Improving your business communications – Written materials

Exporting companies are likely to produce a range of written promotional materials, including leaflets, brochures, downloadable PDFs, packaging and point of sale materials. They will use general written correspondence of various kinds on a regular basis, such as letters and emails. Companies may also have detailed instruction booklets or user manuals, terms and conditions documents and warranties, product catalogues or invitations to tender, and all companies will have business cards and invoices to deal with.

Possible barriers to effective written communication include:

  • using complex English,
  • not translating materials, or
  • translating materials badly.

Poor quality translations can result in misunderstandings, delays, lost business, a loss of brand credibility and even lawsuits. They can be very damaging for your business reputation and brand.

Packaging with information in the local language is a legal requirement for some products and countries. Even if it is not a legal requirement, it can help sell the product and help ensure it is used as intended, thus increasing customer satisfaction.

Possible solutions – International materials
Firstly, ensure that your written materials are ready for international work. Give some thought to the international implications of brand and product names, and develop a strapline which states your core expertise or selling point simply– this can be translated when relevant. Think about how design preferences differ across countries, and whether any colours in your logo or design have important meanings in your target market. Use images and visuals as much as possible to reduce the amount of translation needed and to improve the effectiveness of your communications, but make sure that they are culturally appropriate and relevant for the target market. Do not give up control of promotional materials to a local partner without fully considering the pros and cons of this approach.

  • Develop international materials
  • Use International English
  • Carry out language training
  • Localise your materials
  • Build relationships with overseas contacts
  • Translate materials

“We have established a Spanish language website, working with a local agent to ensure that the language is right, rather than simply a verbatim translation of our English site.”
Jaguar Educational, Norfolk

International English
Below are some tips to help companies specifically with ensuring that their written English is as easy to follow as possible for a non-native English speaker.

  • Avoid complex sentences.
  • Use bullet points, headings and numbers.
  • Be aware that certain symbols do not always show up when an email has been received, e.g. instead of £, use GBP.
  • Use visuals and diagrams and include an explanation.
  • Add captions to photos.
  • Ask a local expert to review your written materials, especially important documents such as contracts or user manuals.

Language training
If members of staff already have some language skills, it might be appropriate to provide additional language training so that they are able to correspond effectively with overseas contacts. However, it is unlikely that language training on its own will enable all your internal staff to write foreign language product brochures or design foreign language point of sale material, for example, as other professional skills are needed for such tasks.

It is rarely enough to translate your UK material for an overseas market, as changes are often needed to ensure that the material is suitable for a particular country or region. These changes may be to text, images, format or layout, each of which may need to be adapted to suit the local market and culture. You need to check:

  • symbols, icons, colours and graphics,
  • photos (diversity, male/female, clothes, ages, ethnicity, food and drink) and backgrounds (flags, buildings, driving on left/right, registration plates),
  • working days and times, and
  • numbering systems e.g. weights, measures, dates and currencies.

Ensure that the overall messages are appropriate for the target audiences and don’t have any references to UK specific concepts.

Build relationships
Communicate frequently with your international contacts to build successful business relationships. This will need more than just written contact, in particular in cultures where personal contact by phone and face-to-face is important.

Clear, unambiguous translation is crucial to effective international business communication. Good quality translation:

  • shows respect and commitment,
  • helps open up new markets, rather than relying on those that are English-speaking, and
  • means your messages are reaching decision-makers through the use of language which is appropriate for the target market.

This article is an extract from UKTI’s “Improving your business communications – Overcoming language and cultural barriers in business: a guide for exporters

Topics: Export Planning, Getting Started, Localisation, Operations, Production, Promotion, and Sales & Marketing
Export Action Plan