You’ve probably come across a funny story or two about a major ad campaign that failed overseas due to a bad translation or cultural misunderstanding. While these are good for a laugh, you never want it to happen to your company, especially if you’re in the healthcare field, where it’s crucial to inspire trust, confidence, and a sense of understanding with consumers.
Let’s elevate those marketing “fails” to teachable moments. What went wrong?
Some of the most common reasons overseas marketing fails include:
Not understanding your target market’s outlook and needs. Even if your medical product or service seems like something everyone needs and wants, you may be mistaken. Factors like culture, living conditions, and access to certain resources means you may have to take a different approach in order for your product to flourish in a different market.
It’s also important to advertise for the customer, not to highlight what your organization thinks is important. As this article explains, a hospital might print an ad proudly announcing the purchase of a new medical robot, when the average consumer would probably be more interested in the fact that the hospital allows patients to make same-day appointments.
Not reading carefully. Realizing that you need to do some market research is a great first step. But as you get into it, be sure you’re paying attention. Take, for example, this study on medical advertising in China that has intrigued us at aiaTranslations for a while. Some interesting conclusions can be drawn from it – but if we had only skimmed it, we might have thought that these applied to the entire Chinese population. Instead, the paper specifies that its studies were conducted on just 183 native Chinese speakers in Shanghai, who represented the young consumer market and were familiar with at least basic English. If you were marketing a product destined primarily to monolingual Chinese-speakers, or to an older demographic, you might get different results.
Be wary of rehashed research, as well. There are lots of statistics and infographics out there whose main goal is to serve up visually appealing, easily digested information. If this information is essential to your healthcare marketing strategy, always, always, always click on the links or check the works cited to be sure you’ve got the full story behind what those bite-sized stats seem to show.
Not understanding how a target demographic gets information. Countless studies have found that different cultures – even different cultural groups within the same country – have different ways of getting information and being exposed to advertising. For example, I recently wrote about how social networks are an essential way for Chinse consumers to get honest reviews about healthcare products. On the other hand, the Latino market in the US, for example, almost overwhelmingly prefers online video content.
Today, most advertising will be online, on TV, or in print media. But what if your target market is one that doesn’t have easy access to technology and has a low literacy rate? An example from the recent Can Graphic Design Save Your Life? exhibit in London shows us a brilliant strategy for this. Local artist Stephen Doe used locally recognized symbols and colors to share crucial information about Ebola symptoms in a highly effective campaign. In order for your healthcare advertising to be successful, you’ll have to show the same knowledge of the culture you’re advertising to.
Ultimately, you can avoid international medical advertising fails by:
understanding the market you’re venturing into. Not only does this mean being familiar with culture and demographics; you’ll need to know the country’s legislation around medical devices and pharmaceuticals, as well as labeling requirements. That study we love also points out the importance of knowing where your product would be sold (online, in a pharmacy, medical supply center, or supermarket, etc.), and even how it would be displayed.
taking time to figure out your target audience. The more you know who you’re trying to appeal to, and what they’re really like, the better your healthcare product is likely to fare. Take time to learn the basics about this new market, like its customs and demographics, and hone in on more specific information regarding your target audience. Be sure to study content adapted to the people you’re reaching out to, and if that content doesn’t exist, consider creating a survey or study, or interviewing locals.
If you’re not exactly sure of your target market in the first place, or if you’ve done some research and feel like it’s shifting, this article offers some very helpful advice and includes links to some genuinely useful resources.
learning what works when it comes to advertising for a particular market. An easy way to get a handle on the basics is to do an online search for something like “Healthcare market in [place]”. Often, not only articles and academic papers will pop up – you might find a few websites specifically dedicated to this very issue, like the aptly named website Marketing to China, if China is where you’re looking to expand. Still, all of this knowledge at your fingertips won’t make you an expert with on-site experience and know-how. The best way to launch a successful overseas advertising campaign is to hire a localization specialist or transcreator.
localizing content. Only one in ten ad campaigns that are simply translated and not adapted to the local market, are successful. Working with a transcreator or localization expert to adapt your advertising, PR, labels, website, and other communications to the local language(s) as well as to the local culture, is the best way to connect with consumers.
It will take time and some investment, but if you get to know your market, and work with experts who can help you reach out in the most effective way, you’ll elevate your advertising to something that lets you truly connect with a new world of healthcare consumers.