‘Eat your fingers off’. It’s hardly the most enticing offer for a bucket of fried chicken.

Yet this is the advertising slogan that greeted customers when KFC opened its doors in Beijing in the late 1980s. Infamously, the Mandarin translation for ‘Finger-lickin’ good’ took an unappetising turn.

The corporate world is awash with these examples – the dreaded ‘lost in translation’ horror stories where brand messages do not travel well overseas. At best, this can be unfortunate. At worst, it can be downright offensive.

And yet for ambitious companies, the pressure to tap into international markets can be overwhelming, with fierce local competition forcing businesses to look overseas in order to keep on growing.

At the same time, technology continues to break down borders across almost every sector of business. Digital experience is increasingly cited as the number one factor in a customer’s decision to purchase a product or service. By focusing online, brands can create a customer experience that is truly unique, personable and relevant. It is no wonder that the latest YouGov Brand Advocacy Rankings were dominated by FinTech companies.

To engage with customers in this way, businesses need to linguistically and culturally adapt their content to any target market – a process known as localisation. After all, why would you ditch a trusted brand for an overseas competitor if they can’t even speak your language?

Thanks to linguistic AI, companies of all sizes are now able to rapidly and cost effectively localise their messages and reach global audiences.

Without realising it, more and more of the content you read online is being developed in this way. This is not to say that the machines are taking over. ‘Machine first, human optimised’ approaches allow text to be intricately understood and then transformed into local languages. From chatbots to marketing collateral – and all web content in between – AI adapts the information for a native audience. And when more nuanced messages are required, human translators can add that extra refined touch.

What’s more, linguistic AI can be used to derive patterns from text and historic translations to automate the creation of new content. Marketers need no longer fear the tyranny of the blank page since linguistic AI creates content out of nothing, based on historic data and variables such as the target audience.

It can also be used to create ‘snackable content’. From the length of a tweet to a side of A4, linguistic AI condenses large and often technical documentation into digestible snippets, spanning different languages and countries. This allows businesses to create multilingual content at a speed we have never seen before.

A recent MIT Sloan report into artificial intelligence found that 9 out of 10 companies view AI as a business opportunity, however many are held back by their perception of it as a ‘technology thing’ rather than part of a broad strategic focus. Given the content required to maintain multiple digital platforms, it is not hard to see why linguistic AI is rapidly becoming integral to companies’ international expansion strategies.  

As globalisation connects us closer than ever, we see people increasingly drawn to local groupings to maintain a sense of belonging. For global brands, this presents a new challenge – but also a new opportunity for those capable of truly engaging with their audiences.

Counterintuitive though it may seem, artificial intelligence is enabling companies to personalise their messages on an unprecedented scale – through a machine first, human optimised approach. Let’s leave machines to do what they do best, and allow humans to add that extra, personal touch – something that still eludes machines.

By harnessing the combined power of humans and machines, companies of all sizes can truly go global. No fingers need be harmed.