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Managing Marketing – What is Transcreation and Why is it Important in a Global Market Village?

transcreation and culture
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Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by TrinityP3 Founder and Global CEO, Darren Woolley. Each podcast is a conversation with a thought-leader, professional or practitioner of marketing and communications on the issues, insights and opportunities in the marketing management category. Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media and commercial communications professionals.

Elliot Polak is the CEO of Textappeal and Newsroom, cross cultural marketing and a global transcreation and social media company. He talks with Darren on the importance of understanding cultural differences as a way of increasing effectiveness and change by using the clashes to raise awareness and engagement.

You can listen to the podcast here:

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Transcription:

Darren:

Welcome to Managing Marketing and this week we’re in London and I’m meeting with Elliot Polak, CEO of Textappeal and Newsroom, they’re a cross-cultural marketing consultancy that specialises in global trans-creation and social media.

Welcome Elliot.

Elliot:

Thank you very much Darren.

Darren:

Look Elliott, I think we ran into each other at a WFA conference many years ago, is that right?

Elliot:

I believe that’s correct Darren, you have a good memory.

Darren:

I was always fascinated by this idea of cross cultural because, having grown up in Asia Pacific, I think that’s for me, one of the most diverse cultural melting pots that you could possibly find.

But you’ve got something similar because you’re an American that grew up in Paris.

Elliot:

Yeah well I moved to Paris when I was 12 years old.  So I’m an American who went through culture shock moving to France when I was young.  I was told, “We’re now going to live in France” and I was a little bit concerned so a friend of the family said, “Don’t worry Elliott, everybody around the world is basically the same”.

When I arrived in Paris, I realised that’s not necessarily true and perhaps this is one of those Americans who’d never travelled outside of the country.

Darren:

Well I have to tell you my American in Paris story.  As an Australian in Paris, I was sitting there having a beer on the river and a big minivan pulled up with all these American tourists and I swear, one of them said, “That’s Notre Dame, the church they named after the university”.

Now, that’s a bad American accent, but I think you get my point.

Elliot:

Brilliant. But now when I go back to the United States, people say, “Elliott you have such a great accent.  You speak such great English for a European”.

Darren:

I can still hear your American accent, that’s the interesting thing.

Cultural clashes and the evolution of culture

Elliot:

So we lived between cultures and one of the things that I find the most interesting is not necessarily the traditions of one culture versus the traditions of another culture and how they are different. How some things are appropriate in one place and some things are not appropriate in another place, that’s interesting, but those traditions I don’t find the most interesting thing.

I find it’s what’s changing very quickly because of cultural clashes, because of the two cultures touching each other and then you see evolution and then you see much less defined lines between what’s right and what’s wrong in culture.

These are the things that I find really interesting for brands because if you can understand the edge of culture, then you can perhaps make a difference and have more impact in your message.

So I think cultural understanding is absolutely essential for global brands; it’s a huge tool to be more effective than brands that don’t have that cultural understanding and I disagree with those who say, “Yeah, it’s important to understand different cultures so as not to make some kind of mistake but that’s about it”, which is kind of lip service to cultural difference.

Darren:

Well, a lot has changed.  There was always this globalisation that was happening, but certainly you’d have to say, the internet which has allowed everyone in the world to share their thoughts and feelings and ideas on a common platform, has absolutely accelerated this cultural sharing, hasn’t it?

Elliot:

Yeah, cultural sharing, cultural shocks, polarisation as well. I don’t think that the sharing has made everyone more homogenised, I think maybe in a superficial way you have a certain homogenisation of the way people think and what they say and what they buy, but at a deeper level, I think it may well be the opposite.

That you have much stronger cultural polarisation of people wanting to hold onto the values of a certain community that they’re part of, a certain place of the world that they’re part of.

The internet actually is very diverse in different countries, the topics that are trending and that people are talking about, the top ten topics are usually completely different from one country to another. So in a way you see more hyper-global connection but also in a way, much more hyper-local communities.

Darren:

And look, I absolutely agree.  It’s the differences that make us interesting.  And it’s the commonality that stops us completely falling apart, isn’t it?

Elliot:

Yeah, yeah, absolutely.  And there is such a thing as being too culturally sensitive and there are similarities between different places and people around the world and brands can leverage those similarities and there are basic human drivers that perhaps my friend in America was correct at some level that people around the world are the same; but the way that it’s expressed can be very different.

Darren:

Yeah, so those commonalities are things like love, security, acceptance, sexual satisfaction, success, there’s a whole lot of things that make us very human, aren’t there?

Elliot:

I am very sceptical when you go, for example, to a certain country in Asia and people explain to you as a Westerner, you have to understand, to understand our culture here, that family is really, really important.  And I have a British friend who always says, “Well yes, in England, we kill our babies”.

So no, it’s more the emphasis on how individualistic or how community-minded a culture might be, the emphasis may be different.

Darren:

And that is interesting from my perspective because it wasn’t that long ago that I saw that in Thailand, Hitler and the Swastika as a popular culture figure that is often associated with many Thai brands. It was brought up by a European TV program, because they were so shocked at how could anyone possibly pick, of all characters of the 20th century, Adolf Hitler as a positive symbol of a brand?

Elliot:

Yeah, I think you make a hugely important point Darren and it will become more and more important for brands as we go on. That digital and the internet isn’t global by default, we’re expressing a certain message in our digital presence in this country.

By default, yes, it will go across borders but it’s by default.  But by nature, actually digital is global by nature which is a huge opportunity for brands but it also means they have to think about whatever they do in whatever place they do it in a global way, to think world first rather than just think one market first.  At the same time, they have to be highly vocal and that’s a big challenge for us.

What is transcreation?

Darren:

And so this is where obviously the idea and the concept of transcreation comes in. When I first heard that term I was a little bit confused, but I understand it’s translation and creation, to be able to customise into that hyper-local sense, isn’t it?

Elliot:

Yeah, well I think, where it came from is perhaps about 15 years ago, 15-20 years ago, when you saw more and more brands starting to develop pan-regional or global campaigns.

For reasons of economies of scale, because it costs less to develop a strong creative idea that might travel in many countries around the world, yet there still is a need to adjust the messaging in a way that would be locally appropriate.

Clearly, translation, which is about accuracy of message, is not enough.  It’s not about how accurate you are in our business, it’s about how much impact you have, how much impact you have on people locally so that your products will be remembered and will be sold.

Also, how much consistency you have with your brand as a whole because brands started to have value in themselves, needed to build up that value and therefore needed a certain level of consistency around the world.

So creation said, “Well actually, you need to adjust the idea or the copy in a way that will be as persuasive as possible in the local market, in the local language but 100% consistent with the message and what the brand is trying to say at  the core”.  That’s a word that’s been used in Europe quite a bit and in the U.K., it’s not really used I think in the United States and we talk more about marketing localisation.

Darren:

And look, you said 15 years ago – the first time I heard it was probably 5 years ago in Asia.

Elliot:

Right.

Darren:

It was one of the big European trans-creation companies that said, “No, we don’t do translation”.  The conversation I had at that time was really interesting because not every language translates into another language perfectly so that it actually gives you the intent of the words that are actually said.

A primary example of that, if it was possible to do that, Google translator would be all we needed.

100% consistent to the message

Elliot:

Yeah.  We only work with senior copywriters in local markets, not with translators.  People who actually know how to write in their local market, not just in the language, but in the culture who understand brands and who know how to write in a persuasive way.  The goal is like you say, to be 100% consistent to the message, the concept, the idea, what has been originated, but not to the words necessarily.

Darren:

Yeah.  Whereas translation is about being true to the words.

Elliot:

That’s right.

Darren:

This is about going beyond that and actually being, as you say, being true to the idea, and yet ideas can be in some cases almost ethereal in nature, so I imagine that from your experience, the more focused an idea is, the more effective it is when it is trans-created into other cultures.

Elliot:

There can be a big challenge with the idea itself as well because some ideas do not travel very well and that’s something very hard to see when you’re swimming within your own culture and within your own language.

An example, years ago we did some work for RBS when they were going global after a merger that they’d done.  Their end line was, “Make it happen” and “make it happen” is just such an intuitive, easy to understand phrase of three words in English.

They had great trouble understanding that this is something that would be very difficult to translate into different cultures and into different languages, not just because of the words, but because of the idea behind it.  And so we had to clarify that idea, what is the idea that actually works in different markets?

Darren:

I’d imagine in China that would mean, the government will make it happen, not the individual.

Elliot:

Yeah, exactly.  So, interesting you say that, we did some work for Starbucks and they were launching in China at the time, and they wanted to understand how they would be perceived in China with their message about sustainability.

The message about sustainability would be relevant to the government saying basically that we are a company that’s friendly to the environment, it would be seen as more, “we’re a company that has ties to the government” because people wouldn’t understand, why would a company be involved in that kind of thing?

Darren:

Yes, because the Chinese government is now the single biggest investor in sustainable energy.

Elliot:

Yes.

Darren:

They have embraced the idea and I was in China only 2 weeks ago.  In Shiyan we didn’t see any sunlight for the whole time we were there because it is so polluted and so you know, the government is heavily involved in converting China’s huge industrial engine into being a sustainable environmentally sustainable operation.

Elliot:

And I think that’s a really important thing to remember, for a brand that’s going to many different markets, it’s not just about cultural differences; we’ve talked about that.  It’s not just about the difference in how a language can be used or what you can express and how it works in terms of persuasiveness, it’s also a difference in market maturity.

The market may be in a different situation.  You may be number one in one market, number three in another market. That may mean your message should be different or that country may be evolving in an economic way that’s very different from another country. So there are the economics of it as well.

Interweave your message and your brand proposition into the culture and market

Darren:

Yeah, so unlike the colonialists of the past, where you’d just march into a new market and beat the drum and convert all the locals to your way of thinking, it’s much more about understanding and working out how to involve yourself, interweave your message and your brand proposition into that culture and market.

Elliot:

Yeah, I think brands that can figure out how to do that and remain consistent are in a good position using social media in particular, maybe we’ll talk about that, it can be a very powerful tool of getting really close to the customer and in the local market, but I would put a caveat to what you just said, it depends on the brand.

For some brands, maybe what you call the colonial way of marketing, might be the right way.  It might be that they’re expert brands, that there’s a single message.  Dyson for instance, doesn’t adjust their vacuum cleaners or hoovers to different markets.

Their marketing director told me, they had people in one of the countries who said, “It’s embarrassing culturally here to see trash in a clear recipient, that’s not right” and he said, “Well, we don’t care. If people don’t want to buy it, they won’t buy it”.  So you have aspirational products that are sort of colonial export and that can work well.

Apple is relatively on that line as well probably and they use maybe what you could call the missionary position of advertising.

Darren:

The missionary position, please explain?  That sounds very interesting.

Elliot:

Well the missionary position is simply what the missionaries do which during the colonial period, they went out to convert people to a certain message and I think that’s a type of global advertising which is converting people to a certain message, using a sort of missionary position.

Darren:

Oh okay, the missionary position of strategy, not of sexual performance.

Elliot:

I wouldn’t know what you were thinking Darren.

Darren:

They have been very successful because again, in China where most of the Apple products are manufactured, you go into the Apple stores, and there are queues of people waiting to buy that product.

Elliot:

Absolutely.

Darren:

They have made recently, they’ve made some small adjustments in that they did admit that the range of gold IPhones was particularly for the Chinese market.

Elliot:

I guess in this case it’s mostly a matter of doing something that is not offensive in a local market or not inappropriate in the local market if you have this very, very consistent type of messaging around the world, you still have to make sure that you’re not doing something that’s silly or that will backfire.

Whereas other brands can gain enormous traction by being much more local.

Social media and culture clash

Darren:

Yeah, absolutely.  Now, you did mention social media and Newsroom, I’m really interested because to me, social media is at the very edge of where we see cultures clashing, mingling and creating new opportunities.

Elliot:

Yeah.

Darren:

So explain a little bit about Newsroom.

Elliot:

I think it was speaking with clients that it occurred to me that social media is an enormous opportunity for international brands and also a huge challenge for them and many of them are still struggling with how to be very local. Social is probably the most local kind of way of communicating with people, and at the same time, it’s now become the most prevalent way of communicating.

In December 2014, around the world, social media became more used than television so at that time, it’s almost two hours of usage per day on average of social media where television is closer to one hour, thirty so that’s a shift.  When I told my daughter who’s 13 that this is amazing, you know, now, social media is bigger than TV, she looked at me, “Dad, obviously it is.  It’s much more interesting.  We communicate with friends, we have personal relationships, we know what’s happening and I’m in control of what’s happening.”

That’s the really interesting thing but also usually the difficult thing for brands, to get involved in those conversations where the audience is much more in control of the conversation.  So is it okay to be intrusive and just try to grab people’s attention on Snapchat, or is that over?

Is it more of a way of giving people attention in a way that’s appropriate and that will help them engage with those brands because I think people love to engage with brands, so long as it’s the right time and the right way.

Darren:

And also that the brand is relevant and respectful to the conversation.  A lot of our clients really struggle with the idea of what’s the role of their social media activity in the marketplace and I always say to them, “The easiest thing possible is to reduce it down to a personal level”.

You know, you and I having a conversation and suddenly if a brand wanders in and starts being either totally irrelevant to what we’re talking about, or tries to almost drown us out and draw attention to themselves, away from our conversation, then we’re going to reject it.

But if they come in, and they listen and then join in at the appropriate time and in an appropriate way, it actually adds value to this conversation.  I mean value as in the experience of it, then you’re going to be feeling much better about participating, about that brand’s participation.

Elliot:

Yeah, and I think also, it can be used in a very different way from traditional advertising and branding which is more about awareness. Making sure that people will remember your brand and remember something interesting and entertaining about it; while social media seems to me that it’s much more about consideration.

What I mean by consideration is when people are making up their minds, “Will I go with this car?  Will I go with that car?” And providing information that’s useful can tip the balance and then can lead more towards sales.

I know a lot of brands have trouble with the question of their return on investment in social media, saying, “Well how can we calculate return on investment?”  My answer often to that is, “If you take a step back, the brands that have invested heavily in digital presence such as Burberry in the luxury space, they have gained enormous competitive advantage over other brands that were much more reluctant to invest in that space”.

It wasn’t based on a return on investment metric or calculation, but just on the faith that the CEO had that this was the way to go. I think if you look at a younger generation, how they’re consuming media, then it just becomes obvious. The spending from what I understand worldwide in social media is about 20% of overall spend. You might know the figures better than me.  But I would expect it should reach 50% in the coming years worldwide because this is how people are engaged.

Social media as word of mouth

Darren:

Well, when I started in advertising, people would always say, “Word of mouth was the best endorsement you could possibly have” and in many ways, all social media has done and all the technology around social media has done, has made people able to share their thoughts, opinions and recommendations with larger and larger circles of people.

Elliot:

Yeah, so tending to the community of fans, of super fans that you have in each different market, seems to me, to be a hugely productive activity. Many brands don’t have as much attention as they could have. These are the people who actually will defend you when something goes wrong, these are the people who will recommend you to their friends.

Anything that you can do to help those communities, both protect them and provide them with entertaining, interesting, useful information, is maybe one of the most productive investments that you can make in marketing.  And those communities are local.

Those communities are primarily local communities in a specific language.  This is very challenging for international brands because they tend to delegate social media to local operations simply because it’s such a local media. Then they don’t have visibility on probably the single strongest tool that they have in their arsenal to engage with people. They don’t have a central visibility.

Darren:

So Newsroom, the unit or the business that you’ve set up, is actually about allowing global clients to have a resource of articulate, strategic minded, multi-cultural, multi-language people, at hand to not just listen but also respond to what’s happening in social media?

Elliot:

Yeah, exactly.  To listen on one hand, to listen actively or pro-actively in different languages to what people are saying about the brand or what local brand operations themselves are putting out, so that you can see what is the most interesting and what are the key things being said by key influencers.

You can adjust your message and become much more effective that way.  I think listening is the most powerful tool of all.

Secondly, it’s localising content in a way that makes it relevant socially in the local market, culturally, linguistically and then thirdly, it’s speaking in the voice of the brand with community managers locally so that you have people who are all trained in the same way for the brand everywhere around the world.

They have a playbook, they have rules of engagement, they know how to speak in the voice of the brand and we provide central governments very closely together with the client. Because that’s probably, and arguably the most important person today in a brand organisation is their community managers on the ground because they’re facing the customer.

Darren:

This gets that consistency for brands which is so important, isn’t it?  I mean, if you’re managing a global brand, and your example before, Dyson approaches a market as missionaries and says, “This is the way it is, like it or lump it”, but you know, you’re able to adapt to the particular needs in a way that doesn’t compromise the very core proposition of the brand. That’s a really powerful offering.

Elliot:

Exactly and probably there are very few brands that get it completely right.  But just getting it relatively right is already I’d say, quite a big step in success.  What I mean by relatively right is if a brand speaks in a voice that is coherent around the world, not necessarily 100% consistent, not necessarily completely rigidly consistent, but coherent so that whatever they say, makes sense and you can say, “Well oh yes, this company makes sense”.

Like Redbull, it’s about the experience that you get with Redbull and no matter where you go, it’s about the experience and it’s coherent everywhere in the world.  Redbull is also a fantastic example of a brand that is fabulous at social.

Darren:

I think most brands, hopefully have moved away from the idea that consistency is just having matching luggage because really, about building brand empathy or brand desirability, it is again mimicking who human beings are, you know, to make it as real as possible on a human level.

The interesting thing about us as human beings is that Elliott is Elliott and every time, whether it’s in a business role or in a personal role, there can be subtle changes in clothing and manner, but you are still at the very core, consistent to who you are.

Elliot:

Yeah, and if a brand can do that, then it gets closer to what it feels like when you have a conversation with a person.  Having a conversation with a brand and you want it to be as close as possible as what it would be like having a conversation with a person.

I absolutely agree when you travel, if you’re a brand or a person, you may dress differently, you may speak a little bit differently to adjust, but you’re the same person and you want that personality to shine through.  So brands that have a strong personality and know who they are will have an advantage in that.

Darren:

And yet, I think it’s in trying to lock down the brand, they actually make it more mechanical because they make these rules that don’t allow it to adapt within the personality of the brand.

It makes the brand have to respond the same way over and over again in a robotic sense and I thought one of the great tests was that they say they will know they have perfected artificial intelligence when you have a conversation with a computer or a robot and you think it’s a human being rather than something going through rogue and I think brands have to be the same thing.

It has to feel like you’re communicating with a person that is the brand, you know, the personification of the brand, rather than a robot or a script of responses that come back to you.

Elliot:

It’s interesting you mention artificial intelligence because that’s being used increasingly in community management and I think it’s a hugely powerful thing.  There are a lot of software tools now that are helping brands manage their social media around the world and there’s a lot of things that can be filtered by artificial intelligence, such as the use of inappropriate language, you can do some very basic sentiment analysis to see if language tends to be more positive or negative.

You can track that over time.  And I suspect that it will get much, much better as time goes on, but I don’t think that it will eliminate the need to have a human being who’s managing the things that are critical in the personal communication that comes at the very end.  I think that will take a long time before we get there.  It’s a mistake to say “let’s just replace the people by technology”. You need smarter and more empathetic people than before.

Darren:

Most of those systems require people to have constant input so that it learns along the way, part of the artificial intelligence paradigm is that it’s a learning system that learns from the people that have input into it.  And I agree with you, human beings respond to human beings in an empathetic way, hopefully, when they’re allowed to and this is how we build relationships.

It’s exactly that that comes to the core of the relationship between brands and their customers, and especially their most fervent customers.

Elliot:

Yeah, and I think, what we’re really trying to help brands with is that human engagement.

It’s the part of branding which is about making a connection.  The advances in digital have created huge opportunities for brands to be much more focused on targeting, using data in smart ways but I think it also means that some brands have got caught up in pure performance.

Digital is mostly about performance and what you lose sometimes then is the emotional engagement with the brand.  So, I would advocate using talented people in local markets to be engaged with customers and that in the end, that’s not something you’d want to eliminate.

Darren:

Yeah, absolutely.  Look, this has been a fascinating conversation, I really enjoyed it.  But I think we’re going to have to call it quits there.  Thank you very much Elliott, it’s been terrific.

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Darren is considered a thought leader on all aspects of marketing management. A Problem Solver, Negotiator, Founder & Global CEO of TrinityP3 - Marketing Management Consultants, founding member of the Marketing FIRST Forum and Author. He is also a Past-Chair of the Australian Marketing Institute, Ex-Medical Scientist and Ex-Creative Director. And in his spare time he sleeps. Darren's Bio Here Email: darren@trinityp3.com

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