing the suitability of the brand name in the Marathi language as this is spoken in Mumbai (Bombay), the largest and most prosperous city in India as well as its business and financial capital.

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