This is the final paper presented by Kirsten M. Meinertz , a recent graduate of the Global Digital Marketing and Localization Certification (GDMLC) program. This paper presents the work being produced by students of The Localization Institute’s Global Digital Marketing and Localization Certificate program. The contents of this Paper are presented to create discussion in the global marketing industry on this topic; the contents of this paper are not to be considered an adopted standard of any kind. This does not represent the official position of Brand2Global Conference, The Localization Institute, or the author’s organization.
In today’s digital business arena, the fierce competition to preserve home market shares and to win on international terrain pushes brands and organizations to “speak the language” of their customers. However, complexity grows as many companies are “born global” (Singh, 2005, 153) and the need for omnichannel multilingual content is tacitly required. Developing a holistic content localization strategy for source and target languages is key, and calls for culturally and linguistically relevant content. Yet a closer look behind the mere “components of content” reveals an infinity of correlated words and specific terms that constitute the genetic makeup of a brand.
This core “terminology” constitutes the brand essence, i.e. the “heart and soul” that drives all company communications. It serves the timeless objective of transmitting brand concepts and values, conveying information, emotionally engaging consumers, and thus over time converting their interest and love into sales and profit. As such, terminology is a critical success factor, and a vast suite of tools and technology are available to help companies co-create consistent content and efficiently manage their brand terminology.
Drawing on professional experience, recent research studies, as well as theories related to language and its fundamental role within the localization process, the following study explores: “How does terminology impact a brand’s global ambitions”?
After defining “term” and “terminology”, this paper will focus on the importance of efficient terminology management and on the transversal impact it can have on global content processes, if and when neglected. The review will then address the correlated syndrome called “Language as Afterthought” that plagues many global brands today, and conclude with best practice recommendations.
Coining the Term
Unlike a “word” which can be universally understood as an element of language with a general meaning, Schneider (2015, 1) defines “term” as a language unit that is “organized and controlled, with a clear set of guidelines dictating their use”. While all terms are words, not all words are terms: terms take on a distinct meaning, in a precise context, and convey a unique, unambiguous “concept”.
Taking into account the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (Kay & Kempton, 1984), the linguistic relativity of languages states that the structural differences between them are aligned with users’ cognitive differences. In other terms, ones’ native language affects the way one thinks. The implication of this polemical hypothesis on terminology and brand messaging is that in order to align a brand culturally and linguistically with a target audience, the conveyed “concept(s)” must be in natural alignment with the way consumers think in order to be understood, and thus in each linguistic realm, i.e. locale. As Bruno Herrmann (2016, p. 27) highlights: “Digital globalization is about hearing the voice of customers, speaking their language, and exceeding their standard aspirations around the world so that they experience content in the most natural, intuitive, and actionable way”.
In regards to “terminology”, the Council for German-Language Terminology defines it as an information carrier, making knowledge explicit and therefore available to store (RaDT, 2010, 3). The function of controlling terminology and fostering brand knowledge across all communication channels is key to optimizing a brand’s business and sales environment. Beyond global customer usability, satisfaction, and brand trustworthiness, Schneider (2015) states that effectively controlled terminology usage helps create consistency of brand voice and tone, clarity of information, increased linguistic quality, and therefore higher translation efficiency as well.
All of these language-related facets result in a measurably significant, longer-term advantage over the competition. To that effect, The Gilbane Group stresses the importance of creating a global content value chain (GCVC), defined as “a strategy for moving multilingual content from creation through consumption according to the needs of the target audience” (Gilbane, 2008, 14).
Intelligently managed terminology is the secret to achieving and maintaining brand consistency, as well as to creating a consistent, harmonious, and engaging customer experience in each and every target market. While often perceived as a cryptic, microscopic “detail” in the C-suite, terminology undeviatingly impacts the content value chain from A to Z, far beyond what meets the eye: from source authoring quality and pre- translation consistency, to content and digital asset management, via strategic keyword defining for search engine optimization (SEO), across the full translation process, tools, teams, and workflow, including multilingual post-editing, regional reviewing and beyond, as Andrew Lawless nicely summarizes in the following diagram. “Terminology drives everything, from authoring, content management, translation and in-country review.”
A. Lawless (2014)
A highly comprehensive global survey on terminology management (SDL, 2010) found that 72% of respondents taking part in the widespread research believed that inconsistent terminology in business and marketing communications has a negative impact on the brand, while 75% stated that it strongly compromises internal communication. The findings also revealed that while only 15% of clients actually drive terminology management during translation and localization, 92% of respondents simultaneously identified managing terminology as a ‘very important’ part of the translation process (SDL, 2010, 7).
Despite clear indicators, companies frequently underestimate the pernicious impact of terminology on every nook and cranny within the translation process. Lombard’s (2006) case study on localizing software terminology elucidates the math: Based on the sample messages below (10-25 words each) that are comparable in length to many digital marketing messages, e.g. calls-to-action, widgets, image captions, metadata, etc., the numbers indicate cumulative benefits from managing terminology from the start. There are no two ways about it: streamlining source authoring, while strictly controlling terminology and error proliferation, result in noticeably better translation efficiency and a directly higher ROI per language.
As a result, when aggregated and scaled to a company’s allocated —human and machine— translation budgets, the numbers confirm that companies waste consequent resources on catching and redundantly fixing incorrect terminology. In turn, and exponentially over time, the false and inaccurate terms contaminate the “sacred” terminology repositories, i.e. termbases, the translation memories (TM) and the multilingual language pair segments contained within them, as well as all correlated source- and target language glossaries, thus impacting a plethora of global content along the way.
Yet in order to effectively enhance brand language consistency, as well as reduce translation time and costs by reusing translated copy that is linked to translation memories (TM), the compilation of TM-entailed terms, words, and segments must be pristine, valid, and approved. If not the case, a costly and vicious cycle begins: with every translation the TM grows, and the bigger the TM becomes, the more previous translations containing the one or multiple errors get recycled, and so on, and so forth. If left unattended, the operational process of recycling and leveraging translations chronically induces the error(s) into and across all languages, contaminating the entire global marketing collateral.
Terminological contamination: A single inconsistency easily becomes 18 costly mistakes. © SDL (2009)
Language as an “Afterthought”
Despite the central role of terminology and the need for consistent, brand-worthy content, language is often treated as a secondary consideration within content globalization strategies. The Gilbane Group (2009) introduces the “Language Afterthought Syndrome”, which can be observed within many organizations, causing inefficiencies across the global content value chain (GCVC).
The Gilbane Group (2009, 4) research reveals that companies are only slowly starting to “position language requirements as integral to end-to-end solutions rather than as ancillary post-processes.” In point of fact, the perception that high quality, multilingual, brand voice content “just appears” as if by magic, from a function nested somewhere within the organization, is commonplace (Gilbane, 2009).
The path to successful globalization is carved out in terminology. As such, transcending the “Language Afterthought Syndrome” is of capital importance, as it directly impacts multiple content processes, in particular content creation, localization and translation. The resulting symptoms shed uncomfortable light on the consequences of neglecting brand language and terminology, as risks include: brand image damage, market delays, error redundancies that spawn a litany of inefficiencies, reusable content that is outdated, and last but not least, nebulous translation and localization costs.
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While organizations of all sizes additionally grapple with the so-called “multilingual multiplier”, defined as the “phenomenon of financial impact due solely to the cost of delivering content in another language” (Gilbane,2009, 11), the Gilbane Group warns that if not overcome, the “Language Afterthought Syndrome” can devolve into true dysfunction within the organization.
Conclusion & Implications for Further Research
Despite decades of organizational experience, language is still seldom considered as essential to the flow of content creation of any kind, may it be corporate, operational, marketing, product or web. Terminology reveals itself as a pitfall; Muegge & Overline (2010) state that one of the greatest challenges for companies today is to successfully maintain terminology consistency across all departments, documents, communication types and channels, despite the risk of company liability issues that can occur due to sheer lack of clarity.
Subject-matter experts across academia and industry are unanimous on the importance of managing terminology. Undeniably, the sum of all “points of impact of erroneous terms” can have profound repercussions on the brand and the business: lesser language quality, costly and tedious translation corrections, compromised sacrosanct time-to-market, leaking resources and ROI, all of which translate over time into noticeably lower communication effectiveness, weaker brand loyalty, lost global opportunities, and long-term revenue decline.
Based on the reviewed literature and on best practice standards, solutions for efficient terminology management to be considered as a starting point for further research include:
• Disciplined source language authoring (e.g. DITA style guidelines); content authoring software usage.
• Interoperable and interconnected Content Management Systems (CMS) and Translation Management Systems (GMS/TMS): to best plan when defining initial global ambitions, in order to avoid engineering dilemmas and technological quandaries down the line that heavily impact translation tools and output.
• Strictly controlled terminology databases for effective, multilingual translation leveraging and Machine Translation (MT) technology usage — whether terminology and translations are managed internally, or externally run and maintained by a company’s Language Service Provider (LSP) or specialized partner.
• Defined ISO standards that set basic principles for the preparation of terminology, e.g. ISO 704:2009 on Terminology Principles and Methods (ISO), as well as ISO Translation Standards, specifically in regards to efficient terminology management in translation projects (e.g. ASTM F-2575-2014, ISO 11669-2012, and ISO 17100-2015), as reviewed with great expertise by Uwe Muegge (2016).
Terminology management and the language technology deployed therein play integral roles in the above recommendations, and place the onus on business decision-makers to implement the appropriate protocols that support terminology and brand language within and throughout the global content value chain (GCVC).
Beyond wow effects and enticing imagery, the consumer’s path to a brand’s product or service starts with language. It remains undeniable that if companies seek to grow and expand internationally, their content must be conceptually consistent, linguistically correct, and culturally relevant, while remaining universally accessible, readable, and comprehensible. As a result, speaking with “one voice” across global markets remains an ever-evolving challenge — even for the greatest brands.
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Kirsten “Kay” Meinertz
A creative and passionate linguist at heart, with a genuine love of languages and syntax, Kirsten has a solid track record of 20+ years in the global field of multilingual communications.
Presently the Translation and Localization Manager Europe at Ralph Lauren Digital, Kirsten is acknowledged as the guardian of the European brand voice(s) and specialized in brand transcreation and cultural customization (English-French-German-Italian). Kirsten is responsible for end-to-end content localization processes and oversees the corporation’s multilingual terminology, European websites and omnichannel communications to ensure translation integrity, accuracy, and relevancy.
A graduate of the LMU University of Munich, Germany, Kirsten holds a Master’s Degree in Communication Science, Organizational Psychology, and Psycholinguistics.
LinkedIn: Kirsten Meinertz