We bought a sports action camera from Campark Electronic Co. of China.

It got good reviews online, and we thought it would be perfect for what we wanted to do with it: time-lapse photography at a construction site of a new business venture I’m engaged in.

It arrived within a few days and I decided to learn about it.

First stop? The user’s manual.

Most new tech gadgets, automobiles and mobile phones come with user’s manuals that run about as thick as a medium-sized town’s old telephone directory.

This one was only 12 pages, printed on 4-inch by 4-inch lightweight, glossy paper…and practically unusable.

There were two problems.

First, the type was too small. Even when I held it directly beneath an incandescent light source, I could barely make out the words on a page in which there was only text.

Second, the instructions were mostly unintelligible because they probably had been written in Mandarin Chinese and then simply dumped into an online translator that made mush out of them.

Here’s an example:

“Install and take out the battery. Stir downward the battery cover and turn on it.”

And here’s another.

“When the poor operation of the product caused by the phenomenon of death, removable battery should be reinstalled. Then the machine returns to be normal.”

There is a lesson in this for any business, educational institution, government entity or foundation looking to successfully serve markets in other than their native language: make sure you are communicating with potential customers in a language and in accordance with cultural norms they can understand.

To be sure, it is cheaper to take your user’s manual written in Mandarin and dump it into a free online translation tool, but are you actually helping yourself by doing so? At best, your new customer is at a loss how to use that new product. At worst, he or she is gone away and writing a blog post about the experience that other potential customers will read, then look for another vendor.

The bottom line: Make sure you have people who can communicate on your behalf clearly and persuasively. It doesn’t matter how good your product or service is if your customers can’t easily learn how to use those products and services.

It might take a little longer and cost a little more to hire a bilingual writer or editor to translate your new website into Spanish, but if you are going to win customers and market share in Spain, Mexico or Argentina, then it is essential.

Oh, and make sure the print is big enough for people to read without a magnifying glass.

— BOB UNGER

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Bob Unger  508-542-1252
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Barbara LeBlanc  603-486-8760
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