Localising your Brand Story to Roll with the Pandemic

During this pandemic, telling your brand story for customers in their local language and style has become more important than ever. This is where a translation company comes in. Startups are urged to develop a compelling story that explains their mission and value proposition. That story is a core product expressing a young company’s brand. But all these assumptions and best practices – and all these startup stories — have been thrown into doubt by the global response to contain COVID-19. The lockdown which started in March 2020 is estimated to cost the economy a staggering Rs 8.76 lakh crore ($116 billion). And that assumes the lockdown won’t last more than a month.

Each company needs to reckon the impact of the health crisis on its brand. For many companies with international markets, the challenge is complicated by the need to reposition not just in one language but many. I’m an entrepreneur whose global language services brand, as a result of the coronavirus catastrophe, is now laser-focused on urgent teleworking solutions and crisis communications. My aim here is to show how young Indian firms can begin tackling this multi-step, multilingual response under these exceptional conditions. The goal is to guide startups toward a strategy for not just surviving, but also adapting and seizing opportunities in the recovery which, we hope, will follow this scourge.

Triage: Three Scenarios to Guide Your Localised Brand Story

The first question each company leader must ask relates to the likely impact of the crisis on the company. While the crisis and its effects have been devastating across the planet, not all suffer equally.

  • Fortunate. For a lucky few, they may have opportunities within the crisis – for example, companies manufacturing personal protection equipment, developing anti-viral vaccines, or developing solutions for teleworking.
  • Unfortunate. On the other side, there will be many companies for which the crisis is an unmitigated disaster. Think of cruise ships, airlines, hotels and restaurants, For many, the pandemic may appear to be a death blow.
  • Everyone Else. Most companies will find themselves somewhere in the middle, damaged but not destroyed. They, along with the population as a whole will take a hit, do their best to get by, awaiting recovery.

Responding to Crisis in a way that does not Alienate Allies

The watchword for every response to one’s brand story is written in flashing red lights: BE CAREFUL. Regardless of your objective position during the pandemic, even the slightest miscalculation can send your business spiraling out control, unable to recover.

For every company, after the strategy has been thought through, the response must begin with candid communication from the top.

The CEO must speak, in person or via videoconference, with key stakeholders, and deliver an authentic message tailored to each audience. Each talk should allow for questions and answers, and be followed up by written statements, affirming clear what has just been said, communicated by email. Then there needs to be personal meetings with each key manager, again followed by a statement sent via email.

What will be said, of course, depends on the triage category of the company. Let’s use our three scenarios to provide some general guidance.

  • The Fortunate CEO must take care not to gloat, and to express heartfelt empathy for those less fortunate. Stress corporate responsibility to the community and subtly tie this contribution to the company’s value proposition. That is: “How can what we do help others.”
  • The Unfortunate CEO should not sugarcoat the dimensions of the blow, but not despair. If cutbacks or layoffs are necessary, those decisions should be admitted, but with incentives and hope for recovery. The message should be: “We’re down but not out. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. We’ll bounce back stronger than ever.”
  • For those in the middle, the CEO should draw on elements from both extremes. Here there should be an attempt to find the silver lining in the dark cloud and see the cup half-full, not half-empty. The brand message should go along the lines of: “We’ve faced worse. The basic business is sound. We’ll get by with your support. We’re in this together.”

Translating Subtle and Delicate Messages into Multiple Languages

Each of these brand messages, to each set of stakeholders, must be carefully crafted to strike just the right chord. To craft the messaging, the CEO should consult with only the closest colleagues and perhaps a gifted and trusted copywriter or speechwriter, the best money can buy. If there is a close relationship with a branding, PR, crisis communications or strategic marketing consultant, this is whereas the Americans say – the pedal hits the metal and professionals prove their worth – or fail.

This is fine for the CEO’s native language, but what about foreign language stakeholders. That’s where things can go awry. And these are days in which no one can afford to alienate foreign markets.

Let’s start with what not to do. Once you have you are messaging to different audiences in black and white, don’t even think about resorting to Google Translate. There has been tremendous improvement in machine translation in recent years, driven by neural network technology. Google Translate or Microsoft Translator might be ok for conveying the gist of a text in translation, but for sensitive messages, these AI-driven bots are lacking in the subtlety and empathy required for this kind of brand expression.

Selecting the Right Translation Company for Multilingual Crisis Communications

Unless you have a senior go-to freelance translator on call for the additional languages you need to support, resist turning to linguists you don’t know and trust. Rather, the logical address for this sensitive task is to approach one of the top professional translation services or, as they are called alternatively, a localisation company that specialises in brand translation, marketing translation, and document translation.

The best agencies of this kind rely on human translation, not what is euphemistically labeled computer-aided translation. Many offer content writing as well as remote interpretation services as well. In short, they provide a one-stop solution, ideally (check this!) for all the languages you need to support.

If you don’t have such a multilingual partner, how do you find one? Google “translation” “localisation” (or “localization”) your industry and key languages you need to support. Make a shortlist of candidate agencies, send a sample document, and see if there’s a fit in terms of budget, timetable, and chemistry. The proposal process should be totally free and without obligation. Always do a small pilot project to test the waters first.

The good news: professional translation and localisation companies are set up for teleworking, relatively unaffected by the crisis, thus ready to work on short notice.

May your health be strong, your recovery speedy, and your resilience unwavering.