5 commonly missed opportunities when marketing to multicultural customers

Mark Saba

  • Founder and CEO, Lexigo
Mark Saba is the founder and CEO of Lexigo, Australia's leading translation and multicultural communication agency. Founded in 2011, Lexigo's translation and multicultural communication services help businesses, brands, and governments reach 138 local and international communities in 171 languages.

With the pandemic gradually shifting towards endemic, migrants will again become a key talking point in Australia. The latest census data shows Australia has become a majority migrant nation for the first time. According to the new national data, more than 50 per cent of residents were born overseas or have a migrant parent.  

While the UK has traditionally accounted for a large portion of these migrants, the statistics are turning. About 5.5 million Australians speak a language other than English at home, up by 800,000 since 2016. Mandarin remains the most common language other than English in Australian homes, spoken by 685,274 people in 2021. Arabic was the second most common, while Punjabi has increased by more than 80 per cent since 2016.  

India and China are now second and third-ranked in terms of the countries Australian migrants are born in. Also in the top 10 are Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Italy and South Africa.  

Marketing your brand to a multicultural audience, particularly in the B2C space, has never been more important. It’s also never been more hazardous. While many brands are starting to put more effort into marketing to culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) audiences, communicating with these audiences is about far more than ticking the ‘translation’ box. Tackling audiences beyond the English language requires just as much effort as your communication written in English.  

Even if the intentions of business owners are good, the execution can often be lacking. There is a lot more to think about when it comes to appealing to a wider market than simply rough translations of your marketing copy using Google Translate.  

So, if you’re keen to put multicultural communication on the top of your business’s agenda, here are the top five opportunities a business can seize when trying to appeal to multicultural audiences.  

1. Take time to understand your CALD audience  

The more information you have on a particular CALD group, the better placed you are to communicate with them effectively. The key to understanding any CALD individual is to learn about their history, values, beliefs, customs and traditions. Many CALD individuals are multilingual with a first language other than English and a secondary level of English proficiency.  

Brands should take special care to ensure they are sensitive to cultural and religious differences. Some factors to consider are the country of origin, religious affiliation, and if they are from a minority ethnic background. A willingness to self-educate and tailor to each CALD group will help remove language barriers and create a stronger connection between them and your brand.  

2. Engage with local community groups  

For most CALD communities, developing relationships through face-to-face interaction is an integral part of creating trust between people. Working directly with these communities is crucial to building relationships and creating long-lasting connections.  

For example, brands can work on the ground with local cultural community groups and multicultural communities that have connections with their target populations, or by working with some prominent community leaders to communicate your brand’s message or story.  

3. AI-powered translation has its place  

Artificial intelligence (AI)-powered translation has come a long way. In some cases, it’s scarily accurate. But that doesn’t mean it can ever fully replace human translation.  

Translation, by definition, is the process of changing written text created in one language into another language. Human translation involves interpretation, contextual thinking, research and creative input amongst many other skills.  

In some cases, machines and translation apps can be accurate in translating from one language to another. However, when an idea, brand or critical health information – as one of many examples – is required, issues in translation start to become evident. Although Neural Machine Translation has changed how effective machine translation is, they cannot process the final intricacies of the human language. They translate the words into the target language or give a gist of a foreign language. Unlike humans, it cannot get the concept or the context of the message.  

Human translators take great pains to ensure documents are translated into their context. A human translator understands feelings and respects culture, taboos and traditions. This, in turn, results in authentic communication. 

4. Writing and proofing translation  

How can you communicate with a new audience if your existing marketing copy isn’t up to scratch? Before working on translations, ensure your source material is correctly spelt, fully grammatical and polished to a high sheen.  

Provide a glossary if you can for any especially technical terms which recur in your translations. This will save the translator from having to pore through obscure sources for unusual words and phrases.  

5. Always check in with your team  

Before embarking on your CALD marketing journey, don’t forget to check your organisation for staff who are fluent in a second language and willing to support a new CALD customer base.  

It’s not just important to get language and communication right for your customers, but for your staff, too. Ensuring your entire organisation is familiar with your chosen CALD direction will help support the new consumer base and create a positive, culturally tuned brand, both inside and out.

Tags: multiculturalism

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