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A Postcard From…the US: Talking turkey

RECENTLY I MET a translator who reinforced how important it was for international businesses to present their marketing material and websites in the local language of the market they are targeting.

It sounds obvious, but this is still an area where lots of businesses are choosing not to spend money and, as a result, they fail to reach their sales potential in their chosen market. But don’t be fooled into thinking this is limited to translation into foreign languages.

The UK and the US are often described as “divided by a common language”. On the face of it, we speak the same language so it is not a case of “translation” when we seek to market to the US, but rather “localisation”.

In BDO’s global outsourcing team, we have started to take localisation very seriously when marketing to the US, where we target, principally, Silicon Valley companies.

One of our “bilingual” directors (growing up in the UK but working in the US for 15 years) helped our team to understand that localisation is about tailoring your approach to your client or customer – putting them in their comfort zone, so that they find dealing with you – and appointing you – as convenient as possible.

You may need to make many changes to your literature and day-to-day routines. Some are more subtle than others. All are designed to eliminate the UK-isms which can alienate US business people.

Time to consider your zone

For example, use the US date format where you can, to avoid the confusion that can arise when setting target dates for a project task, or just a humble conference call invite. Make sure you use US accounting terminology – “revenue” not “turnover” and “inventory” not “stock” to avoid common misunderstandings.

Spellings can easily be Americanised by selecting the US dictionary in Word or PowerPoint. And when it comes to vocabulary, your US contact is unlikely to know what a “fortnight” is so don’t try to set up a fortnightly catch up! Not unless you want them to waste time Googling the word.

I’m not suggesting that all of our UK-isms would not be understood by the Silicon Valley business fraternity – far from it, they are as sophisticated a population as you will find anywhere. Just as Silicon Valley attracts the world’s best software engineers, you can be sure that it also attracts the world’s best accountants, HR managers and business analysts. But we need to speak their language so that there are no barriers to communications with a UK-based team.

And if you’ve ever “reached out” to a colleague or “sharpened your pencil”, you’ll agree that US English is infectious and fun to use, and is fast “making inroads” in to the UK. As my translator contact explained to me, we all buy on trust. If our clients cannot fully understand us or have to make efforts to do so, they cannot fully trust us, and will look to buy from a more familiar source. Therefore, meeting them at least half way linguistically makes business sense.

It demonstrates how much we want their custom, and how truly global we are.

Duncan Ashman is a global outsourcing partner at BDO LLP

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