Translation trailblazing:How to translate product names and brand materials

With the rise of technology and innovation, new industries are emerging at an exponential rate. Translation in any emerging industry brings its own set of challenges, most notably, choosing how to translate your product names and other brand materials. Without having a concrete translation strategy, you are at risk of compromising your role in the industry. By being one of the first to translate your brand message in a new industry, you will establish yourself as a leader and set an example for other companies.

Deciding how you want to translate brand materials and industry lingo is a marketing decision - not a linguistics decision. As such, it is important your company is crystal clear about which approach you will be taking before you begin the translation process. Translators will play an important role in your approach, but you should be responsible for making the key decisions.

There are three main approaches you can take when translating your industry terminology, brand materials, and products.

Keep it as it is

Keeping your brand materials in your source language is the simplest option, as it requires the least amount of translation resources. However, you should have a clear strategy if you choose this route.

Using your source language across target markets will cultivate an image of who you are as a company. If your industry’s foundation is based on Western values, you can demonstrate this effectively by using English words. This applies to every language - if your source language has a desirable international image, it is worth using it to your advantage.

However, it is crucial to consider whether your source words have unwanted similarities to words in your target languages. When Coca-Cola was a relatively new industry leader, they expanded to China. Their company name was kept phonetically identical and meant: “bite the wax tadpole” in Chinese. This approach would since be considered outdated, but was a hurdle for Coca-Cola in a new industry.

Transliteration

Transliteration involves finding a word in your target language that sounds and looks similar to the English word.

Having a phonetically similar brand materials has the benefit of uniformity, and if you are able to get the meaning of the translation to align with your industry values, this can be a strong strategy. After their tadpole debacle, Coca-Cola utilized this method, arriving on ‘Kekou-Kele’, which means ‘tasty fun’.

Transliteration requires creativity, a solid brand identity, and talented translators, but is worth the investment for industries looking to localize.

Meaning-based translation

Meaning-based translation prioritizes meaning over phonetics. This is a great way to appeal to foreign market values without the struggle of matching sounds.

However, because you may have drastically different sounding names in each of your target countries, it results in less uniformity. This can be countered by keeping visual branding as uniform as possible.

No matter which branding strategy you choose, use a professional translator for your translations. This is particularly important in new industries, because the quality of your translations can make or break your international presence. Also, professional translators will be better able to determine whether the phonetics and meaning of your translation support your identity as a brand and your presence in the industry.

Conclusion

Translating core brand materials in a new industry can be challenging, because there is no guideposts telling you how to do things, and lots of pressure when entering new markets. It is worth getting right the first time, and a solid strategy and translation support will help you get there.