You Say “təˈmādō". I Say “təˈmātō”: Going Beyond Translation.

You Say “təˈmādō". I Say “təˈmātō”: Going Beyond Translation.

Posted by Beth Davis Heppenstall on Fri, Mar 15, 2019


You have completed the rigorous process of country and site selection for your clinical study, and your recruitment strategy and materials are developed. Now, it’s time to focus your efforts on cultural adaptation.

Cultural adaptation is the term used to describe the process by which materials are assessed and adjusted to resonate with audiences in different regions of the world. Cultural differences impact how patients want to receive health information. Even within one country, it is dangerous to assume that communications in one region will automatically be effective and appropriate in another. For anyone who has used Google Translate, it is obvious that it is not always accurate, particularly with longer selections. It is important to identify a team of experts to help you navigate the cultural, linguistic, social, and economic differences of your study locations.

Start with the Basics

As clinical studies branch out to wider audiences, even within the US, it’s important to tailor your communications with culturally adapted translation in mind. For many of the patients that you are trying to recruit, English may not always be their first language. For example, there are at least 50 million Spanish speakers in the US. But while all of those 50 million people might speak the same language, they don’t all speak it the same way. Even New Mexico and Los Angeles have their own Spanish dialects.*

Clinical studies are all about the details—details about the conditions being researched, about the medical procedures being used, and about the accreditations of the study. Mistranslations can completely confuse and deter potential patients. Small adjustments often make the biggest impact in the long run. 

Keep your recruitment materials crystal clear with these three tips:

  • Simplification Medical phrases can be new or hard to understand for patients. Materials need to stand on their own without a physician to explain them. Keep your message simple. Consider adding definitions to words when needed.
  • Translation Try ‘translating’ your messages in the same language, challenging yourself to say the same thing using different words. You want your information to stay clear, and this is one way to check and select your best word choices.
  • Use Visuals to Reinforce Your Messages We all know the universal truth; a picture is worth a thousand words. When images and copy work together, you can make a big impact.

Putting It All Together

Patients in different countries respond to visuals and messages based on unique cultural realities. It is crucial to get the opinion of your global community before going ahead with your recruitment materials. There could be subtle language nuances, cultural or religious attitudes and norms that should be reflected in communications to different populations.

Once you have your materials developed, it’s always smart to test with focus groups when possible. Consider this BBK Worldwide global focus group which tested materials for four different countries: Brazil, Thailand, Germany, and Spain. Focus group patients with rheumatoid arthritis were asked to react to two print ad images. The first image reflected a daily task of an older woman gardening. The second was an image showing an older person’s hands playfully covering the eyes of a small child. The reactions varied widely between countries.

Brazil liked the hope and optimism of the gardening image, but the pastime itself didn’t particularly resonate. The second image of aging hands with the child was confusing to them overall. To adapt, BBK changed the picture to a woman cooking instead, which satisfied the focus group. Thailand also strongly preferred the first image of the woman gardening, and requested no adjustments. They felt that while the second image was clear, it didn’t convey well enough the benefits of participating. Both German and Spain focus groups didn’t like the gardening image, saying it looked more like a cosmetics ad instead. The aging hands with the child image resonated with both countries. Germany required no adjustments. Spain wanted an image that was a little less stylized and more natural.

By doing the research upfront, the campaign could be adjusted to produce stronger outcomes for the study.

In today’s competitive clinical study landscape, ensuring that your study stands out has never been more important. Communicating the right information with your target audience, and understanding how they ingest this information, is a major factor in building a successful recruitment campaign. Təˈmādō. Təˈmātō. Pəˈtā tō. Pəˈtā tō. It all comes down to cultural interpretation. As the world becomes more global in business, and social media channels connect us on personal levels, we must not ever forget people and cultures remain beautifully unique.






*K International 2017


Topics: Cultural Adaptation, Branding and Advertising, Global Patient Recruitment, Multinational Studies