You know that your brand voice is one of the most important assets in your toolkit. And if you're about to start localizing some content for a new country or region, this asset becomes even more crucial.
What's a tone of voice?
A tone of voice is the distinct personality expressed through the written words of your brand. In other words, it's how our brand should sound when it talks to people in writing.
Each person has a unique way of speaking - some are more formal, while others are more light-hearted and casual. Some always get to the point, while others like to tell long stories with lots of details. In the same way, our brand should have its own unique and distinct voice.
To design the right tone of voice, you need to consider things like target audience, values, and goals. You want to make sure that your tone is appropriate for the people you're trying to reach, and that it supports the brand identity you're trying to show the world. You also want to ensure that your tone is consistent with your brand's vision and core values.
If you can create a tone of voice that resonates with your target audience, it'll help you connect with them on a deeper level. They'll also be more likely to trust what you have to say. That makes it a powerful business tool - and a risky one, too.
When we use the wrong tone of voice, we can damage our brand values and lose that connection with our audience. For example, if our brand is trying to come across as fun and light-hearted, but our translations are stiff and formal, we may lose our audience's interest. In the best-case scenario, they won't connect with our content in the same way. But it could be worse - if our voice is inconsistent, customers may feel like the brand is less reliable or trustworthy. We could actually push them away (into the arms of our competitors, of course).
Maintaining your brand voice during localization
When it comes to localization, many brands struggle to maintain their voice. That's because it can be difficult to ensure that the same tone of voice is used in different languages and cultures. In order to create a successful tone of voice, you need to understand your target audience's culture and values. But when you're dealing with multiple languages and cultures, that can be a difficult task.
This is further complicated by the fact that many linguists doing UX localization aren't familiar with the core concepts of UX writing. They often don't know what a tone of voice is, or how to implement it. They may be more used to translating words and phrases, rather than considering the overall tone of the text. The background materials and information linguists get from companies are usually cumbersome and don't provide practical, actionable instructions about the brand's voice.
For this reason, even companies with a very distinct brand voice get stiff, formal copy post localization. The stiff or formal option is the safest bet for linguists - and when no better instructions are given, people default to that for lack of better options.
But since brand voice is such a valuable tool, It's a shame to 'lose' that edge in translation. And there are things brands like you can do - even today - to improve voice consistency during localization and ensure they get better, more fluent target copy.
First, define your ideal result
In order to maintain a consistent tone of voice across different languages and cultures during localization, it's important to start by understanding what you expect to get. This includes understanding your target audience's culture and values, and making sure it's in line with your brand's current voice guidelines.
You may find you need to adapt your brand voice for a specific locale or culture. That's absolutely fine - there's no reason to assume a brand voice will work in all places or with all people. Your core values may remain unchanged, but your voice can vary to match each specific culture. As long as the new brand voice serves your vision and goals, and as long as you keep it consistent - it can still be the best solution for your brand.
If you learn that some of your voice guidelines aren't the best ones for your new audience, work with a local voice or writing expert to find the ideal alternative. Depending on available time and level of commitment, you can do this by having a meeting with said expert, running foucs groups, asking the target audience itself (through a survey) and any other method you think will work for you. Once you're done, you'll have a local version of the original voice - and a clear understanding of the type of voice you're expecting your linguists to reproduce.
Then, provide linguists with clear and actionable instructions
You'll need to tell your localization partner exactly what you want. When you provide clear instructions, linguists can feel confident to implement them without adding their own spin on things. Start by quickly explaining the main concept of a brand voice - remember your linguists may not know what that is or how to implement it. Then, provide practical instructions based on your specific brand and product.
Your instructions should be written in a short, concise way - giving linguists the information they need to know to create copy in their target language. Make sure you provide some examples for anything you include, as those are extremely helpful in demonstrating what you expect to receive.
Make sure the instructions you provide are written in clear, correct wording. If you're providing them in English but that's not your native language, have someone proof or review your guidelines before you send them. Small typos or grammar errors can lead to a lot of confusion, especially if your linguists aren't native speakers themselves. You want to minimize your chance of error here - explaining the brand voice is a complicated thing, and you want linguists to get it right.
Ensure your instructions are relevant to the content you're sending out. If you're asking your linguists to localize your app UI, for example, your tone of voice guide should specifically apply to those strings. If you're providing marketing materials for a new product launch, make sure your tone of voice guide includes specific guidance on how to write those materials.
Finally, make sure the documents and information you're sending are presented in a readable, accessible way. Don't send your linguists a 200-page document to read - they don't get paid for that time, and they'll most likely skip most of the info. Stick to the essentials, and provide supplemental information if needed. Have your document laid out or designed, so that linguists can easily scan it and understand what they're reading. And if you're facing a large localization project, consider having a (paid) training meeting with your linguists, to go over the materials and answer any questions they may have.
Finish by making sure they did it well
It's important to finish your localization process with an internal QA step to make sure everything is done correctly. There's an obvious reason: When you're localizing content, it's easy to miss small mistakes - typos, incorrect grammar, and even mistranslations. By having a QA step, you can catch these mistakes before they go out to your customers. But when planned well, QA can also help you verify that your brand voice was implemented correctly into the translation.
To do this, you need to ensure your QA process includes both manual and automated checks. The manual checks will be done by someone who is familiar with the source and target languages, and who is familiar with your brand voice and style guide. On top of incorrect grammar or typos, they'll be looking at things like word choice, tone, and brand-specific language.
To make this step as valuable for you as possible, make sure you create a standardized framework for your reviewer. You can have them rate the linguist's adherence with the voice and other crucial brand components on a scale, to create a measurable, comparable result. This way, you'll also be able to see how your localization quality varies over time or different locales, and implement the right fixes and improvements where needed.
Learn and improve every time
With every localization project, you get a little bit more experience. So if you get stuck on any of the steps in this round of your localization process, come back to it later and see if you can figure out a better way of doing things. Keep track of what works and what doesn't, and share this information within your team. This way, you can focus on the things that are successful and continue doing them, while improving or dropping the methods that didn't work as well.
For more reading, check out 4 brands that impress with their localization strategy.
Practical tips for maintaining your brand voice during localization
If you're about to start localizing some content for a new country or region, your brand voice becomes even more crucial.
Michal Kessel Shitrit