Translation and Language Industry Observations

This post provides valuable insight into the mindset of Latin American customers to help you optimize your website localization efforts.

Social scientists have studied cross-cultural communication for decades, and some of their findings can shed light on what should and should not be done when trying to appeal to foreign markets.

This article explores some crucial peculiarities of Latin American cultures. Most of them seem to evolve from the region’s Hispanic heritage, so they might not apply to Caribbean countries with a strong influence from West Indian cultures. The below must be taken not as indisputable norms but rather as reflecting widespread cultural practices. In other words, this should work simply as a general guide to adapt marketing strategies to Latin American cultures and craft messages that stay persuasive across cultural divides.

The Importance of Family and Community Values

While many European countries, as well as the United States, tend to value independence and individuality, Latin Americans tend to see themselves as a fundamental component of a wider social group. Daily life centers on the family and the community, not on the individual. Moreover, the concept of “family” extends well beyond the close-knit group of parents and siblings to encompass distant relatives.

This cultural trait is so strong in Latin American communities that almost every activity, including shopping, revolves around one aspect or another of family or community life. If a person lives alone but has a big family and needs a new saucepan, they will more likely buy the biggest size available “in case my family comes over and I need to cook for everyone.” The emphasis on family values has also shown a consistent impact on consumers’ responses to advertising. As expressed in this article by Harvard Business Review:

An advertisement for a detergent product was [found to be] consistently more appealing to audiences from individualistic societies when presented as ‘cleans with a softness that you will love.’ However, audiences from more collective-focused societies responded more positively to the message ‘cleans with a softness your family will love.’

The implications of Latin America’s collectivist nature on cross-language communications is that, for optimum results, localization for a Latin American audience will require adapting the source text’s content, grammar, and syntax to make the copy more culturally appropriate. This might involve getting rid of individual references (“you”) in favor of collective ones (“your family”). Similarly, the translated copy might need to highlight the collective value that the brand’s product or service provides. Whatever the adjustment, the linguist should work side by side with the marketing team to come up with strategies that will help overcome this cultural barrier.

Trust, Respect, and Brand Reputation

Latin American societies tend to regard elderly people as wise and experienced.

Another Latin American trait—and which is probably an offshoot of the region’s high regard for family values—is a reverence for the elderly. Latin American societies tend to regard elderly people as wise and experienced. Age commands respect. This inevitably impacts any marketing strategy, as age is for companies, too. Therefore, the more established the company is, the higher its reputation will be and the more likely it is to succeed in Latin American markets. In Lawrence Tuller’s words:

Age also refers to companies. Relatively new companies that do not have longevity in their home markets will have a harder time marketing anywhere in Latin America than will companies that have been around a long time. No one wants to do business with the new kid on the block.

So how does a young brand go about penetrating Latin American markets? Well, it is all about building trust in consumers. In most cases, Latin Americans do business only with those they respect, like, and trust. Because of endemic corruption and high levels of economic and political instability, Latin Americans show high degrees of distrust and uncertainty avoidance. Therefore, if a firm cannot rely on its longevity to convey trustworthiness, brand messages will need to be localized in such a way that they reassure consumers. Through a well-orchestrated localization strategy, consumers need to feel that the brand is committed to serving their needs in the long term.

Some strategies to achieve this goal through localization include the following:

* Make sure that the tone of voice addresses readers with deference. Being too informal or overly friendly when the brand lacks market longevity might prove counterproductive.
* If you are targeting older people, avoid excessive repetition and lengthy explanations as they may sound patronizing or condescending. Allow space for subtle cues as a sign that you trust their wisdom, intelligence, and ability to read between the lines.
* Use testimonials, case studies, and reviews where older people describe their positive experiences with the company. Your target audience is more likely to trust you if they see older people are happy with what you offer.
* Portray the brand’s ideal consumer as someone older and wise; someone with whom consumers will want to identify.

National Pride

Latin Americans prefer local products. Foreign products must emphasize higher quality as the main value for the consumer.

Another trait of Latin American consumers impacting purchasing behavior is their sense of national pride. If we consider that feelings of patriotism are usually stronger after political turbulence, this comes as no surprise. Although most consumers have a generally positive attitude towards foreign products, nationalism makes individuals more likely to perceive the quality of domestic products as higher than that of foreign products (Han, 1989). This is especially true when consumers have little knowledge about a product’s attributes: they are then likely to use indirect evidence, such as country of origin, to make inferences about quality.

So, if local brands play with an advantage, how can foreign brands increase consumer receptivity of their products or services? The answer is simple: emphasizing higher quality as the main value for the consumer. Every message the brand sends to its target audience must put the focus on the products or services being of higher quality or more customized than those manufactured by local firms. Presenting the product as newsworthy and innovative has also been proven to work very well to generate more receptivity.

Localization efforts are essential in executing the appropriate marketing strategies to counterbalance the Latin American preference for local products. Communicating the product’s or service’s value must become the main goal of every brand message, which must be done in the local language to increase chances of conversion and which might involve the implementation of significant content changes with respect to the original messages written in the source language. As usual, a trained localizer specialized in marketing will be the ideal person to provide cultural consultancy in this regard.

Final Thoughts

Any business looking to penetrate Latin American markets will start by investing in Spanish translation services, which makes total sense. However, when it comes to marketing products or services abroad, simply transferring content word-by-word from one language to another is not enough. To succeed in this century’s global economy, where communications reach people from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds, understanding how culture influences consumer behavior is crucial. In other words, cultural illiteracy in international marketing could trigger strong negative reactions among local consumers.

For that reason, investing in localization—or culturally sensitive translation—and in cultural consultancy is essential to win any consumer’s heart and achieve the highest chances of success in a foreign market.

About the Author

Based in the UK, María Scheibengraf is a member of the Chartered Institute of Linguists (UK), of the ICO (UK) and of the ATA. She helps businesses sell their products and services to Spanish-speaking audiences through expert marketing and IT translations, and transcreation.


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